Uptown resident and business owner seeks to keep art in architecture
By Anthony King | SDUN Editor
Golden Hill resident and North Park Main Street board member Christopher Bittner was named NewSchool of Architecture and Design (NSAD) 2012 Alumnus of the Year, receiving the honor at the university’s commencement ceremony on June 23. Bittner graduated from the university in 1997.
“I was very excited and humbled to be selected,” Bittner said. “I am very proud of the education I received at NSAD and to be selected … when I know there are many worthy candidates, is really something special to me.”
After receiving his bachelor’s degree from NSAD, Bittner launched the firm obrARCHITECTURE in 2008 with Garrick Oliver and Anney Rosenthal-Hall. The group focuses on a broad range of projects including civic, educational, residential and commercial spaces, but keeps their attention focused on cultural projects, art galleries and non-profit work as well.
“The NSAD Alumnus of the Year Award recognizes graduates who have advanced the interests and standards of excellence of NSAD through distinctive professions or volunteer careers,” said NSAD President Steve Altman in a press release. “We are pleased to honor Christopher Bittner this year for his dedication to projects that not only reflect these standards but also exemplify the community service role of architects and designers.”
Bittner served as a faculty member for NSAD, located in downtown San Diego, and currently participates as a juror, critiquing student projects.
Held at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, Bittner called the June 23 ceremony “exceedingly wonderful” and said the event was world class.
“It was a bit of a shock to be back in an academic setting,” he said. “I have had to take a recess from teaching in order to get my firm up and running the last few years.” Bittner said he admitted to missing teaching and added, “I am looking forward to being able to get back to being involved in academia.”
As a North Park Main Street (NPMS) board member since October 2010, Bittner was able to participate in the organization’s sustainable North Park master plan, and said he believes he brings an architect’s view to the board.
“My training as an architect allows me to think about issues from different perspectives, from the big picture to the minute [and] from planning and zoning issues that might affect a particular board decision,” he said. “Also, as a gallery owner and artist, I am in position to help NPMS to continue to grow the art community in North Park.”
Bittner said he estimates that approximately 70 percent of the work he, Oliver and Rosenthal-Hall do through their firm is for non-profit organizations, and the trio strive to include artistic elements into the company as much as possible.
“As artists ourselves, my partners and I always wanted to include an aspect of art in our business plan,” Bittner said. “To that end, we now maintain a permanent gallery and host a different artist each month.”
The obrARCHITECTURE office, located at 3817 Ray St. in North Park, serves as the gallery space, showcasing the monthly artists. The group does not require rent or a commission from sales, rather they ask for one donated piece from the featured artist. Near the end of the year, Bittner said they hold an auction, with all proceeds going to Young Audiences of San Diego, a nonprofit promoting architecture in education.
“We felt it was a way for us to support art and architecture,” he said, “and we wanted to support art, not profit from it.”
In addition to their other work, Bittner said obrARCHITECTURE is currently in the preliminary phases of three different projects in Uptown, including a residential property in Mission Hills, a restaurant in Hillcrest and a market in Golden Hill.
“I am really excited about designing a project in my own neighborhood, Golden Hill, as I see it growing and maturing much like North Park has over the last few years,” he said.