SAN DIEGO – Frank Wolden, an architect who worked on many of San Diego’s most memorable projects and who calls himself an urbanist because of his focus on cities, has joined RDC architects, the firm that designed the ongoing transformation of Horton Plaza.
“Part of my role will be to help build RDC’s reputation and knowledge in San Diego,” Wolden said. “One thing I want to do is bring 40 years of working in many areas of urban design and urban architecture to RDC and help them continue to build on their urban focus and mixed-use development.”
Based in Long Beach, RDC opened a San Diego office downtown in 2020 and, in 2021, moved its San Diego headquarters to an historic building in Hillcrest, the Design Center.
RDC is the design firm behind Stockdale Capital’s redevelopment of the former Horton Plaza downtown shopping mall into the mixed-use Horton Campus and the expansion of Del Mar Highlands Town Center.
Wolden said that he shared space with RDC and developed an affinity for the firm and its senior principal, Sean Slater.
“The chemistry was right,” Wolden said. “I met Sean during the early stages of the Horton Plaza contract, and we hit it off.”
Wolden had a hand in designing the original Horton Plaza as a downtown San Diego shopping mall and will work with RDC on its transformation into the mixed-use Horton Campus, among other projects.
“Frank was intimately involved in the design and creation of Horton Plaza in the early 1980s, and RDC has been involved in the redevelopment for the past six years, so we would be foolish not to involve Frank in any future projects there,” Slater said. “Frank will be a leader in our master planning and placemaking group and will have a role in helping define our practice in San Diego, as well as contributing to our firm as a whole.”
Among the many notable projects that Wolden worked on were the transformation of the Gaslamp Quarter, the development or a master plan for Civita in Mission Valley, Diamond View Tower downtown, and the master plan for the redevelopment of Seaport Village.
A graduate of San Diego State University, with a master’s degree in fine arts, Wolden started his career as an urban designer with Centre City Development Corp – San Diego’s former downtown redevelopment agency.
He also was a designer with Jerde Partnership, design principal of Carrier Johnson + Culture architects, and a design principal at AVRP Skyport architects.
Wolden was also a collaborating professor for Tricontinental Studio through the University of Europa de Madrid.
Before joining RDC, Wolden had his own studio that he called “FRANK.”
Throughout his career, Wolden has focused on making cities more livable.
“There’s a lot of talk about place making and mixed use, but we need to talk more and more about what that means. We need to think more in terms of how we work together with the design of urban buildings,” Wolden said. “In the housing market, as designers, we have to help our clients design buildings that accommodate change in terms of different types of clienteles that are going to be living in the housing.”
With little open land to build on a rare commodity, Wolden said that he expects infill projects to dominate the market in San Diego County, with denser developments the rule.
“The critical thing is going to be the introduction of new development along corridors where you have a lot of shopping centers,” Wolden said. “Our urban fabrics are in a period of transformation. Now is the time to shape a more sustainable future.”
To Wolden, architecture is more than designing buildings.
“It’s how do we connect with the urban environment, how do we create safe and exciting experiences,” Wolden said. “Let’s start to experiment with big buildings that are made of smaller parts and tells you a little bit about who lives there.”
The transformation of downtown San Diego into a vibrant community has been “an amazing story,” Wolden said. “It’s a major downtown where there really wasn’t one. There’s a lot of creativity yet to add.”
CEO: Brad Williams, AIA
HEADQUARTERS: Long Beach
BUSINESS: architecture, planning and interiors firm
NOTABLE: RDC is an award-winning architectural firm with offices in Long Beach, San Diego, Washington, DC and Rogers, AZ