What city government in its right mind would decide to build a civic center with a 3,000-square-foot town hall, 12,000 square feet of offices – and 20,000 square feet of public space dedicated to fundraisers and musical events?

For starters, the one in Del Mar, Calif.

And that’s for finishers too. These guys are savvy thinkers. After turning down a starchitect or two, they turned to the lesser-known Miller Hull Partnership out of Seattle – and got much more.

Like a terrace with sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean four blocks away, with concrete the color of sandstone, an expressed wood frame of Douglas fir – and a place that just soaks up its surroundings.

“You can walk down to one of the best California beaches around,” says Mike Jobe, principal at Miller Hull. “It’s 145 feet above sea level, and it’s thrilling to be out there – it’s open to sea breezes and pine trees on the slope.”

Not to mention the landscape by Spurlock out of San Diego. “There’s a really inspirational garden on the highest point on site – a terrace planted with sage and jasmine,” he says. “There’s a waft of scents when you’re up there and it’s just enchanting in a natural setting.” 

Miller Hull pulled Town Hall to the edge of the site to reinforce the public nature of the complex. Low slung in stature, the interior is open and features exposed wood beams inspired by needles and branches of the native Torrey pine. A cupola atop the space provides cool air pulled through the breezeway, out through clerestory windows activated by a climate control system.

The whole complex is now a symbol of the city – and a celebration of its citizens. “They wanted to create a new civic heart of Del Mar and make its scale fit the size and character of the community – with a casual feel,” he says. “It’s a civic center but it feels almost residential – there’s a balance between being iconic and being on a human scale.”

That’s the kind of local government we could use more of, coast to coast.

For more, visit architectsandartisans.com.