Artful Architecture of Jim Hubbell

Architect Jim Hubbell has created works in San Diego and Tijuana, including an elementary school and a park.  And he has been slowly filling his remote property with creative designs over the last 60 years, starting with a small home he built with his wife Anne, when they were first married in 1958.

Marianne Gerdes, the director of his Ilan-Lael Foundation, said, “What I tell people about the architecture here is you can really see Jim’s progression as an artist when you tour our space, because Jim and Anne built this one building at a time, they never borrowed any money to do the building here, so they only built as they had a need for something and as they could afford to. So what that has given us is this wonderful encapsulation of his progression as an artist.”

The nine buildings are all made with natural materials and have lots of rounded corners and arches. So much so that visitors have compared the property to hobbit houses.

“People often ask me, what style is Jim Hubbell, and is he organic; is he modern; is he contemporary?” Gerdes said. “I think he’s all of those things. I just tell people he’s Hubbellesque, and they know exactly what I mean when I say that.”

The 85-year-old Hubbell is still an active designer, working with students and visiting artists to create his work. He is famous for his mosaics and stained glass. He often draws a small version of a design that others then reproduce using stone or glass. “I couldn’t do everything by myself,” Hubbell said. “I like trying to explain to people what we’re doing.”

“I hope the buildings can be used to make the world better,” he said. “I particularly hope we can use it for people to talk to each other that don’t necessarily like each other. Helping people to talk to each other is more important now than ever,” he said.

The foundation discovered a new purpose after the 2003 Cedar Fire, which destroyed much of the Hubbell property. “The rebuilding after the fire was only possible because the community stepped forward and donated close to $300,000 to the Hubbells to put all this back,” Gerdes said. “It was at that time that they realized this place had meaning for the community, that it was more than just their home and their family’s home, it had become a beloved place for a lot of people.”

When the donations were made, the property was also transitioned to Ilan-Lael. The nonprofit now owns and maintains the space, while Hubbell and his wife live on site as artists in residence.

Hubbell’s art has also spread across the county, and even the world, with work in Russia, China, South Korea and Taiwan. “Jim will tell you he has a disease, and that’s that he can’t stop building,” Gerdes said. “And we’re so grateful that he has that itch to build.”

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