State and Date paved the way for his biggest development yet: The Billboard Lofts, a 24-unit rental building Mariscal's wife manages. “My leap from State and Date to Billboard was not that big, because I had already done big projects in Mexico,” he says. “Plus, I always like to challenge myself on the next project.” Still, it was a significant financial venture that involved three additional partners. (The 6,900-square-foot lot alone cost $620,000.) Moreover, changing FAR rules made it difficult to build on the site, forcing Mariscal—who originally planned to build six townhouses—to revise his plans four times before the project was finally approved. The resulting building consists of two volumes swathed in corrugated ZINCALUME and stained cedar. The two-level lofts have 17-foot ceilings, cork floors, and sliding glass doors; monthly rents start at $1,200 and run as high as $2,200.
Mariscal's buildings celebrate California's free spirit and embrace its enviably temperate climate. Using large folding and sliding doors, they blur the boundaries between interior and exterior, creating spaces that reduce the need for artificial light. (On the two-unit 2inns project, for example, the houses have three movable exterior walls comprising 25 glass panels that fold and store out of view.) His buildings hold a clean line, exalting the box but varying its forms, juxtapositions, and relationships. Stick-framed buildings should have a dry skin, Mariscal believes, so he avoids stucco and opts for lightweight materials installed as ventilated façades for natural cooling. Cladding is often carried through on the interior; drywall is kept to a minimum. Materiality is important, so Mariscal limits his palette to just a few materials and uses them throughout the project. “Architecture is about the space,” he says. “The more materials you use, the less aware people are of the space.”cities center
Mariscal's recent development projects include two Cor-Ten steel- and engineered stone-clad homes in downtown San Diego and six row houses in La Jolla. But these days, with the market slowed, he has no developments under way. Despite the dimming prospects, Mariscal remains drawn to development. It gives him the freedom to design what he wants, he says, and building those designs himself helps assure their rigorous execution. “It's good having the building experience because you design differently,” he explains. “It helps you design a project that's based in reality.”
Fortunately, Mariscal's firm also works for clients and has a long list of projects in the pipeline, including several custom homes, an eight-room hotel, a spiritual center, and an eyewear boutique. One project, Wabi House, is in the final stages of completion and is clad in burnt-cedar siding—an idea he picked up in Japan. Because the firm acts as contractor on every project, it builds just one job at a time.
Mariscal's studio has grown to eight to keep pace with the volume of work. (He also employs a full-time construction crew of four and adds to it as needed.) Mariscal develops early design schemes in collaboration with one of the designers and then turns over the project to that individual. “The same person who designs the building is getting the permits and is at the site every day until the job is done,” he says. “This way, they know how important it is to do good drawings, to get everything resolved in the office.” The company has done well, he says, because of its bright, passionate, and talented team.
Although, Mariscal has a contractor's license, he is not yet a licensed architect, nor has he completed an architectural degree. But his building experience and on-the-job training are a reasonable and time-honored substitute for the missing credentials, he believes. “Many amazing architects—Le Corbusier, Mies van der Rohe, Tadao Ando—didn't go to school,” he says. “My approach was just different [from the traditional path]. You learn at the jobsite, you learn at the office dealing with projects, and you learn what the consequences of your design are.” Still, his extensive work experience and academic studies make him eligible for the Architect Registration Examination. In fact, he and several of his employees will begin the testing process early this year.
Meanwhile, Mariscal remains optimistic about his city's return to prosperity and its untapped potential as a vital, pedestrian-friendly environment. “The 20th century had so many problems with sustainability because we were so centered on the car,” he says. When “you have people walking outside and houses connected to the exterior, I think people become more human. That's the social part of architecture that's important.”