A San Diego Residential Complex: “The Charmer” by Jonathan Segal

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This award-winning project by Jonathan Segal consists of a 19-unit residential complex in San Diego’s “Little Italy” neighborhood. It’s an investigation into how courtyard housing — a common residential style in California in the 1920s — could be updated and integrated into a site that normally would hold twice the density and have underground parking. Segal’s philosophy is that not all apartment projects need to “pack people in” — and that exterior spaces are as important as interior ones. That’s why all units have their own private “yards” as well as courtyards that help to buffer sound from nearby expressways. When you approach these buildings, one of the first things you’ll notice are the façades — dark siding on one hand, expanses of glass on the other. There’s no underground parking here: it’s all on the ground level as well, much of it beneath the residences, with well-lit lots adding to the security of the community.

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Around a central court are six one-bedroom bungalows; each has its own glass front door, enabling residents to mingle at will. Surrounding those bungalows are eight three-bedroom homes, two stories high, that also have oversized courtyards — much like the smaller homes with private yards located all around them. Finally, at the end of the parking lot are two two-bedroom “pods” whose living space is on the upper level; with no security gate in the development, these mimic a “watchtower” effect over the motor court. Interiors in these are open and expansive; well-placed greenery enhances privacy as well as the general ambience. A prize-winning project, yes — but the “Charmer” is also a well-planned living space.

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