After the revisions to the Marshall Square project on the corner N. 1st and St. John streets, and after the completion of the Meridian at Midtown on W. San Carlos and Meridian Avenue, a problem has surfaced that needs to be addressed. San Jose is already limited on building heights, so mid-rise and low-rise mixed-use residential buildings will be the future of planning throughout the city. But if buildings such as Marshall Square and Meridian at Midtown are San Jose’s answer to this residential demand, design in San Jose will continue to be insignificant. The issue for both these projects is something very simple, the corner. The corner is the focal point of both these properties, but in both cases “the corner” has been diminished to an afterthought.
Take Meridian at Midtown, the focal point of the renderings as seen above is the corner. Yet because of the first floor columns and overhang, the entrance to the future Starbucks becomes imposing and unwelcoming. The corner space could have been opened up more just by extending the columns up 3-4ft more and making the overhang angle up towards the sky, creating a more airy and welcoming entrance. The second issue with this corner is the use of small windows. Instead of using the silver “metal” cladding, the corner should have been all glass up to window treatments on the fourth floor. The last issue are the columns themselves. They are completely unnecessary. After seeing this building in person, the columns crowd the pedestrian corner. This project abuts against the sidewalk and the columns create a wall and narrow the area for pedestrians on the sidewalk. All of this creates an uninviting space, and detracts from a relatively positive project for the Midtown area.
The second example of a poor corner is the revised Marshall Square project seen above. Leaving the archaic historical district guidelines argument aside, from a design perspective the corner to this new offering is terribly misguided. Again the large column on the corner is very heavy and imposing to pedestrians. In fact it completely blocks the views that people would have in the cafe of St James Park and 1st street. It also shields the cafe, which should be the jewel of the project as it was in the original rendering.
In this first rendering, the corner is given space and is set back from the sidewalk, allowing pedestrian activity into the complex via a staircase. The new columns actually create a safety hazard and bring the possibly of a criminal aspect that wasn’t present with the more open and exposed design first proposed.
If San Jose is going to continue pushing density in the form of mixed-use low/medium-rise residential, then “the corner” needs to improve. The design choices that are being made today will be the legacy of our generation. Projects like Marshall Square and Meridian at Midtown need to be the exception, not the norm. It’s time to for our city to become significant in building design. Building design in San Jose needs better focus on buildings that factor in the relationship of the pedestrian experience, that fit within the context of the neighborhood, and that fit within fabric of the city. Buildings can no longer be seen as an isolated project dropped onto a blank canvas.