Who Was Lloyd Ruocco?
Traveling along 5th Avenue in San Diego’s Hillcrest neighborhood one would be forgiven for not noticing Lloyd Ruocco’s seminal design just north of Brooks St. Like many of his creations, it is transparent playing a secondary role to its site. Most would see its design as nondescript. For those who do take notice of this city block it might be for the stunning Jacaranda trees putting on their show in spring or maybe for the Wisteria vines that cloak the entry at the southwest corner of the building. When talking to locals they often look blankly when you mention “The Design Center” only lighting up when you remind them that there once was a spaceship parked behind the building, a nod to the Futuro that once called the Canyon behind the building home. Architectural genius is not what comes to the average passerby, after all this building appears a single story flat roofed office building from the street. No grand architectural statements here, at least none you’d see from 5th Avenue.
"Phantom Architecture" was a term that the late architectural critic James Britton used to describe Lloyd Ruocco's work. If you happen to be one of those lucky enough to live or perhaps work in one of his wood and glass creations you likely find that term quite fitting. Although highly revered by his peers for his passionate advocacy for modern design in the middle part of the last century, much of Lloyd Ruocco's work has been lost to time. In a city that tends to look outside of its borders for architectural genius, the true irony is that one of California's greatest mid century designers called this city his home.
Lloyd Ruocco was an architect but also a philosopher, an educator, urban designer and maybe even a poet. He was tremendously influential in creating an aesthetic and design approach that I will call San Diego Regional Modernism which includes art, craft, architecture, planning, landscape architecture and almost any creative endeavor. He believed that creativity and design could change lives and worked tirelessly to that end. Understanding his work is fundamental in understanding San Diego’s mid-century architectural history. It is my hope that this site will begin to better tell that story.