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Wednesday, Sep 28, 2022

Downtown Plaza Blends Art and Science

An East Village outdoor plaza in the middle of a development that includes a 34-story residential tower, the new downtown headquarters of UC San Diego, and a restored historic home melds science and art in a way to show how the two disciplines intertwine and encourage curiosity.

Designer Ron Miriello and the architectural firm of Carrier Johnson + Culture won a top prize – an orchid – for urban design from the San Diego Architectural Foundation in the foundation’s annual Orchid & Onion competition.

As the name suggests, orchids go to projects of exceptional merit and onions go to those deemed to be a detriment to the region’s built environment.

“The combination of the brand new building and this open space and then this historical building that they literally picked up and place on that corner, it’s just an interesting circulation,” the judge for the Architectural Foundation completion wrote. “I’m really excited to see how that’s going to activate that intersection.”

The plaza unites what could have been the disparate elements of the apartment tower built by Holland Partner Group, UC San Diego’s downtown building and the historic Remmen building.

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The theme that runs throughout the plaza and the new buildings around it is that art and science are not separate disciplines but part of the same world of discovery and wonder.

“The discovery of art and science were very much in the same mind,” Miriello said, adding that it’s only in modern times that they two have been separated.

The perfect place to reunite them was the new downtown home for UC San Diego, built by Holland Partner Group, with a nod to history with the restoration of an historic building on a shared site, Miriello said.

The result was a project that gained glowing support from the San Diego Architectural Foundation.

Not only did the plaza itself win a top price from the foundation, but Heritage Architecture & Planning also earned an orchid for restoration of the Remmen building, a two-story wood-framed Craftsman-style building that was built in 1907 by Ole Remmen as a four-unit apartment house.

The Remmen building was temporarily relocated two blocks away during construction of the apartment tower, then moved back to its original location at the northeast corner of G Street and Park Boulevard.

The relocated building was rotated 90 degrees so the entry faces Park Boulevard.

“The outside is really nicely done, a two-story, yellow house with tall glass buildings behind it,” a foundation judge wrote. “It’s really nice to see buildings like that downtown.”


The plaza itself has a series of steps that double as seating leading into the second floor of the UC San Diego is flanked by colorful murals done by Joel Sotelo of Tijuana and Rafael Lopez of downtown San Diego.

The steps create an outdoor amphitheater, but there also are tables throughout the plaza where people can admire the art around them during lunch breaks or while working on laptops.

The colorful murals that line both sides of the plaza are meant to depict the connection between art and science, taking scientific concepts and turning them into abstract art.

“I wanted it to reflect Tijuana, the border, and the vibrancy that’s coming up from the border,” Miriello said.

Rather that have a typical bland open area between buildings the plaza “can function as a full time inviting space,” Miriello said.

The apartment tower is named for Maria Merian, a German-born naturalist and scientific illustrator.

Drawings that Merian did more than 100 years ago were combined with depictions of the scientific discoveries of Thomas Deerinck, a neuroscientist at UC San Diego, to create art works in the tower that carry the theme of art and science from the plaza into the apartment tower.

“From inside the Merian tower, if you look out those windows, you actually look down into the area and the color and the landscaping is much more interesting than just another rooftop.”

Miriello, said his goal was “to create a place that creates a lot of curiosity and wonder.”

“The very simple line that art and science are both about wonder became the true line for everything that got done in the plaza,” Miriello said.

The development also melds art and science in the design of metal gates that are based on the artwork of Australian aboriginal chiefs.

“When you look at them, they look very much like very microscopic blood vessels,” Miriello said. “They are not modern science. They are ancient antiquity. I like that play where you think it’s one thing but it’s actually something else.”


As stimulating as the plaza and the art/science abstracts may be, the plaza will come alive with performances from lectures and concerts to lectures and film screenings as programmed by UC San Diego.

Among other things, Miriello said he’d like to see the art and other work by students from UC San Diego and other nearby schools displayed on a large outdoor television screen that’s in the plaza.

“Hopefully we can bring new generations of people together to be inspired,” Miriello said.

Miriello Grafico

Founded: 1982

Director: Ron Miriello

Headquarters: Barrio Logan and Siena, Italy

Employees: 1

Notable: Miriello is a bicycle enthusiast who collects Italian steel bicycles

Website: www.miriello.com

Contact: 619-234-1124

The plaza has a series of steps that double as seating flanked by colorful murals. 


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