Merging Function and Art to Enhance an Ocean Icon

Imperial Beach PierSan Diego, CA—USA

Teaming up with the City of San Diego to recommend a strategic vision for the renovated pier, Civitas’ designs have merged function with art in order to promote fishing, surfing, lounging and more.

Due south of San Diego Bay, California’s southernmost pier in the United States’ most southwesterly city extends 1,500’ into the Pacific Ocean at Imperial Beach. Originally built in 1963, the pier was rebuilt in the 1980s after a destructive storm and updated again in 2006. For decades, the wood-plank pier has been a popular destination, especially for surfers, fishers and sunset watchers—in fact it’s the largest tourist attraction in San Diego’s South Bay—but the Port of San Diego has invested to make it even more relevant and resilient, and to attract even more foot traffic with a more comfortable and engaging experience.

City of San Diego
Vision Planning, Urban Design
Project type/category
Civic/Municipal, Pier, Waterfront

The previous state of the pier offered a singular experience, rather than fully embracing the full power and majesty of the ocean. Civitas’ vision was to create a series of rooms and experiences that celebrate their immediate coastal context, ranging from the theater of surfing to the stunning coastal landscape, and from the rigor of subsistence fishing to the vastness of the sea’s horizon. This vision and Civitas’ subsequent technical studies amplify the latent experiential qualities of the pier and connect users to the energy inherent in the ocean’s edge.

The new canopy over the mid-pier extension includes the back-lit shape of a shark moving through water, echoing local surfers’ experience of being beneath the waves. New steel cable railings on the same section of the pier enhance visibility of the ocean and its coastline.

Civitas’ designs are the result of an active public engagement process, during which many ideas were gathered and interpreted, first aiming high and then narrowing to an achievable plan. The improvements merge function and art, with iconic shade elements and graphics that celebrate different ocean experiences—including two large signature canopies that reference surfers’ sensation of being beneath the waves—as well as concepts for custom furnishings and fishing facilities. Each is designed at different spots along the pier to draw people out over the water, connecting people more directly with the power of the ocean and the beauty of the coastal landscape. The organization of spaces creates a rhythm of movement and pause as one explores the pier, drawing visitors further out to the end of the pier while extending user stay.