Now Playing

Master Planner

S.D.’s original forward-thinking architect, Sebastian Mariscal, has spawned a sleek army of protégés.

Architect Sebastian Mariscal, center, photographed at an early Little Italy project with, from left, architects Jorge Gracia, Hunter Leggitt, Dominique Houriet and Jeff Svitak.

Sebastian Mariscal has a saying: “Arriba y adelante.” It means up and forward, a befitting battle cry for the coterie of design talent the starchitect has fostered over the years.

“Our projects are challenging,” explains Mariscal in his lilting Spanish accent. “We see every one as a great opportunity to push the envelope, so there are always a lot of obstacles, from convincing clients to getting all the details right.”

And make no mistake: Mariscal always gets it right. The Mexico City-born architect, now bicoastal with offices in San Diego and Boston, routinely lands magazine covers with his cutting-edge creations. Mariscal masterpieces have become veritable San Diego landmarks, from his early lofts in Little Italy to a low-slung, Japanese-inspired residence in Carlsbad. His own stunning home in La Jolla has an amphitheater backyard.

Unsurprisingly, young architects are beating down his doors to work for him. “The way I select people is very organic,” says Mariscal. “Many of them were referred by other employees, which is an important part of the recruitment process. They need to fit within our nonstandard profile.”

“Simplicity, efficiency, cost-effectiveness—this is how Sebastian has inspired our work,” says Jorge Gracia, a hotshot Tijuana architect who worked for Mariscal before founding graciastudio in 2004. “He has a simple way of looking at things. He has strong ethics and a deep understanding of architecture.”

He also doesn’t lord over his disciples or burden them with menial or monotonous tasks. “Many architects are so specialized now,” says Mariscal. “They can only do one part of the project. Everyone on my team works through the whole process from A to Z.”

“It was like architectural boot camp,” laughs Dominique Houriet, another former protégé who owns oo-d-a studio. “There wasn’t a lot of time to smell the roses, but I acquired a work ethic and established my pace.”

The best part? The iconic architect isn’t just churning out a bunch of mini-Mariscals. “You can’t copy yourself, or your mentor, or other architects,” says the creative capo. “I see such a great evolution with everyone I’ve worked with.”

In San Diego, Houriet’s fresh take can be seen at the airport, where his mod chairs are on display, and at The Patio at Lamont Street in P.B., the new inside-out eatery featuring huge sliding glass doors and a living plant wall. Another S.D.-based up-and-comer, Jeff Svitak, is about to break ground on an 18-unit apartment building in Little Italy, and hopped the pond to Normandy, France, for a renovation of a pre-WWII stone barn.

Meanwhile, across the border, Gracia has racked up awards and worldwide recognition (not to mention major ink) for his mod Baja Culinary School and a Guadalupe Valley eco-hotel with podlike rooms that hover above the earth. For Tijuana’s La Caja Gallery, Gracia sourced wood barracks from Camp Pendleton for the floors and industrial freezer doors for the metallic ceiling—a stylish new spin on the tired reclaimed trend.

Up in L.A. and other points north, Hunter Leggitt is spreading the Mariscal mantra with projects ranging from a collaborative Coachella stage design fit for jet-setting VIPs to the 5:10 Cabin in the Sequoias. For the latter, he spent a year with a group of student apprentices, building the custom home from the ground up.

“It was a little like passing the torch,” says Leggitt. “It’s unbelievable how many amazing things can get done when you put together a group of inspired creatives and afford them the ability to produce and grow.”