|Built in 1968, San Clemente Marine Safety Headquarters is a familiar landmark on the Southern California coast. Located directly on the beach, the administrative headquarters of the lifeguard corps has fallen into disrepair due to coastal erosion and harsh salt winds. However, renovating the existing structure in its current location would be expensive, not align with modern standards, and rising sea levels and storm surges will increasingly threaten the property. So, we created a new public plaza on the bluff above the beach, in the area known as the “Pier Bowl.”
The design takes advantage of topography by placing the new public safety facility -the administrative headquarters of the lifeguard corps- underneath a new public plaza. By moving the facility off the beach and to the bluff, it protects the building from flooding and gives staff uninterrupted views of the beach while significantly expanding and improving public space and amenities, giving the beach back to the community and providing 20,000 SF of new public space along the shore.
On the bluff, extending the terrace outward increases the usable plaza area by 12 times and the linear footage of seating by 25 times. At the north end of the new plaza, a raised amphitheater provides views of the pier, the beach, and the ocean from a higher elevation. Next to the amphitheater, the re-imagined clock tower will serve a new purpose in its new home. The new clock tower, made from the stone of the existing tower and lower wall will now pull warm air up and out of the building, creating a passively cooling space below. The clock tower is also constructed with open joints, allowing subtle light to seep out and create an ethereal and memorable image on the skyline. Now the clock tower will double as a thermal flue while continuing its legacy at the more visible public plaza.
Finally, the team envisioned the plaza to maintain the same amount of planted area as the existing park. The planting design incorporates California native coastal plant material that is low-water use, restores site soils, provides habitat for local fauna, and limits the use and spread of non-native or invasive plant species, creating a healthy and vibrant natural system. These options require less maintenance and reduce the need for chemical inputs creating an overall healthier environment. Trees provide natural shading in hot months and solar heat gain in winter months pulling from the native coastal mix that are salt and wind tolerant. The planting design allows for use of three-inch layer of mulch to reduce soil temperature, minimize weeds, and control evapotranspiration of water from the site soils. The combined use of the strategies helps to expand the use of precious resources.
The resulting new space will enjoy good natural light, passive ventilation, and extreme energy efficiency. And the building expects to use 87 percent less energy than average and lives the principles of designing for integration, community, energy, and change.