Hilton San Diego Bayfront - CODAworx

Hilton San Diego Bayfront

Submitted by John Portman & Associates

Client: Phelps Portman

Location: San Diego, USA

Completion date: 2009

Project Team


John Portman and Associates

John Portman and Associates

Art Consultant

Louise Allrich


Norie Sato


Ned Kahn


John Portman


Nance O'Banion


This 1,200-room convention headquarters hotel is positioned to maximize views of the San Diego Bay. With a significant use of glass on the exterior to reflect the sky and surrounding skyline, this hotel serves to complement the activities along the bay and fulfill the hotel needs of the convention center. The podium contains 106,050 sf of meeting space, including a grand ballroom, a junior ballroom, and 22 meeting rooms. Other amenities include a business center, retail, health club, lounge, café, as well as the Vela restaurant and Spa Aquazul.


The Hilton San Diego Bayfront was part of the Percent for Art program and the design team worked with the Port of San Diego to develop an art plan for the project that reflected the goals of the community. Two million dollars of public art is housed in the hotel and on the grounds. The art program, like the design for the hotel itself, was inspired by the waterfront setting on the Bay. The color palette was inspired by the hotel’s close proximity to the ocean, with subtle metaphors that relay an underwater aquatic life. Much of the soft goods are accented by cooler hues of blue. The architectural materials are juxtaposed by warm accents that are also taken from an ocean metaphor. The wood used throughout is English Sycamore - a lighter wood with beautiful figuring reminiscent of sandbars carved out by high and low tides. The focal point of the lobby is the warm glowing “lantern” at its center. The entire elevator core is wrapped in light to suggest the nautical lanterns of old.


All elements in the art program draw inspiration from wind and sea. Inside, there are two 12’ x 14’ transparent wall sculptures (“Light Flight – Blue”, inspired by a great blue heron, and “Light Flight – Gold”, inspired by an image of a sea gull) by Norie Sato based upon an abstraction of a bird’s wing. A two-part, suspended sculpture, “Viento de Mar”, was created by artist and architect, John Portman. The sculpture, composed entirely of suspended woven stainless steel mesh elements, spirals and undulates across the ceiling, evoking the ethereal nature of sea breezes and the ebb and flow of ocean currents. The sculptures incorporate a system of changing light that varies both in color and intensity depending on the time of day. Outside, sculptor Ned Kahn installed a series of seven 24’ to 38’ high stainless steel kinetic sculptures; “Wind Palms” is enhanced by the currents and sunlight of the San Diego climate. Artist Nance O’Banion was commissioned to design outdoor benches. She created drawings that reflected the flora of the area, which were laser cut into the 26 steel benches located around the park, each of which has a unique design. The collection is known as “Reverie”.

Additional Information

The hotel sits on a former shipyard, and the design highlights the hotel’s relationship to the water. The site includes a 4.3 acre public park. The park space is intentionally kept open, allowing flexibility for special events or informal gatherings. The waterfront park flows into the hotel at its base and terraces up to the hotel entrance and into all of the major public spaces of the hotel. This provides an experience different from any of the other hotels in the city, one in which both the San Diego citizen or the hotel guest will immediately feel welcome and relaxed.