Meet the entrepreneur-architects behind East Village’s exciting new community space.
San Diego’s East Village continues to thrive in an exciting era driven by an influx of innovation, technology and cutting-edge design. As the city cements its status as a hub for startups, entrepreneurs and culture-makers, a defining trend permeates the atmosphere. This trend is the confluence of ideas and identities – more specifically, a hybrid of creative design and entrepreneurial spirit and the synergy that comes with it. The resulting infrastructure developing in the East Village is branded by projects that are unprecedented, aesthetically striking, technologically advanced and economically and environmentally sustainable.
One such project and future hot-spot that we’re looking forward to is Quartyard, which is slated to break ground tomorrow on Wednesday, October 1st on the corner of Park and Market. This project embodies the confluence between artistry and entrepreneurialism, masterminded by the founders of RAD Lab (Research Architecture Development Laboratory). These entrepreneur-architects, all graduates of the NewSchool of Architecture and Design, epitomize a new breed of thinkers who have surpassed the barrier between design and business and united the two under one, integral hybrid model. We were able to chat with co-founders Philip Auchettl, David Loewenstein, and Jason Grauten to get some insight into the Quartyard project and also learn more about the unexpected challenges and their collaboration with I.D.E.A. District.
Before and After: The October 1st groundbreaking will initiate the space’s transformation from a vacant lot into a sustainable outdoor urban park built entirely out of retrofitted shipping containers. This community plaza will house both permanent and daily tenants and will offer rotating food trucks, art and fashion shows, film festivals, education events, local farmers markets, craft beer tasting events, fundraisers, pet-friendly events and more. (Click for more details on the transformation.)
Quartyard started out as a yearlong thesis project for Philip, David, Jason and their fellow founder Adam Jubela at the beginning of their final year of at NewSchool. The architects had worked on projects together in the past, but they saw the upcoming thesis year as an opportunity to take on a design-build project, an idea that they had always wanted to bring to fruition. Together, they came up with the concept of taking over vacant lots of property and implementing temporary architecture on them, creating a functioning space that would also serve as a placeholder for future development. Philip explains that the goal was to make use of these spaces and find something that they could implement “temporarily, economically and quickly.”
When their proposal received the green light from NewSchool, the team began their search for the ideal location. With the help of Civic San Diego and the City Council, they mapped out 35 different properties in a variety of neighborhoods, but it became increasingly clear that East Village was the best choice due to its potential, the growth that was happening there, and its proximity to NewSchool. The final decision was a lot located across the street from NewSchool – inarguably the best and most convenient spot. “In the end, it really fell in our lap,” Jason stated.
Another crucial element to the project was finding an architecture that would support the concept – a structural medium that offered transportability and mobility. Shipping containers were the perfect solution. David explains, “We came up with the idea of using shipping containers, not only because they’re cool, but because their sustainability is at the core of the project, and it makes it so much easier when we want to move to a new location.” When the space’s temporary, 2-3 year lease expires, the team plans to have a new piece of land already selected. All they will need to do is load the containers onto trucks using a crane and drive them to the new spot. The concept utilizes tactical urbanism at its finest, for a model that is mobile, economical and innovative.
The I.D.E.A. District has been able to play an important role in this exciting project by providing storage space for the shipping containers at the IDEA1 lot, just a block away. While the on-site construction of the foundations, utilities and other elements takes place, the containers will be ready around the corner. Jason talks about the innovative business model and describes its significance at the core of the project: “We’re prototyping. We’re not just providing a space for a tenant to come in temporarily; the tenants are actually purchasing their shipping container, so they’re purchasing their business. That’s kind of a new up and coming concept – ‘take your building with you.’” Once it’s time for the project to relocate, tenants can continue on to the next lot or do as they wish with their business.
Speaking of tenants, the team faced a big challenge in deciding which businesses to select and how to select them. The project required tenants who were able to support the market and pay for their containers, but also were community oriented as opposed to large corporate chains. After repeatedly facing the chicken-or-the-egg scenario of investors wanting tenants before they would invest and vice versa, they were able to find businesses that fit the requirements. Jason explains that everyone loved the idea, “It was just a matter of if they could swing the price and they could afford and wanted to take that risk on this new venture. Luckily we found three great tenants that are just the ideal candidate for this opportunity.” Those three permanent tenants will include Best Beverage Catering (Beer Garden), Meshuggah Shack (a coffee shop), and S&M Sausage and Meat. Each brings a unique aspect to the culture of Quartyard and together will foster a community space that has something for everyone. The craft-market feel will be an integral element of the project. Philip says, “We wanted to keep local; we wanted San Diego based companies, but it was definitely very fortunate with the companies we ended up with. It was a bit of a roller coaster trying to find these tenants, especially because this was all very conceptual. We’d been working with the city but we didn’t have anything built at that point, and this is such an experimental project and it says a lot for someone to be able to take that leap of faith as a tenant.”
As the community space takes shape over the next few months, the RAD Lab team looks forward to witnessing the East Village develop its identity through Quartyard and other projects. David explains, “It’s young professionals in live-work, creative design, creative spaces – that’s what we’re hoping for. It’s an audience that appreciates innovative design, too.” They cite I.D.E.A. District, Maker’s Quarter and Moniker Group as major facets all pushing in the same direction; creating the momentum towards that culture design, technology and education through job clusters and activation. They are no strangers to collaboration – RAD Lab and the I.D.E.A. District have combined forces in the past. Four years ago, Jason, Phillip and David were part of David Malmuth’s and Pete Garcia’s first class at NewSchool – one that required students to work on the five incubator locations for IDEA1. Philip says that the experience had a big impact on the Quartyard project: “It was really interesting, working with them and seeing what they were trying to accomplish – it sparked a lot of different ideas when we were trying to nail down our thesis project, especially with East Village, and the whole movement over here.” Jason explains his take on I.D.E.A. District as well: “They’re a cornerstone. What they’re trying to do in the East Village is perfect for our brand and the message that we’re trying to promote. We’re literally on the corner of the district itself, so it’s a nice way to say ‘we’re starting this over here’ and then hopefully it will just keep moving in that direction.”
In order to maintain this momentum and capitalize on the potential of East Village, it really comes down to the execution of initiatives such as Quartyard. These projects depend on the innovative entrepreneurs that are a growing population in the neighborhood; the Creative Class that is represented by groups like RAD Lab. In a sink-or-swim situation, the team was able to successfully take on a huge, multi-faceted project that will certainly become a major player in the culture in East Village. They explain that the education process was immense and that while they encountered an initial ‘can’t be done’ attitude from almost every angle, it was patience and tenacity that eventually paid off. David says, “I think our biggest takeaway was that we had a vision for it, we thought this was really going to work, and there was no reason why we couldn’t do it. We just put our heads together and sat down said, “Let’s just do it, lets just lean. We’ve been able to make it happen so far and it’s fantastic. So if you believe it, and if you work really hard at it, you can make it happen.”
We can’t wait to see what Quartyard, which plans to open in December, will bring to East Village.