Vons Mission Hills
The jury unanimously agreed that the new Washington Street Vons deserves a 2-for-1 Onion Special for both Architecture and Urban Design.
A run-of-the-mill, project that could have been plopped into any a suburban setting, Vons Mission Hills misses the mark, and with that, the opportunity to create a fundamental pedestrian-friendly presence on Washington Street. As rationalized by the nominator, the ground floor parking lot indicates the “prioritization of cars over people… and now any possibility for an interesting, active, and vibrant street scene is virtually non-existent.”
The nomination did commend Vons for working closely with the community to improve dramatically upon the original design for the store, but even so, the jury felt that with all that empty land, a good design would have energized the sidewalk at this promising location, and that by rehabilitating and augmenting the existing 12,000 square foot Vons into the 58,000 square foot version, it would have likely ended up with a lot more character.
A hidden front door; an inaccessible staircase and landscape ‘art prints' mounted to the side of the building (as opposed to genuine landscape elements), further dismiss the potential for an inspiring and unobstructed walk down Washington Street to grab a loaf of bread. And although we can’t fault Vons for the presence of huge, Onion-awarded SDG&E utility boxes on the sidewalk doesn’t help matters.
- Project Address: 450 West University Avenue, San Diego, CA 92103
- Project Owner/ Developer: Vons/Safeway
- Owner Contact Name/ Email: Brian Braaten, VP of Real Estate, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Project Architect/ Designer: MCG Architecture
Let’s be frank. Instead of having a store designed and built for the urban setting of Mission Hills, Mission Hills got the same Vons store one would find in Poway, Pasadena, or Escondido. Vons/Safeway simply took their suburban model and plopped it on top of a parking garage in Mission Hills. The result – a suburban sensibility and architecture that prioritizes cars over people, and which kills any possibility of having an active, vibrant, neighborhood street scene.
Vons/Safeway worked closely with the Mission Hills community, for which they are to be commended. As a result, the designed evolved over time to incorporate community concerns and interests. Renderings of the first design prove that the final design was a dramatic improvement. Credit must be given to the designers for breaking up the facade massing, adding visual interest, and for creating a well defined street wall. Even so, the overall style borders on Generica (meaning you can find the same generic style across America).
However, the good points still do not compensate for the fact that ground floor is a parking lot. The possibility for an interesting, active, and vibrant street scene is now non-existent. Yes, Von’s dressed up the parking lot with colorful potted plants and whimsical ironwork, which makes walking by it a little more interesting. (Watch out for the utility boxes in the middle of the sidewalk!!)
However, these distractions only seem to reinforce that the street level was so flawed that it had to be fixed. You can put lipstick on a pig, but …