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People in Your Neighborhood: Jennifer Luce designs opportunity for creative thinking through architecture

La Jolla architect Jennifer Luce says she centers the arts in her designs.
La Jolla architect Jennifer Luce says she centers the arts in her designs.
(Courtesy of Jennifer Luce)

Longtime La Jollan Jennifer Luce returns to the drawing board over and over, designing ways for children and families to cultivate creative thinking within her architecture.

Her endeavors have landed her a breadth of roles in the community, the latest as co-chair of The New Children Museum’s 2022 gala, “Circus Spectacular.”

The gala, to be held Saturday, Nov. 5, at the museum in downtown San Diego and co-chaired by Dr. Laurie Mitchell and Ellen Moxham, is the annual fundraiser for The New Children’s Museum, which Luce called a “wonderful, wonderful institution.”

Luce and those at her La Jolla-based architecture and design firm Luce et Studio collaborated with architect Rob Wellington Quigley in 2008 to design the interiors of the museum’s administrative offices, shop and front entry, which “began our understanding of the meaning and purpose of the museum,” Luce said.

Since then, Luce — a 30-year resident of La Jolla — has interacted with many New Children’s Museum officials, sharing “a real passion for the education of the arts and particularly with children,” she said.

While adults can appreciate the museum, “it’s a wonderful place for children to be exposed to creative thinking,” Luce said. That’s “the most important thing.”

During Luce’s childhood in Montreal, she visited natural history museums, zoos and aquariums. “We did not have a children’s museum, and I think this is such an incredibly unique concept,” she said. “There are only a few others in the country.”

She said The New Children’s Museum “has been talked about internationally as groundbreaking in terms of not only allowing children to have fun … but to learn while they do.”

Luce has no children of her own but takes pride in a niece she has watched grow up. Though her niece is sports-minded, Luce said “her exposure to the arts has been really critical. … She’s really influenced by the arts.”

Luce took her niece to The New Children’s Museum during visits. “It’s the first place she wanted to go. … So that’s a good indication of how powerful the experience is for [children].”

Luce and the gala committee members hope the “Circus Spectacular” fundraiser will collect $500,000 to support the museum’s programs.

“The more people understand the purpose of the museum and all of its benefits, we’ll have a richer community going forward,” Luce said.

Luce is no stranger to museum blueprints, having finished a multiyear, multimillion-dollar renovation for the Mingei International Museum in Balboa Park last year.

“We were looking at some very minor modifications to the building itself, almost infrastructural,” she said, “and as I began researching their mission, their work in the community, I realized there was such an opportunity for them to have a broader outreach.”

After a six-month study “on the potential opportunities for a museum of craft design and folk art to reach out to our community in more profound ways,” the minor changes became a $55 million “total transformation” that closed the Mingei for three years, she said.

The museum reopened in September and “is working so well already,” Luce said.

Beyond a simple history lesson, the Mingei offers “a personal aspect to the collection that almost all of us can connect with,” Luce said.

“It’s different than hanging paintings on the wall or seeing sculpture,” she said. “It’s really about studying history of cultures and then all of the wonderful, beautiful daily objects they’ve developed over time. There are just droves of children and families and school classrooms that come to the museum on a daily basis to learn more about an art form that’s really unique.”

Luce also is lending her talents to the Enhance La Jolla streetscape plan that aims to renovate Girard Avenue between Silverado and Prospect streets and the area known as “The Dip” at Prospect.

“That’s another opportunity to bring the arts forward into an engineering kind of project to improve the streetscape and yet infuse it with curiosity and whimsy,” she said.

Aside from large projects, Luce’s architecture practice is rooted in “appreciation for art and how art can infuse itself into our daily lives, whether we’re designing a house for someone, a creative office situation, an art gallery or even a museum,” she said.

“I feel like we’re able to take on any level or scale or type of project, as long as there’s a sensibility toward how influential the arts can be on us,” she said. “Those are our most successful projects.”

Luce began her Luce et Studio business in La Jolla, moved it to downtown San Diego and then to Rose Canyon before returning to La Jolla. She said she loves working where she lives.

“The notion of being able to access our creative studio at any time is a real plus for me, and I think we all learned a lot through the pandemic,” she said. “Going back and forth between domestic life and work life is really a dance that you have to navigate on your own terms.”

“We’re just really happy to be here and be contributing in the ways that we can,” Luce added.

For more information about “Circus Spectacular,” visit thinkplaycreate.org/circus-spectacular.

People in Your Neighborhood shines a spotlight on notable locals we all wish we knew more about. If you know someone you’d like us to profile, send an email to robert.vardon@lajollalight.com. ◆