The first time Marvin Malecha visited San Diego in 1977, he happened upon the Santa Fe Depot and exclaimed:
“Oh my dear God, this place is a mess.”
Today, he lives next to the depot in the Sapphire condo tower, one of many changes wrought in the downtown area over the last 40 years. He returned to accept the post of president of the Newschool of Architecture & Design, located in East Village’s I.D.E.A. District, whose four initials dovetail precisely with the school’s mission -innovation, design, education and the arts.
“San Diego is no longer a backwater to Los Angeles and San Francisco,” he said. “San Diego is becoming its own thing, its own place… a thought leader on its own, an innovation community.”
Malecha, the former dean at Cal Poly Pomona and North Carolina State University’s design schools, has big plans for Newschool, starting with more than doubling the 500-student enrollment by 2025 and taking over more space at its home on F Street at Park Boulevard.
He sat down to talk about the opportunities ahead and what student architects could contribute to bettering San Diego. Here are some highlights.
Q: What are some of the new ideas you are rolling out?
A: The first thing is to look at the whole structure of the institution and see where we need to be more nimble. We are in fact developing programs on the design side of the house – product design, interior architecture, a new degree program called design studies, which leads to strategic design management, which is a big need in corporations. How do you bring innovation into a company? We’re in the middle of a campaign where everybody is talking about making America strong. We know how to make America strong. It’s always with innovation. That’s been true from the beginning and when we’ve lost our innovation edge, we’ve gotten ourselves into trouble economically.
Q: You also have a video game design program. How is that related to architecture?
A: Designing a game is all about user experience, so there’s your link between architecture and the game. You’re both dealing with user experience design. One happens to be playing around with software and devices, and the other is in a greater space, but the thought process is the same.
Q: What is the connection between the school and the city around it?
A: I want students who graduate from this school to be citizen architects, to take their special way of seeing and going into the community to deal with the big issues of the community.
Q: You recently hosted a workshop on East Village and how a Chargers stadium might or might not be the right development. Where should students and the school’s curriculum fit into that debate?
A: They could have investigated the urban design issues, for example. Is a football stadium the right thing to put there relative to the future development of the city? I find it interesting that the rush hour in the evening is into the city and rush hour in the morning is out of the city. So there’s an issue of work-places in the city.
So what would it take to interest developers to build more workplaces in the city, not just housing in the city. We bring developers into the studio and assign projects to students, because none of this works unless developers find it lucrative to do it.