Fault Line Park

Posted: August 7th, 2015 | Art on the Land, Columnists, Top Story | No Comments

By Delle Willett | Art on the Land

Every Californian knows about the San Andreas Fault, but closer to home and not so well known is the Rose Canyon Fault, which makes a journey through La Jolla, Coronado, and Downtown San Diego, where, through the efforts of city planners, its path has turned into public parks.

One such park is nearing completion in the East Village at the corner of Island Avenue and 14th Street — appropriately named “Fault Line Park.”

“To say that designing a park on a fault zone was a challenge is not actually true; it was really more of an inspiration for design expression,” said landscape architect Martin Poirier, FASLA of Spurlock Poirier, the park’s designers.

The actual fault itself is expressed by the main pathway, which divided the park into two sections. The largest area is flat and undisturbed, as though nothing has happened on that land.

Playground with view of New Central Librarywebtop

Kid’s playground with rubber surfaces and view of Central Library (Photo by Delle Willett)

The smaller area expresses what a place might look like after being slammed by a forcefully moving tectonic plate. Everything’s jumbled, there’s rolling topography, contorted paths, and no order.

Situated on one of Downtown’s rare, doublewide superblocks (480 feet by 300 feet), the 1.5-acre park is bordered to the west and east by 14th and 15th streets, and Island Avenue and J Street to the north and south.

A public/private partnership between Civic San Diego and Pinnacle International Development of Vancouver, B.C., the park was jointly designed with an adjacent 45-story high-rise called Pinnacle Tower 1 — the first of two residential towers planned nearby — with an expected 956 units.

The private outdoor spaces of Pinnacle Tower 1 were designed at the same time as the park, with a goal of integrating and making them appear as one, contiguous open space.

When the project started 10 years ago, Spurlock Poirier held design charrettes with neighborhood residents to find out what they would like in the park.

Even though the area’s demographics have changed over the years and the number of residents has grown, the new residents want similar things: a big, flexible open area for pick-up play, picnics, parties, inflatables, movies and more; basically children’s playgrounds and places for people to get outside to exercise. Most importantly, they wanted a public restroom.

There’s a lot for a little kid to explore and enjoy. The playground area includes individualized play areas for children 2–5 and 5–12 years old with swings, spinners, chinning bars, and climbing structures, all with rubberized play surfaces.

Sphere with Pinnacle Tower in reflection (Photo by Delle Willett)

Sphere with Pinnacle Tower in reflection
(Photo by Delle Willett)

Other creative elements include sand, rock, grassy mounds and water play areas.

“The idea was a path for little kids with a two-foot eye level, sunk inside a field of soft, grassy mounds, designed so it would be fun on three wheelers, scooters and strollers — an enjoyable circuitous path they could follow, jump off to roll in the grass, or gyrate on a spinner,” said Poirier, referring to the winding paths found in the park. “Just a fun path like the Yellow Brick Road.”

On the northwest corner of the block, Texas-based Stella Public House and Halcyon Coffee share the 3,000-square-foot restaurant space, with a large patio overlooking the new park, the Coronado Bridge and the Downtown Central Library. It’s also a great perch for watchful parents to keep an eye on their kids.

Collaboratively designed by Perkins and Company, Architecture & Urban Planning of Vancouver and San Diego, and Spurlock Poirier, the café building and property is owned and maintained by the developer.

“I’m really happy about the synergy of the café and the park,” Poirier said. “The café is going to thrive there because it’s a great setting and a lot of people can walk to it.”

Two public restrooms are available to park visitors and café patrons, and are maintained by the restaurant lessee.

This project had a “percent-for-the-arts” contribution from the San Diego Commission for Arts and Culture, which means that a percent of the construction cost would be used to commission an artist to create a work of art for the park.

The Bay Area-based artist team, Living Lenses (Po Shu Wang and Louise Bertelsen), fascinated by the fault-line location, developed “Fault Whisper,” a multi-media interactive sculpture designed to engage public awareness of what “mother earth” is up to at the park site in real time.

Two 6-foot polished mirror spherical sculptures are sited on opposite sides of the rupture/path.

From the viewing cone of the west sphere, visitors can see the east sphere, which was center-framed at the time of the sculptural installation. Over time, one will be able to see how much the land has slipped, by noticing how much the framing of east sphere is offset.

View of Fault Line Park from the tower (Photo by Delle Willett)

View of Fault Line Park from the tower (Photo by Delle Willett)

Underneath a plaque in front of the west sphere is an accelerometer that goes into the fault rupture, 14 feet below. It gathers ground movements in real time and sends them to a control computer, where the data stream is processed into musical notes. An ongoing musical composition is output gently through sound holes inside the sphere’s viewing cone.

A remote eavesdropping function is also available in the form of a QR code that can be scanned with a smartphone and opened to a page where one could click and eavesdrop on the earth at the park, anytime, anywhere.

In addition, a variety of native and drought-tolerant trees, shrubs and succulents will provide shade, color and texture to the park. Three types of grass are used: on the large open area is Bull’s-eye Bermuda, the grassy mounds are fescue, and along the sidewalk, artificial; which, hopefully, dog owners will use instead of the play areas.

Fault Line Park is scheduled to open in mid-August.

—Delle Willett has been a marketing and public relations professional for over 30 years, with an emphasis on conservation of the environment. She can be reached at

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