A chimney-style wind scoop, or tower, is seen at left at Avenida Manana home in La Jolla. Photo by Ken Stone
A chimney-style wind scoop, or tower, is seen at left at Avenida Manana home in La Jolla. Photo by Ken Stone

Updated at 10:10 a.m. Oct. 17, 2016

Only in San Diego does a modern home tour feature a hillside house with a bādgīr — or “wind tower” — ancient Persian air-conditioning technology.

Rammy Cortez, owner/developer of the Bridge House, worked with architect Hector Magnus to design the home. Photo by Ken Stone

“It brings air into basement, and helps create cross ventilation,” architect Simi Razavian said of the La Jolla home owned by married physicians Mitra and Javad Jamshidi, Iranian immigrants like Razavian. “It worked for thousands of years.”

The Jamshidi house — a 4-year remodeling project — had the most spectacular views of the five homes chosen for Saturday’s tour organized by the Modern Architecture + Design Society as part of Archtoberfest. Its two ocean-facing decks were part of the remodel, which created pyramidlike ceilings in five rooms.

Certainly, the Manana Project (as it’s called) had modern elements — passive solar design and “plenty of green features and materials.” But it was typical of the tour in another way — few “smart home” qualities.

Rammy Cortez, owner of a “Downtown Hillcrest” home on the tour, said five to 10 years ago buyers would see a lot of high-tech features, such as automation. But the three-year lag between conception and completion rendered such technology obsolete.

“They were wiring homes for smart technology, and wiring homes for speaker systems,” said Cortez, 34, of Golden Hill. “And today, if you have speaker wires sticking out of your drywall, people don’t need it — because they have wireless speakers.”

So his home (and other modern architects) shun such technology.

“There’s no one system,” he said. “There’s no Apple for home automation that people can adopt and use universally.”

Soheil Nakhshab designed and lives in Otsego Drive home in Hillcrest. Photo by Ken Stone

Over at the so-called Clea House in South Mission Hills, architect-owner Soheil Nakhshab said he’s done “the crazy high-tech homes.”

“It becomes a disaster for property owners because it’s not something that’s gone through the beta phase,” said Nakhshab, 35.

His home, where he lives with his parents, has 25 solar panels built into the rooftop deck. Music in various parts of the house can be synced to one’s phone, and proven touch-screen thermostats and intercom system are present.

“[But] this is not new technology,” he said. Other features of a Jetsons home have “to go through its guinea pig phase.”

Despite general agreement on advanced technology falling out of favor, architects and owners of tour homes struggled to find consensus on defining a “modern home.”

Ben Ryan, owner-architect of the Pacific Beach tour destination, is a 44-year-old Yale and Harvard graduate who spent seven years as a Navy SEAL. Having worked in Iraq, he knows modern from not.

“It’s very simple, efficient lines. Nothing frilly. Highly functional yet clean. There’s a beauty to the cleanness,” Ryan said. “Everything in a modern home has a purpose. You don’t see crown molding.”

Anything else?

“I can’t define it, but I can tell it when I see it,” he said.

Nakhshab, whose parents were political refugees of the Iranian revolution, said: “What makes a home truly modern is how you structure the lifestyle, the living spaces. People want more connections to outdoor spaces. People want to be able to work from home nowadays.”

Like his own home. His father, Sasan, is a structural engineer who composes modern Persian music from ancient poetry.

“More and more people are falling back to their families,” the son said. “That was something that has been lost in our society. People are shifting back to community and family.”

So his home, built over a hillside, allows for multigenerational living — with families having their own private spaces.

Asked to define modern, the designer of the Cortez split-in-two home, said: “In today’s world, there seems to be so much distraction, frenetic lifestyle that we feel we really should define space where it can be calm.”

That architect, Hector Magnus, added: “It can be peaceful. Of course, it can convert to a party space.” But a modern house is a “place to rest, a place to hide from everything.”

Reclaimed Indonesian teak hardwood floors underlie garage — and other areas — of the Taft Avenue home. Photo by Ken Stone

Kathy Herrington, a real-estate agent aiming to sell a Bird Rock home on the tour, said 65 percent of that home is glass, incorporating 7.5 tons of steel.

Floor-to-ceiling glass windows were a major feature of the Cortez home, too, and all face the courtyard between the two parts of the house (which passers-by assume to be apartments).

But Cortez says: “Modern homes today are spaceships, made of concrete, glass and steel. What we were trying to stay away from is making the modern home feel cold. And the way we did that is exposing all of the ceilings” — wooden beams precisely fitted. Floors are bamboo, a sustainable material.

Some 319 people bought $35 or $40 tickets for the drop-in six-hour tour, organizers said.

Seven homes were submitted for consideration this year — lighter than usual, said Ken Shallcross, a spokesman for the tour. Two dropped out.

Ticket sales went to the cost of producing the tour, he said, and a donation is made to the San Diego Architectural Foundation.

“Homeowners do not receive money,” Shallcross told Times of San Diego. “They do these tours as a thank-you to their architects and builders, who end up getting a day of publicity and live marketing to showcase their work and skill.”

All but the La Jolla home are for sale — ranging from $2 million to about $3.5 million.

Highlights of the 2016 tour:

5633 Taft Avenue in Bird Rock (south of La Jolla)

  • Owner: Bill Malloy
  • Architect: David Hertz with Marmot Radziner
  • Specs: Two-story, 3,605 square feet, 4 bedrooms, 3 baths. List price: $3.49 million to $3.79 million. Reclaimed Indonesian teak hardwood floors, stairs and deck.
  • Quotable: “It’s a beautiful garage.” The garage has teak hardwood floor and opens to a back alley. But the other side is open to the house, which allows homeowner to admire its contents while inside.

540 Otsego Drive in South Mission Hills

  • Owner: The Nakhshabs
  • Architect: Soheil Nakhshab
  • Specs: Two-story, 4,000 square feet, 6 bedrooms, 5 baths, elevator, 2-car garage with vegetative roof. List price: $2.3 million.
  • Quotable: “If we don’t sell it, we live in it.”

765 Van Nuys St. in Pacific Beach (near Bird Rock)

  • Owner: Ben Ryan of Tourmaline Properties
  • Architect: De Bartolo + Rimanic Design Studio
  • Specs: Two-story with rooftop deck. 3,100 square feet, 5 bedrooms, 4 baths. Listed for $2 million.
  • Quotable: “I liked building, did not like Iraq,” Ryan said of his Mideast introduction to the trade.

6420 Avenida Mañana in La Jolla

  • Owners: Mitra and Javad Jamshidi
  • Architect: Simi Razavian
  • Specs: Two-story, 5,400 square feet, 6 bedrooms, 7 baths. Pyramid-shaped roofs and skylights. Persepolis-inspired decks.
  • Quotable: “I live in La Jolla, down the street,” said Razavian, 61, whose structural engineer husband, Mehrdad Hemmati, 63, was building manager.

3784 Eighth Avenue in “Downtown” Hillcrest

  • Owners: Rammy and Traci Cortez
  • Architect: Hector Magnus
  • Specs: Two-story, 2,700 square feet, 4 bedrooms, 3 1/2 baths. Grated steel 12-foot bridge to be added soon between two parts of house, spanning a 10-foot city easement used for utility access. Listed for $1.45 million.
  • Quotable: Cortez says the last owner, developer Carey Pratt of Point Loma, had long wanted to build on the fill-dirt, debris-filled sloping canyon lot, but didn’t have time for it. “So he passed the torch. He came by a few days ago, just passing by the property while we’re working here. I walked him through. Just to see the look on his face of what we created here was just amazing.”
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