Newport Beach, Calif., an affluent beachside community of roughly 85,000 people, is known for its Pacific Ocean views, high property values, and idyllic temperate climate. Yet near the center of town, there was a 20-acre eyesore: a plot of land so hampered by height restrictions to maintain views and so covered by degraded man-made wetlands that it was considered commercially undevelopable. Who better, then, than the city itself to turn this eyesore into a civic center and community hub?
With an effort led out of its San Francisco office, Bohlin Cywinski Jackson (BCJ) won the commission to outfit the site with a new 100,000-square-foot City Hall that runs alongside a public green. Anchoring the green at the north end is a late addition to the project brief: a 17,000-square-foot addition to an existing public library that serves as a backdrop for public events. And bordering it on the other side is a parking structure that accommodates 450 cars; pedestrian paths crisscross the green every 60 feet to allow access between the two long structures on either side. But this built context is only a fraction of the site, which also includes a community park with a lookout tower to capitalize on ocean views, a pedestrian bridge to allow safe passage across a nine-lane roadway that bisects the site, Newport Beach’s first dog park, and other amenities.
Despite being a civic project in a security-conscious age, the project as a whole is characterized by a sense of transparency—both literal, in terms of its glazed walls, and conceptual. Instead of having a single grand lobby, the City Hall is accessible via a series of entrances, connected by shaded pathways and outdoor circulation. Visitors can walk straight from the green into the council chamber (a volume marked by a curvilinear fabric roof that serves the dual purpose of solar shading and iconic branding to distinguish it from the regularized bays of the main building). “It’s a sustainable approach,” says BCJ principal Peter Bohlin, FAIA, of the fact that the various entries and porches allow for natural ventilation in the temperate climate, “but it is also very much a democratic way of imagining a City Hall as a place for people.” —Katie Gerfen