Like a settler contemplating the horizon, Lloyd Russell mulled over where to launch his career after finishing architecture school in 1991—and decided upon San Diego. “It was wide open, with big empty lots, and I could see that a precedent could be set with what was built,” he says.
Nearly two decades later, Russell has indeed made his mark on the city’s urban landscape, with what he likes to call “handmade modernism.” His Essex and Merrimac loft projects, as well as the Triangle Building—his own home, built on an odd wedge of a lot by the freeway—have distinctive industrial details, like patterned cast-in-place concrete. As the co-developer of the loft projects (he got a stake in exchange for his architectural services), he had an investment in the design, and lived in each building in order to develop an intimate knowledge about what worked.
A new bar in San Diego’s South Park, The Station, will show how Russell’s aesthetic plays out in the hospitality sector. Deconstructing the existing building along a long-gone trolley line, he found an old advertising sign to use for the door and salvaged the wood framing for an intricate bar top and custom furniture, while adding long windows to conjure up a train car.
“I like the challenge of having no budget and making cool things for as little as possible,” says Russell, who gravitates toward hands-on projects. “Give me a dollar and I’ll see what I can make for a dollar.”