Artist Pae White was selected by the North Embarcadero Visionary Plan Public Art Committee (NEVP PAC) from a pool of qualified artists and awarded the contract to create public art in collaboration with the design team for the first phase of the North Embarcadero redevelopment project.
The idea for White's integrated artwork design for the esplanade architecture came about after a series of project-related meetings where the artist recognized an opportunity for visually and spatially stimulating architecture that could function as "working sculptures". White was interested in how viewers would interact with the artworks from a variety of locations: the pedestrian ground plane, the future high-rise developments, possibly airplanes, and potentially from Google Earth. The idea of a bird, specifically a seagull, was chosen as an ambassador for all these points of view. Culling words from the popular 1970 novel "Jonathan Livingston Seagull" by Richard Bach, White embedded key words into the pavillion roofs as textual, horizontal brises-soleils whose openness will cast sunlit words on the ground during the day, and uplit text on the ceiling at night.
The shape of both the café building and the information center are forms derived from the letters in the pavilion roofs above. The transparent buildings, made of colored glass in dawn and dusk hues reminiscent of the San Diego Bay, seem to be extruded from the ceiling to the ground. The transparent nature of the colored-glass buildings invite the viewer to observe the operations of the esplanade businesses functioning within the dynamic geometry of these spaces.
A further articulation of the textual brises-soleils of the pavilion roofs, takes shape in the vertical concrete walls that comprise the public restroom building. When illuminated at night, the bright orange monochromatic interior will reveal specific open-form words. After hours all the "working sculptures" will be lit in such a way that they act almost as illuminated colored lanterns.
After a series of design charettes, workshops and public presentations, White presented her preliminary design to the NEVP PAC at their meeting on June 23, 2008, and took comments and suggestions regarding the design. She also presented her preliminary design to the Joint Powers Authority (JPA) Board as an informational item on July 24, 2008. On September 17, 2008, the NEVP PAC reviewed White's public art proposal at their meeting on September 17, 2008 and recommended to JPA Board approval of her public art proposal. Subsequently, the JPA Board approved White's public art proposal on September 25, 2008.
Groundbreaking for construction of the restroom, pavilions and buildings, which is part of the first phase of the North Embarcadero redevelopment, took place in January 2012.
The project is funded through a partnership between the Port of San Diego, The Redevelopment Agency of the City of San Diego, acting through the Centre City Development Corporation and the City of San Diego.