Is this what National City of the future will look like?
Imagine a National City with a vibrant shopping scene, autonomous vehicle parking garages, an entire street of world-class buildings that architecture magazines swoon over and micro-unit apartments that keep rent low for the next generation of professionals.
That is the final vision of more than 70 students at the NewSchool of Architecture and Design who spent 20 weeks creating new buildings for roughly 40 city blocks. The intensive project spread out over two semesters equaled 45 build-ready projects for the city, which is one of San Diego County’s poorest communities.
Plans were not just wishful fantasies of students. They were designed following criteria in the National City Downtown Specific Plan — or master plan — with the cooperation of city officials and established architects. The city can’t afford the cost of professional designs but having the work done by students means National City now has dozens of free projects to give to developers if it chooses.
The project was led by professor Daniela Deutsch, who saw it as a way for students to get experience in the real world while creating something useful for the community.
“It’s meeting some very stringent accreditation requirements,” said school president Marvin Malecha at a showcase of the projects Wednesday. “And its very objective. The students are told to explore, meet the requirements and see what could happen on that site.”
National City is still deciding what is next for the project, from having students present their visions to the City Council or putting designs on display for residents.
“The students are on some level idealistic, which can be good and bad, but I think it is more good than bad,” said Brad Raulston, the city’s deputy city manager. “I think with National City’s downtown there is a huge opportunity but you need the vision. We don’t have as much creative license as students do.”
Raulston said he hoped the designs could transfer somehow to the private sector and developers could see it as an opportunity.
One of the consultants on the project, Brett Tullis, principal architect at Sillman Wright Architects, said the city was ideal for a makeover.
“National City is a place that is looking to expand its infrastructure,” he said. “This is a great way to expand boundaries.”
Some of the projects:
1515 Roosevelt Ave. — Near Kimball Park, a pyramid-style building designed by Tyler Napolitano, 21, and Alicia Madriago,22, features 10 floors and two underground parking garages. The building is made with concrete and steel and includes 16 townhomes, 28 one-bedroom apartments, 43 two-bedroom apartments and 27 three-bedroom apartments. The first floor is retail on the corner the building off of National City Boulevard.
Noticing a lack of grocery stories in National City, the mixed-use building also includes a grocery store. “Throughout the area, there aren’t a lot of grocery stores or healthy options,” Madriago said. “We wanted to take the opportunity to give back to families in the neighborhood surrounding it but also have a healthy option for food in the building.”
Madriago, of Sacramento, and Napolitano, of Cupertino, said they had not spent a ton of time in National City before the project. But, they said they hoped new projects could showcase the benefits of living there and bring people from other parts of the region to experience it.
1149 National Blvd. — Hasan Alsaffar, 24, and Phuong Luong, 22, took a 289,092-square-foot site, which they named National Point, and created a diverse apartment portfolio to house a variety of National City residents. Unit sizes accommodated singles up to a family of five.
The smallest unit is 323-square-feet, with the biggest being a 1,530-square-foot,three-bedroom apartment. Small retail and restaurant space in the building is meant to encourage start-up businesses and young entrepreneurs.
A courtyard in the middle of the building encourages the use of public space. A rendering of the site shows a man playing piano in the courtyard, groups of people sitting on the grass and two women doing yoga.
“We’re trying to bring people into the site, and into the park as well,” said Alsaffar, who is from Kuwait.
The pair also proposed a new train outside the site to help residents connect to the existing 8th Street Station as well as a parking area for autonomous vehicles.
303 National City Blvd. — The project from Chris Butts, 23, and John McMahon, 25, has just about everything jammed into one site — a hotel, high-end office space, bars and restaurants, retail space and apartments.
The arch to the building is at an optimal angle to capture solar energy. The ground floor of the building opens to a central courtyard to promote public gathering spaces.
“When we did our research, we realized the residents of downtown National City don’t have a lot of outdoor space,” Butts said. “That’s one of the things that drove our (building) form.”
The pair decided to go without a lot of balconies and terraces for single units, but instead focused on larger gathering places on top floors to encourage a shared community.
Roosevelt Avenue & National City Boulevard — The most unique looking project came from two students from Saudi Arabia. Waseem Toonsi, 23, and Omar Baharth, 24, created a 16-floor building on the corner of Roosevelt Avenue and National City Boulevard that is made up of hexagon-shaped apartments that give the overall building a futuristic look, much like a space colony.
The building jams in 45,000 square feet of commercial space, 58,600 square feet of retail, 68,000 square feet of space for education, and 50,000 square feet of outdoor space. There are 70 studios, 30 one-bedroom apartments, 30 two-bedrooms and 15 three-bedrooms.
They chose the unique shapes for apartments because they wanted residents to feel like they have their own unit since the hexagon shape provides space between apartments. But, they acknowledge that it doesn’t look like anything in National City.
“Any city, if you want to improve it, you improve it with architecture,” Baharth said.
W. 5th Street & National City Boulevard — Timothy Hung, 27, and Madisson Pullen, 22, said they decided to name their project, “Destination on National,” because they wanted to bring people from surrounding communities to National City. They said their project is easy to access because it is on a main road and near the freeway entrance to Interstate 5.
“It has this prime location to grab everyone’s attention,” Pullen said.
The main feature of the building is a half circle of retail on the first few floors. All stores face National City Boulevard. The unique shape, Hung said, will hopefully intrigue passers-by to come and shop.