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American Institute of Architects Holds Design Charrette for Ideas to Make State Street Work

Santa Barbara brainstorming event comes up with proposals to add more housing downtown, install more public art, re-purpose large buildings into new uses


The Santa Barbara chapter of the American Institute of Architects put out a call to architects, associate architects, planners and landscape professionals interested in brainstorming new designs for lower State Street.

It was standing-room-only at the Louise Lowry Davis Center on Saturday, where nine teams of six people presented ideas on how to keep the downtown area vital to the fabric of Santa Barbara, and address the influx of vacant storefronts from Gutierrez to Sola streets. Members of the public were invited to attend the final presentations for the event, "Make State Street Work."

It was AIA Santa Barbara’s second event in the form of a charrette — a solution-design practice common in the field of architecture, to address housing, transportation, retail, public engagement and other measures that impact the quality of life.

The challenge was to brainstorm fundamental changes to the area while adjusting to global shifts in the retail industry.

An introductory meeting was held before Saturday’s event and featured a speaker roster of area developers, Downtown Santa Barbara representatives and real estate professionals to update the group about the condition of State Street retail.

On Saturday, it was crunch time.

Equipped with maps, the teams had nearly seven hours to delve into a section along State Street to study and redesign for a more vibrant, economically vital and sustainable future for Santa Barbara's downtown.

A handful of the schemes showed bringing housing closer to State Street and re-purposing some of the buildings.

The groups agreed to keep street-level retail space, and some suggested utilizing downtown surface parking lots as apartment-type buildings. 

Some teams recommended closing a few blocks of State Street to vehicles during specific times or days to create a pedestrian-friendly space and social gathering area.

A group advocated large-scale art installations into State Streets’ sprawling concrete backdrop, drawing inspiration from vibrant mosaics and murals.

Teams put forward ideas and renderings to keep State Street vital to the fabric of Santa Barbara. Click to view larger
Teams put forward ideas and renderings to keep State Street vital to the fabric of Santa Barbara. (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photo)

“The whole idea was to think outside of the box,” said Ellen Bildsten, past AIA president and architect at Bildsten Architecture and Planning.

“The idea was not to have rules or specific solutions prescribed, but let people come up with what they think is a good, new direction.”

Bildsten was in the group No. 6, which hashed out designs for the intersection of Carrillo and State streets and the Transit Center near Chapala and Carrillo streets. 

They thought about the role and future of transportation regarding how people travel. 

The group acknowledged how the mobility experience in the city is adapting, and the potential to utilize ride-sharing companies or bike storage to amp up “the other ways to encourage people to get to State Street,” Bildsten said.

AIA Santa Barbara’s charrette aimed to help the community envision possibilities for dynamic working solutions for Santa Barbara's El Pueblo Viejo corridor.

A handful of ideas generated will be presented to the Santa Barbara City Council for consideration and planning for positive change, Bildsten said.

“It’s where our hope for impact is going to happen in terms of the city potentially changing policy or something that would allow for some of the ideas we came up with to be allowable when people apply for projects,” she said.

“This conversation (future of State Street) is happening within a lot of different aspects of the community, but as architects, we have certain skills we can lend to the effort.”

Noozhawk staff writer Brooke Holland can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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