Last fall, the principals of ARCHITECTS hanna gabriel wells made good on their long-held plan to buy their own place. The circa 1955 building they chose—once home to an auto repair shop in the heart of San Diego's Ocean Beach community—was “a diamond in the rough, at its roughest,” recalls principal James Gabriel, AIA, “but we saw it as an opportunity to showcase a lot of the things we preach to our clients.”

Enhancing the streetscape and achieving net-zero energy use were top priorities. They accomplished both by replacing the site's concrete with landscaping and trees; by relying on daylighting and natural cooling and ventilation; and by partnering with San Diego Gas & Electric Co. (SDG&E) on systems that power the 4,500-square-foot building and track performance. To date, the LEED Gold-certified project has earned awards from both AIA San Diego and SDG&E.

Ironically, the firm's careful planning failed to anticipate one “pleasurable, though unintended” outcome. The wall of high-performance glazing on the west elevation ends with a 10-foot-tall, nearly 7-foot-wide pivot door with a rubber-coated handle (see first slide below), but “no one can find it,” Gabriel laughs. “We thought we'd made it so crystal clear, but everyone just walks up to the building and stares at it. We always have to go out and usher them in.”

ARCHITECTS hanna gabriel wells
san diego