Matthew Segal AIA

To understand the evolving direction of housing in San Diego, Calif., just follow the hyphenated career of Jonathan Segal, FAIA.

The lauded architect is a one-person band on local mixed-use housing projects, operating as investor-developer-owner-general contractor-property manager and, yes, architect. “It eliminates drama. There’s never a change order on our projects,” Segal says.

Take his latest project, the 2020 Builder’s Choice & Custom Home Design Awards “Project of the Year,” an eight-story, 27,000-square-foot mixed-use development. Dubbed The Continental, it is a self-described “demonstration project” that now reigns as one of San Diego’s first transit-oriented, micro-unit apartment communities. The 42 studio units average 380-square-feet, plus a balcony.

Matthew Segal AIA

Workforce Housing

The Continental’s big amenity? A killer location. Residents walk out the front door into the lively heart of the city’s Little Italy district. “I asked, ‘What can I do to make living here less expensive?’” Segal recalls. While the units don’t qualify as affordable housing, they are a workforce housing option with rents falling 30% below competing properties.

Segal addresses a value-focused approach in several ways:

  • Transit. “Parking doesn’t work everywhere in San Diego. Our transit premise lets residents apply the $600 they would have spent on a vehicle to other priorities. The issue in California isn’t affordable housing. It’s housing, period. It’s why we look to reduce rents with studio concepts,” he says.
  • Amenities. “Multifamily developers know that only about 20% of residents ever use a pool, community room, or gym. Why add things that drive up costs that only a few will use?” Segal says.
  • Ownership Mentality. Few things demonstrate that philosophy better than the 3,000-square-foot single-family residence tucked in the corner of The Continental. Segal’s architect son, co-designer, and current Continental property manager, Matthew, and his wife carry on the family tradition of living over the company store. “I’ve built six homes for myself. Each one had the living quarters over the firm’s offices below,” Segal says. That personal dimension is also reflected in the building’s aesthetic and construction systems, starting with concrete, a building material Segal is passionate about.
Matthew Segal AIA

Only Concrete

“Our last six buildings have been concrete. It’s such a beautiful material. It’s plastic, adds texture, and performs design gymnastics wood or steel can’t match. It’s like the 1956 Maserati I own. Over the years the original finish has evolved into a gorgeous patina that can’t be duplicated. Concrete is like that. It looks better over time.”

Structural Lightness

The post-tensioned concrete structure was erected without an onsite crane, using a mobile crane instead. “Post-tensioning lightens the structure, important in a seismic zone. Lightness helps with lateral stability and the foundations,” he says.

Look closely at the structure’s south façade. The sculptural pattern may remind you of another design effect. “The cantilevered concrete is derivative of a 1958 Buick grill. It’s a classic pattern free of the superfluous.” A design lesson worthy of the Project of the Year award.

Learn more about the role of concrete in contemporary building design.