The new lobby unifies multiple disconnected spaces with a holistic design that features planar Corten walls to provide directional guidance and a nod to the building’s reddish exterior. Photography by Ryan Gobuty and Makena Hudson

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When a building is designed by a legend, but the public-facing interiors have become a hindrance to attracting and retaining high-quality commercial tenants, changes may need to be made. And when that building is less than 30 years old, those alterations may even seem radical. That was the case with Aventine, a San Diego office building designed by Michael Graves, which the Rockpoint Group purchased in 2015 and subsequently spent $6.6 million to reposition its public spaces. Gensler oversaw the transformation.

Completed in 1989, the 11-story structure has solid postmodern bones, but the interior common areas became dated and less functional over time. Aventine is part of a mixed-use complex designed by Graves that includes the Hyatt Regency La Jolla at Aventine as well as stores and restaurants. The office tower had elements that aged quicker than others, and that was a problem in this University Town Centre real estate submarket, which currently enjoys the highest office rent growth rate in San Diego County—a 16 percent annual increase.



“The prior lobby was disjointed and dark, and it lacked seating areas for tenants and visitors,” says Tony Russell, managing director of JLL San Diego, which is Aventine’s leasing manager and also one of its tenants.

Darrel Fullbright, principal and design director at Gensler, agreed with Russell’s assessment. “Although rich in material and detail,” Fullbright says, “the original lobby had become functionally obsolete by the standards of today’s office buildings, which tend to have amenities in the common areas and public spaces.”

Fullbright says Gensler was tasked to “unify and activate multiple discrete, disconnected spaces, including two front doors, three elevator lobbies, and a rotunda.” The challenge was to do so while creating a holistic and timeless design that pays tribute to the building’s context and reddish exterior. Most of the existing interior lobby walls and small rooms were eliminated, creating one larger space for a lobby and cafe.

Planar Corten walls were installed to both revitalize the interiors and provide directional guidance to the three elevator lobbies. “The raw Corten complements the wood and marble used for the floors, walls, and furnishings of the lobby,” Fullbright says. “The series of custom-designed blades and slats further accentuate the verticality of the space and express movement through the lobby. Indirect lighting enhances the new spaces and building materials. The use of color, material, and light seamlessly blend interior and exterior environments.”

A new cafe was added, energizing the public areas. Walls are also lined with Corten panels in the cafe, where black Vibia pendant lights hover over the sleek corner-edge counter made of nublado light marble with a contrasting quartz solid-surface countertop. A large communal table, made of flat-cut walnut veneer and oil-rubbed bronze, is in the center. Gensler custom designed the cafe tables, which were constructed by Southwest Millworks. Adjacent to the cafe and taking advantage of San Diego’s near-perfect climate, sliding glass doors lead to outdoor seating—an area defined by Ipe wood slats and Corten landscape screen walls.

“The goal was to create a bright, modern, and inviting environment,” Russell explains. “We also wanted to create places that would encourage tenants and visitors to congregate. It was important for the outdoor and interior common areas to share a cohesive flow.”

Russell adds that the cafe and outdoor spaces, in particular, have been successes. “Feedback from tenants and the broader real estate community has been positive,” he says. “The renovation captured our vision for the project while activating the lobby and providing a gathering space for tenants and visitors.”

who Architect and interior designer: Gensler. Project team: Darrel Fullbright; Nicholas Willis; Claudia Salazar; Julia sources Baikova; Michelle Tello; Christopher Leppert. Contractor: Prevost Construction. Engineering: RB Consulting Engineers; Mechanical System Contractors; KMP Plumbing; KPFF Consulting Engineers. Kitchen: Orness Design Group. Landscape: Lastras de Gertler. Graphics: Gensler. Other: Southwest Millworks.
what Wallcoverings: Ehmcke; Crossville; Maharam; Panolam. Paint: Sherwin-Williams. Laminate: Nevamar. Movable walls: Panda Windows & Doors. Hard flooring: Iris Ceramica. Resilient flooring: Armstrong. Carpet/carpet tile: Interface. Exterior: Westcoat Specialty Coating Systems. Recessed lighting: Focal Point; Finelite; Prescolite Lighting. Fluorescent/industrial: Tivoli. Floor/table lamps: De La Espada; Truman. Pendants/ chandeliers: Flos; Vibia. Sconces: Sonneman Lighting. Other decorative: Lithonia. Exterior lighting: Bega Lighting; Lithonia. Hardware: Schlage Doors: Oregon Door; Timely Frames. Architectural glass/ glazing: Panda Windows & Doors. Lounge/reception seating: Cassina. Cafeteria/ dining seating: Artifort; Bensen. Outdoor seating: Restoration Hardware. Upholstery: Maharam; Edelman Leather. Tables: Pental; Andreu World; HBF; Bensen; custom. Architectural/custom woodworking: Dooge Veneers. Planters, accessories: Tournesol. Plumbing fixtures/fittings: Kohler; Neo-Metro; Zurn. Textile treatments/finishes: Maharam; Designtex; Sunbrella.