HMC Architects and the City of San Clemente Marine Safety Headquarters won a Merit Award in the unbuilt project category at the AIA San Diego 2022 Design Awards on May 19.  

The San Clemente Marine Safety Headquarters, built in 1968, is a familiar landmark on the Southern California coast. Located directly on the beach, it has fallen into disrepair, due to coastal erosion and harsh salt winds. Renovating the existing structure in its current location would be very expensive and still not align with modern standards, and rising sea levels and storm surges will increasingly threaten the property. To avoid this, the architects proposed using the equivalent budget to create a new public plaza on the bluff above the beach, in the area known as the “Pier Bowl.” The design takes advantage of topography by placing the new public safety facility, the administrative headquarters of the lifeguard corps, underneath a new public plaza. This move gives the staff uninterrupted views of the beach while significantly expanding and improving public space and amenities. Many of the facility’s functions, such as loading, maintenance, and storage, are unsightly and take up valuable public space, but the new design hides these functions below grade. Moving the facility to the bluff gives the beach back to the public, providing 20,000 square feet of new public space along the shore. On the bluff, extending the terrace outward increases the plaza area by 12 times and the linear footage of seating by 25 times, while maintaining the same amount of planted area. Cradled in the thermal mass of the earth, the new subterranean space will enjoy good natural light, passive ventilation, and extreme energy efficiency, with the building anticipated to use 87 percent less energy than average. 

The transformation of an underutilized hillside into a strong, terraced public plaza, while creatively incorporating existing elements, is commendable. – AIA San Diego Jury Comment

The AIA San Diego Annual Design Awards are the ultimate recognition of design achievement for firms and projects in the San Diego region. These awards celebrate the spirit of innovation and creativity found within the region. To see the full list of winners, visit the chapter’s website