This wasn’t your standard architectural tour.

For our eighth Meeting of the Minds, Voice of San Diego gathered together six leading architects and artists to share the spaces and places around San Diego that inspire them most. Architects Rob Quigley, Catherine Herbst, Hector Perez and Jennifer Luce, along with photographer Mike Torrey, joined us at the Central Library downtown Wednesday night to deliver their rapid-fire pecha kucha-style presentations (architect Vicki Estrada made her appearance by video).

We had one big caveat for our guests: They weren’t allowed to showcase their own projects. Our hope was to spread a little recognition and appreciation, while getting insider perspective on some of the more visually captivating locations around town.

From a secret attic, to untouched meadows, to an affluent neighborhood with deep historical roots, get ready to add these spots to your weekend explorer itinerary. For more photos, check out the presenters’ slides here.

‘This Is Your Zen Moment’

Rob Quigley, who designed the very building we were seated in, set the tone by pointing out that it’s often the “unexpected and undesigned” elements that make a space special. First, Quigley revealed a secret nook: an attic above Balboa Theatre, which offers a breathtaking (and perhaps vertigo-inducing) view of the stage below. Tucked away inside the closet-like space was a handbuilt organ and a collection of bizarre instruments.

And count on Quigley, an early leader of the sustainable design architectural movement in the 1970s, to ultimately find inspiration in nature. Quigley’s next spot was a departure from the urban landscape: the meadows of Laguna Mountain. Though the meadows certainly didn’t come by way of an architect’s hand, Quigley pointed out they have some of the same features architects aspire to create.

“This is a place to look at light,” he said.

He described the spaces as three “rooms” separated by “walls” of trees. Entering from the road feels much like walking into a Gothic cathedral, Quigley said, a compressed entrance leading into a wide-open meadow.

The most dynamic thing of all, Quigley said, was the “ceiling” above it.

“This is your zen moment,” he said.

Take a look and tell me you don’t want to drop the trappings of civilization and head there immediately.

Photo courtesy of Rob Quigley

Watch Quigley’s presentation below:

Connections Between the Natural and Manmade Worlds

Nature had a hand in architectural photographer Mike Torrey’s favorite spot as well. Scripps Seaside Forum, he said, has an especially striking relationship with earthly light. Home to Caroline’s Seaside Cafe, the multi-use building sits overlooking La Jolla Shores, and its combination of wood, concrete and metal leaves quite an impression.

“The space itself gives us a more powerful connection to the natural world,” Torrey said.

And it’s not just fodder for your Instagram profile. Torrey spoke about research that tracked the correlation between emotion and inflammation in bodies. The most powerful emotion in keeping us healthy, it turns out, is awe. Visiting spaces that prompt that feeling might benefit us.

“It’s the connection between the natural and manmade worlds that helps us feel that awe,” Torrey said. “We want to feel a little bit of magic in the places we go.”

Watch Torrey’s presentation below:

‘You Just Slow Down’

Landscape and urban design architect Vicki Estrada’s selection was unexpected in its own way. Rancho Santa Fe is largely known as an affluent and conservative neighborhood, a reputation Estrada acknowledged. Twenty years ago, more restaurants and smaller boutiques were able to swing setting up shop there, but the neighborhood is now peppered primarily with banks, attorney offices and Realtors.

But the peace and calm of the area, as well as its historical roots, make it worth visiting, Estrada said. Sideways passages and nooks and crannies give Rancho Santa Fe “special character,” and even at a main intersection, the quiet is soothing.

“You just slow down” when you’re there, Estrada said.

Credit architect Lilian Rice for the layout. Estrada overviewed Rice’s efforts to convey Spanish Revival style throughout. Estrada was unable to attend Meeting of the Minds, but sent in a video presentation in her stead.

Watch Estrada’s presentation below:

What Is Cool?

Coolness might be subjective, but architect Catherine Herbst, chair of undergraduate studies at Woodbury School of Architecture, made clear from the start of her talk that she certainly didn’t consider San Diego cool. It may be fine, she said, but “a city can only have one moniker.”

So how do we define cool spaces? Herbst pointed out a number of buildings she considers cool, like UCSD’s Natatorium designed by Eugene Weston, the Institute for Geo- and Planetary Physics designed by Lloyd Ruocco and the Salomon Apartments designed by Henry Hester, to name a few. The 1960s loomed large in her selections, though Estrada ultimately chose the Cabot, Cabot and Forbes building, which has a slightly older legacy.

Here, the double meaning of cool comes into play. The open air lobby of the building, she said, showed fresh thinking.

“Places I like say something about the climate here,” Herbst said. “Shade – it’s what buildings are good at.”

Watch Herbst’s presentation below:

Crowdsourced Potential

A less kind blogger might scold architect Hector Perez, who won an Orchid Award for his multi-use La Esquina design in Barrio Logan, for failing to settle on one or two existing spaces as his favorite in San Diego. But his alternate route showed off some of the innovative ideas young architects in our city are mulling over instead. Perez asked his students at Woodbury School of Architecture to help him prep for Meeting of the Minds by choosing “nondescript, inviting” places around San Diego they felt had potential, and reimagining community uses for them.

The bridge above I-5 near Balboa Park would be “activated” with small food vendors inside. The sloping underside of Cesar Chavez Parkway would become a colorful flower field. And, a long shot: The alley behind Woodbury would become an open-air music venue.

Watch Perez’s presentation below:

Finding Your Delphi

Architect Jennifer Luce, whose work you’ll recognize in Extraordinary Desserts in Little Italy and elsewhere, shared her own architectural star-struck moment. She and a few folks from Luce et Studio got the chance to explore a “secret space” in San Diego: the private studies at the top of the Salk Institute. Inside these peaceful rooms, senior scientists find solace to nap, study, meditate and even entertain guests if they so choose. The details of the rooms, Luce said, allow the mind to wander.

Luce expanded on the history of the Salk Institute’s design, borne of a collaboration between Jonas Salk, who developed the polio vaccine, and architect Louis Kahn. Kahn had been deeply inspired during his travels through the temples of Delphi in Greece. Luce flashed an old photo of the Torrey Pines mesa before UCSD was built, a vast expanse.

“This was his Delphi,” she said.

Further inspired while on sabbatical in Assisi, Kahn had woven designs mimicking small monastic rooms into his own projects, giving us the institute’s private studies.

“These are the places that become so special to us in our city,” Luce said. “I encourage you to go find these places … because they do exist.”

Watch Luce’s presentation below:

Catherine Green

Catherine Green was formerly the deputy editor at Voice of San Diego. She handled daily operations while helping to plan new long-term projects.

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