A rendering of Park & Market, a full-block mixed-use development under construction in Downtown San Diego’s East Village that Michael Johnson is leading for Carrier Johnson + Culture. The 562,000-square-foot development will house businesses, offices, and classrooms for UC-San Diego as well as 426 apartments, including 85 affordable housing units. The project includes a high-rise tower, a mid-rise component, a public plaza, and a historic preservation component. | Images courtesy a representative of Carrier Johnson + Culture

Personalities – October 2018: The Evolution of Design

Carrie Rossenfeld Personalities

Movers and shakers in our industry from the October 2018 issue of SoCal Real Estate

A chat with Michael Johnson of Carrier Johnson + Culture

Michael Johnson

San Diego–based Michael Johnson, a founder and design principal of architecture and design firm Carrier Johnson + Culture, was selected earlier this year for appointments to two high-profile organizations: the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Documents Committee and the University of California San Diego’s inaugural Real Estate and Development Advisory Board for its new degree program in that field. SoCal Real Estate spoke with Johnson about the new volunteer positions, how he’s seen CRE design — particularly in San Diego — evolve over the last decade, and how he sees it changing over the next decade.

SoCal Real Estate: What are you most looking forward to accomplishing in your new volunteer positions?
First, I was asked to be on the national AIA Documents Committee. One of the reasons I accepted this appointment is because, at this stage in my career, it allowed me once again to give back to my profession. I’m still a practicing design architect, which is attractive to them because you’re still in play, and you’re seeing the trends and changes.

The building and procurement environment in particular is changing quickly. It used to be that an owner hires an architect, the architect draws the design, bids are taken, and then the project is built. But this hasn’t always worked well on every project for various reasons. So many procurements like design/build, which is trying to create a collaborative team where everyone is working together. Things like that are changing the environment of delivery, particularly in the public sector. But I’m hoping to give my experience to help effect change with the contract so it’s better for all entities: contractors, architects, etc.

On the UC San Diego side, our firm has been working at UC San Diego for 35 years, and we’ve completed large and small projects on the campus. I was asked to be a chair on the advisory board with multiple industry leaders. One of the things I’m very interested in is an interdisciplinary approach to building. Cal Poly San Luis Obispo has a program for planning, construction management, and architectural engineering that is about cross-pollinating the different sectors. UC San Diego is coming from social studies and humanities, and they do have architectural and urban-design programs, and they’re trying to integrate that into one. I’m committed to making UC San Diego one of the better universities in the country.

As an architect, how have you seen the design of San Diego’s commercial real estate evolve over the last decade?
If you’re trying to get anything of a public nature done, for example, if the County of San Diego or the State of California wants to do a public project, doing public-private partnerships where funding comes from the private sector and you create leasebacks makes sense.

What’s happening with Downtown San Diego is that we are at a stage in our evolution where almost all the housing that has been built in the county in the last decade is in Downtown San Diego. The big change is going to be when we land a major office user Downtown like Amazon or Facebook — then we will see a major renaissance. But I think we’re already starting to see it.

One of the big changes is that as transit starts to get better, there will be more synergies and densities occurring in Downtown San Diego. We’re also seeing lower parking requirements now, especially in an urban environment.

How do you see design here changing over the next decade?
I’m hoping we will see more pedestrian-friendly developments happen where the pedestrian is truly the priority, not the car. If you look anywhere in San Diego, but especially in a downtown environment or office park, it’s surrounded by a big sea of parking. With the cost of land, we will see less of that. I think you’re going to see a combination of transit with high-speed lanes — less hard rail and more shuttles Downtown.

We will also continue to see major projects happening in San Diego. The Midway site over by the Sports Arena will be developed, and we will see some major plays like with the Westfield Horton Plaza and over by the ballpark. We will see many developments revolving around new sports for San Diego, whether it’s soccer, basketball, hockey, or football, over the next 10 to 15 years.