San Diego County Administration Center Master Plan

Client: County of San Diego, Chief Administrator's Office

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Existing San Diego County Administration Center from San Diego Harbor.

The San Diego County Administration Center, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, has been one of San Diego's most prominent public buildings since its dedication by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1938. The building and its 16-acre harborfront site create a graceful and powerful symbol as the focus of County government.

The Master Plan followed a bitter public controversy over proposed development of the site. At that time, the County's plans to lease part of the site for private development provoked heated public opposition, resulting in the San Diego City Council's rejection of the County's development intentions. Gast-Hillmer was commissioned by the County to prepare a Master Plan that emphasized public use of the site and protection of the architectural prominence of the existing historic building.

Master Plan Concept

The Master Plan emphasizes preservation of the existing County Administration Center building as the centerpiece of an expanded civic center oriented to San Diego Bay. The plan capitalizes on the County's expansion program to revitalize the adjacent Pacific Highway area and develops strong pedestrian linkages to the Harborview/Little Italy neighborhood. Six acres of new public open space in the form of plazas, gardens and enclosed courtyards unify the existing building and the two new low-rise civic buildings that flank it. Open-air arcades link the three structures and form edges along the courtyards. The new building elements, carefully located to preserve public view corridors toward the Bay, replace the existing large parking lots on the site.

Accompanying urban design improvements include a pedestrian esplanade along the waterfront, the narrowing of Harbor Drive (the street separating the site from the waterfront), a new light rail station at Cedar Street and streetscape elements (lighting, widened sidewalks and street trees) that strengthen the pedestrian emphasis of the area. The light rail station directly links the site to the center of Downtown San Diego and Old Town neighborhood.

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San Diego County Administration Master Plan.
The historic building is framed as the centerpiece by new
flanking structures to be built on the existing parking lots.

Organization of Buildings and Open Spaces

The new buildings are located at the edges of the existing site in order to define the public open spaces and strengthen their orientation to the waterfront. A sequence of four courtyards is formed, two of which become focus elements of the new buildings. The courtyards permit framed views through the site from the Pacific Highway and preserve the Date and Beech Street public view corridors. The new buildings are held away from the existing historic building in order to protect its architectural integrity.

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Harborfront Elevation.

Plan Adoption

The Master Plan was unanimously adopted by the San Diego Board of Supervisors and subsequently recognized with the annual "Outstanding Planning Project" award of the American Planning Association, San Diego Section. Following adoption of the Plan, Gast-Hillmer prepared the County Administration Center-Pacific Highway Design Guidelines for development of the adjacent blocks. The Guidelines, adopted by the City of San Diego as part of the Centre City Community Plan, provide urban design criteria to establish a unified and pedestrian-oriented urban district surrounding the County Center.

Building Program

The new buildings provide 500,000 square feet of offices, a museum, cafe, County information center and 500 enclosed parking spaces that replace the existing 1,200 surface spaces. Building elements are limited to four stories with 90-foot cross sections and 30-foot structural bays.

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Study Model. From Cedar Street axis toward San Diego Bay.

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County Administration Center/Little Italy light rail station.

Project Team

Principals: Gerald Gast and Dan Hillmer. Assistants: Ken Ruebush, Danno Glanz. Williams-Kuebelbeck and Associates, Economic Consultants. Lee Saylor Inc., Construction Cost Estimating.

County of San Diego: Chief Administrator's Office of Special Projects. Lucy Franck, Project Manager. Susan Walton, Project Analyst. Rich Robinson, Director.