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Rancho Santa Fe Lead Story

Birdwing readies for grand opening

REGION — The new Birdwing Open Air Classroom along the San Dieguito Lagoon has River Park officials hoping it’ll become a venue for nature lovers to flock together when it opens next week.

“We’re so excited to be able to have that online and able to use it,” said Susan Carter, deputy director of the San Dieguito River Park.

At a cost of approximately $500,000, the structure, designed by Roesling Nakamura Terada Architects, San Diego and Spurlock Poirier Landscape Architects, will receive its official grand opening May 13.

The extensive list of activities planned for the classroom shows the broad range of opportunities and ways that it can be used, Carter explained.

“We really believe that it’ll be a tremendous community asset, in a way that we can educate people not just about the wetlands, although that’s an obviously good connection, but all kinds of other things as well about the nature and the river park. So we’re really looking forward to that,” she said.

Project Manager Rick Espana of Roesling Nakamura Terada Architects, San Diego, said that one of the most important things they were trying to do was to celebrate and capture the view of the lagoon.

They had it in mind to create a structure that, when during the summer months, would provide enough shade, yet not make it too dark, and during the winter months to allow enough sun and warmth to come through for comfort.

“That was partially what dictated the shape of that actual structure and at the same time too, some areas we wanted the structure to also give a sense of the natural character of the San Dieguito Lagoon that was trying to be restored,” Espana said.

While the structure is called the Birdwing, Espana said that the functional shape of the design is actually that of a hyperbolic paraboloid shape — in this case, 14 steel beams latticed across two others.

“And when everything was said and done, then suddenly we saw that the structure was taking on a shape of a bird wing,” he said.

Perforated steel is interwoven through Corten steel beams that make up the new Birdwing Open Air Classroom structure. Photo by Tony Cagala
Perforated steel is interwoven through Corten steel beams that make up the new Birdwing Open Air Classroom structure. Photo by Tony Cagala

The Corten steel beams that span across will look like it’s rusting, but what it’s actually doing, Espana said, is it’s protecting itself. “It actually builds up a layer of protection, so it looks like it’s rust, but it doesn’t allow the salt air to corrode it.”

Panels of perforated stainless steel, something they wanted to have a fabric-like look to it, interwoven between the steel beams, helps to manage the balance of light and shade coming in.

“Once all the landscaping grows and the planting comes up, we think it’s going to look beautiful because that Corten will have a deep reddish rust color and with the color of the coastal plants there, I think it’s going to compliment the landscape quite well,” Espana said.

Pamela Slater-Price, then-County Board of Supervisor for District 5, recommended city funds be used for the project.

Slater-Price, who serves on the advisory board of the San Dieguito River Valley Conservancy, said, “The Birdwing is another great addition to our magnificent San Dieguito River Park, which will make it easier for groups of visitors, both school age and adult, to spend quality time and observe the birds and natural world.”

It is truly remarkable, she added, to have this wetland open space park in such an urbanized area.

The county of San Diego issued a $340,000 grant to get the project started.

“We committed to an additional funding amount of $160,000 so that they’d be able to build this great classroom,” said Trish Boaz, executive director of the San Dieguito River Valley Conservancy. The conservancy is a nonprofit organization that, as a part of their mission, helps to support the River Park and education.

As for what the Birdwing means for the community, Boaz said: “It’s just a place for people to gather and feel like they have ownership of the River Park.”

The River Park will manage the site, Carter said, adding that for the public that wants to host events there, there will be a permitting process because some things will require ranger assistance.

The permitting process will be available online and there may be times when a fee is associated, Carter explained.

The grand opening celebration will take place May 13 at 10 a.m. A host of free public activities and events begins May 17. For a full list of events and times visit


Correction: The county of San Diego, not the city, provided the $340,000 grant to help get the project started.


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