Developer Jack Naiman wanted to create "something romantic" on his hilltop site outside La Jolla.
Inspired by his vacation in Italy, Naiman decided to name his project Aventine, after one of Rome's historic seven hills. He envisioned a "noble presence" dominating the southern edge of San Diego's Golden Triangle--a wedge of land between interstates 5 and 805 a mile east of La Jolla.
Naiman chose postmodern architect Michael Graves to design Aventine--a $150-million mixed-use project that includes a 16-story, 400-room Hyatt Regency hotel, an 11-story 220,000-square-foot office complex, a health club and four restaurants.
Although Graves was selected in a limited competition between his Princeton, N.J.-based office and the New York City firm of I. M. Pei & Partners, he was not the developer's first choice.
"Jack (Naiman) asked me to design only the hotel interiors," Graves said. "But I refused. I just couldn't see my style of design matching Pei's strictly modernist manner."
Graves persuaded Naiman to let him compete for the architecture of the entire project. He felt that his well-known reverence for classical traditions would best suit Naiman's Rome-inspired concept.
"We felt that Graves' style caught the Roman spirit we were after," said Dan Sharp, an executive of the project's developers, Aventine Partners of San Diego, a consortium of the Naiman Co. and several major Japanese investors. "We were after something striking yet appropriate to the area, and he gave us just that."
The Aventine is truly Roman in the boldness of its silhouettes.
The Hyatt Regency's sweeping, curved roof, a dramatic profile against the skyline above Interstate 5, is the Aventine's centerpiece. Finished in buff-colored stucco with turquoise window trim above a base of red Baruli sandstone, the hotel turns a sparkling face to the western sun.
The office complex in the prow of the site is clad in a contrasting terra-cotta stucco. Graves broke the office block down into three volumes--two oblongs and a circle--to "reduce the impact of its bulk," he said.
"I felt that the leading edge of the site, which most people see first, should attract the eye with interesting shapes," he said.
The office complex culminates in a circular campanile with windows that look out toward La Jolla and the Pacific Ocean. Behind the campanile tower, the bold pitch of the main office block's copper roof anchors the complex to its site. Attached to the main block is a low office wing that resembles a Renaissance \o7 palazzo, \f7 with its regular rows of windows alternating with solid stucco walls.
The varied geometry of the office block is unusual. It allows either a variety of layouts on the same floor, or gives a major tenant an entire and distinct wing.
The circular drum of the health club forms a visual hinge between the office complex and the hotel. Shaped like a Roman rotunda, the club is designed to be seen both from the level of the pool and courtyards and from the taller buildings on either side.
Graves turned the face of the hotel from the main axis of the plan to allow more sun to reach the pool and its terraces. A series of landscaped courtyards, some with fountains, link the pool with the hotel's main lounge.
Arcades capped by festive blue and yellow metal awnings lighten the somewhat somber mood of the classically inspired architecture.
To the west of the hotel is a wide, paved driveway stretching between the hotel's main entry and four restaurants. Designed as a series of separate pavilions, the themed restaurants--with names such as Cafe Japengo, Paparazzi, Kiva Grill and P.J. Wolfe's Steakhouse--make a playful display of diagonally striped stucco.
The restaurant interiors, none of which were designed by Graves, strive to enhance their themed scenarios. Paparazzi, for example, is decorated with hanging hams and salamis while Cafe Japengo favors a punk-Japanese motif that combines bamboo and black steel.
The Hyatt Regency's entry is flanked by cheerful bellboy sentry boxes in the same blue and yellow stripes used on the arcade awnings. The high front portico leads into a low lobby of marbled columns and Roman statuary. This, in turn, overlooks the hotel's Barcino restaurant and main lounge below.
Graves said the progression from high to low to high was "a deliberate strategy and a budgetary necessity."
The lobby has a low ceiling and a multitude of pillars. Usually, hotel builders create spacious lobbies by using an expensive transfer beam to support the floors above.
"We made a virtue of necessity and deliberately muted the lobby's grandeur in order to emphasize the drama of the two-story lounge beyond," Graves said. "If this means that the traditional hotel lobby, where guests can sit and read their papers and watch people come and go, is lost, the gain comes in the luxuries of the main lounge and the connection it has with the courtyards outside."