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Novel Ideas

We celebrate the art stars of the new library.

The reading room features chairs by S.D. artist Roy McMakin and is a popular spot at the new library.

The fantastical elevator features the 3-D work of the de la Torre brothers, local iconic glass artists.

Books aren’t the only thing patrons can check out at downtown’s skyline-changing new library. The contemporary architecture, replete with glittering dome, is a major attraction, as is a collection of public art that’s free for the viewing—and in some cases, for the sitting too.

Designed by world-renowned local architect Rob Quigley, the nine-story San Diego Central Library is a bit of a miracle to longtime residents. It was nearly four decades in the (very slow) making, but worth the wait.

The immense concrete structure features ample use of glass and open space, giving it a transparent feel that’s accentuated by plentiful public gathering spots. The best place to snag a seat? In the reading room beneath the latticework dome, with unbeatable views of the bay and the Coronado Bridge.

“It’s a democratic penthouse,” says Quigley.

Commissioned a decade ago, the four site-specific installations by artists Donald Lipski, Gary Hill, Roy McMakin, and Einar and Jamex de la Torre will never be shown elsewhere. There’s also a sculpture garden, an exhibition space and a gallery featuring around 150 mixed-media selections from the city’s art collection.

The de la Torre brothers, headquartered in San Diego, used lenticular printing—imagine a seriously high-tech version of retro 3-D postcards—to create eye-popping visuals on either side of the glass elevator. In the shaft, they designed complex dioramas filled with their trademark cast glass.

“It’s meant to convey the vast knowledge that a library symbolizes,” says Jamex, who describes their work as “baroque.”

Roy McMakin, a recent S.D. returnee, spent a summer scouring alleys and Dumpsters with a friend in search of discarded furniture. He meticulously reproduced 25 found pieces in finer materials, upholstering them all in blue.

“There’s a tension between the rejected, motley sense of the furniture and the happiness of the color and the carefulness with which it was made,” says McMakin.

Dana Springs, who has managed the public art component of the library since the get-go, recently watched as people interacted with the furniture—inspecting it, moving it and sinking into it with a book.

“That’s when I realized this art really does work!” she says. “It brought a little tear to my eye.”