10 questions: David Raphael Singer builds upon practice


David Raphael Singer is an architect born in New York City and one of six children. He grew up in a small town on Long Island, where his father had a general store. His father was an illegal immigrant who believed in the American dream and whose favorite quote was Muhammad Ali’s “Community service is the rent I pay for my room and board on the planet Earth.”

Singer graduated from the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Fine Arts. He then worked as a city planner and architect in Philadelphia, Israel and Canada before moving to California.

Before his children started school, the family took a 20,000-mile cross-country family camping trip in a black Chevy van, visiting as many national parks and Frank Lloyd Wright buildings as possible before paying homage to the Salk Institute in La Jolla, where the family spent two weeks sleeping on the deck of one of Schindler’s Pueblo Ribera buildings, hearing the ocean and seeing the sunset every day. The journey continued to the Southwest Indian country, where Singer convinced his then wife to give La Jolla a try. He thought that if he couldn’t find an architectural job in San Diego, he’d paint “Dave’s Odd Jobs” on his van. After working for a few architects in San Diego, Singer established an independent practice in La Jolla.

His firm has a commitment to planning and design principles that recognize, give value and find an appropriate balance between the man-made and the natural environment while developing spaces and places that take advantage of the unique sun-filled Mediterranean climate.

The firm enjoys the challenge of working a variety of residential, commercial and art-related institutional projects. It has worked on the Athenaeum Music & Arts Library renovation and expansion for the last 15 years, designed the original and current Museum of Photographic Arts in Balboa Park, the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego’s downtown annex as well as being the associate architect for Venturi Scott Brown on the museum’s renovation and addition to its La Jolla location. The firm recently finished a new building for Temple Emanu-El in Del Cerro.

Singer has been a board member of the Mingei Museum and Installation Gallery’s Insite 94 & 97, a member of the Public Art Committee for the city of San Diego, was one of the principal facilitators for the La Jolla Coastline Preliminary Plan and is a current board member of the La Jolla Conservancy and of the Scripps Park Project.

What brought you to La Jolla?

To see the Salk Institute designed by a professor of mine, Lou Kahn.

What are your favorite places to go in La Jolla?

Walking along the coastline, our most precious nonrenewable resource, on a daily basis and walking up to Mount Soledad for the view and the low-key ambience of the place … before it became a veterans memorial.

If you could snap your fingers and have it done, what might you add to improve La Jolla?

a.) Open the closed public passageways from Prospect down to Scripps Park, which have been gated or otherwise closed off, to better connect the Village with the ocean as it originally was (i.e. see the one walkway/steps passage still open to the north of the La Valencia); b.) restore the original trolley line from San Diego to La Jolla, which was a 20- to 25-minute ride, to provide an alternate to the parking lot that develops on Torrey Pines Road during commuter hours; c.) provide more shops that serve the Village residents.

Who or what inspires you?

Irving Gill and Luis Barragon for the timeless quality of their buildings; Simon Rodia, the builder of Watts Tower, which expresses the idiosyncratic and poetic vision that an individual can achieve; Studs Terkel, the interviewer of ordinary people with extraordinary stories; Abraham Heschel, the 20th century Jewish philosopher and civil rights activist; the archeological remains of the Southwest Indians, the Mayans, the Incas, the Nabataeans (Petra); the courtyard houses of Mexico and the Middle and Far East; and the variety and splendor of nature (i.e. the Galapagos, Anza-Borrego Desert and the seals at Children’s Cove).

If you hosted a dinner party for eight, whom (living or deceased) would you invite?

Marian Anderson; Ingrid Bergman; Madame Curie; Albert Einstein; Golda Meir; Piero de la Francesca – painter; Georgio Vasari – biographer of Renaissance artists; and Marcus Vitruvius, who described techniques of construction from Greek and Roman times)

Tell us about what you are currently reading.

Recently finished “Einstein” by Isaacson and “The Race Beat” by Roberts & Klibanoff and am now trying to catch up on back issues of the New Yorker.

What is your most prized possession?

I’m trying to rid myself, somewhat unsuccessfully, of all my material possessions, but I’d have to keep the stories I’ve gathered over the years of my parents’ family histories.

What are your five favorite movies of all time?

“Battle of Algiers,” “400 Blows,” “Seven Samurai” (Japanese original), “Black Orpheus” and “Breathless.”

Please describe your greatest accomplishment.

Raising children who I’ve learned to accept despite the fact that they are like me … and not like me!

What is your motto or philosophy of life?

I don’t have one … but if I were to choose, I’d quote from Hillel: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? If not now, when?”