San Diego-Tijuana designers, architects prepare for year in spotlight – The San Diego Union-Tribune

San Diego and Tijuana designers said Saturday their joint selection as the World Design Capital 2024 is a chance to show how international cooperation on subjects from architecture to infrastructure can make the planet a better place.

The Montreal-based World Design Organization announced the selection of the San Diego-Tijuana partnership in November.

Together the cities will hold a number of signature cross-border events and projects to showcase the benefits of design, as well as bring attention to issues such as social justice, equity, and inclusion, said panelists at an online planning forum Saturday morning.

In all the year’s activities are expected to book 1.4 million overnight visits, create and maintain 46,000 jobs and have a $1.5-billion economic impact on the region.

“The program offers each capital a chance to strut their stuff in all realms of design and, more importantly, share what they plan to do in the future,” states an announcement from the Friends of San Diego Architecture, a nonprofit group.

Products, services, graphics, communications and even experiences can be improved by thoughtful design, panelists said.

“It’s going to take public and private partnerships,” said Margrit Whitlock of ACI Architectural Concepts. “We need a fabric of ideas, policies and initiatives … almost like a blanket.” It’s also a chance to make people more aware of design and bring it into education through high schools and elementary schools, said MaeLin Levine, president of AIGA San Diego, a nonprofit association for design professionals.

Many of the participants expressed hopes that the events of 2024 would bring long-lasting attention to the cross-border region’s issues and challenges.

“It’s harder to do community-driven design,” said Michèle Morris of the University of California, San Diego. “We’re not afraid to lean into that. It’s what the world needs right now.”

Tijuana artist Mode Orozco paints a Vicente Fernandez mural in Colonia Buena Vista

Tijuana artist Mode Orozco paints a Vicente Fernandez mural in Colonia Buena Vista on Dec. 13, 2021, in Tijuana.

(Alejandro Tamayo/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

In the past the region’s best-designed projects were done by out-of-town architects, but that’s beginning to change, said architectural historian Diane Kane.

Recently the best designs have been smaller infill projects by local architects such as Ted Smith, she said. San Diego projects by Smith and his partners include the Abpópa Hillcrest hotel, the Merrimac building in Little Italy, and the Essex apartments on State Street.

“These are fabulous projects,” Kane said. “They are so inventive. What we have really not looked at is the adaptive reuse of existing buildings. We tend to scrape everything down to the ground and start over with big visions.”

Instead of “putting up luxury palaces for the uber wealthy,” architects should focus on more humble designs so that people of more average means can live comfortably, she said.

Others said the events also are a way to unite people on both sides of the international border, instead of building a bigger wall between them.

“This is the opportunity to finally bring our design community together,” said Leigh Eisen, of the San Diego chapter of the American Institute of Architects. “We already have the momentum in place.”

The bid for the designation was organized by the San Diego-based Design Forward Alliance in partnership with the Burnham Center for Community Advancement, the UC San Diego Design Lab and other groups.

Together San Diego and Tijuana won out over bids from Moscow, which was also a finalist, and other cities that were not revealed. A World Design Capital is chosen every two years, and previous winners have included Turin, Seoul, Helsinki and Mexico City. This will be the first binational partnership and the first time any U.S. city was selected.