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Here is San Diego’s best and worst architecture

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Conrad Prebys Performing Arts Center won the People’s Choice Orchid.
(Darren Bradley)

The annual Orchids and Onions competition is back for its 43rd year with examples of great architecture, and a few duds

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It was time to duck and cover Thursday night for architects in San Diego.

San Diego County’s annual Orchids and Onions competition awards the best in local architecture with an Orchid — and the worst with an Onion. Only five Onions were given this year, so most architects avoided the notorious distinction during the awards ceremony Thursday.

The competition is now in its 43rd year, with the goal to make the region a better place to live. It was started by the local American Institute of Architects, but has been handled by the San Diego Architectural Foundation since 2006.

A committee of 11 jurors evaluated 118 nominations. There were also two People’s Choice awards, decided by online voters.

The top prize, called a Grand Orchid, was given to the Palomar College Maintenance Operations Complex . For the first time this year, the award is named for developer Ed Malone and his wife Barbara. Last year, judges said no single project was good enough to receive the Grand Orchid.

The jurors this year were Miti Aiello, James Brown, Matthew Ellis, David Hecht, Amber Lake, David Malumuth, Tatiana Ortiz-Rubio, Jessica Pope, Brian Rickling, Heather Ruszczyk and Regina VanderWerff.

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Palomar College Maintenance Operations Complex (Malone Grand Orchid)
Palomar College.png
Orchids and Onions 2019: Palomar College Maintenance Operations Complex, Malone Grand Orchid for Architecture
(Nick Merrick)

1140 W. Mission Road, San Marcos. Owner/developer: Palomar College. Architect: BNIM Architects

Judges’ comments: “It had remarkable attention to detail where every joint — from the sidewalk, to the window fins, to the metal panels — all lined up perfectly.”

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Borrego Springs Library, Park and Sheriff’s Office (Orchid for architecture)
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Orchids and Onions 2019: Borrego Springs Library, Park and Sheriff’s Office, Orchid for Architecture
(Jeff Durkin)

2580 Country Club Road, Borrego Springs. Owner/developer: County of San Diego. Architect: RNT Architects

Judges’ comments: “The architect succeeded on multiple levels; the building is highly functional, there are playful elements, including the constellation mapping and the porthole windows, and the color palette of the building blends seamlessly with the surrounding desert environment.”

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C3 Encinitas (Orchid for architecture, Orchid for landscape architecture)
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Orchids and Onions 2019: C3 Encinitas (bank building), Orchids for Architecture and Landscape Architecture
(Paúl Rivera)

850 S. Coast Highway 101, Encinitas. Owner/developer: ABP Capital, C3 Bank. Architect: Brett Farrow Architect. Landscape Architect: Richard Risner, Grounded Landscape Architecture

Judges’ comments: “The jury overwhelmingly agreed that C3 Bancorp’s new headquarters looked nothing like any bank that they had ever been to. It’s sleek and modern with the exposed concrete structure. However, the wood accents and operable glass windows provide warmth and a hint of the salty, ocean air, giving the space a “beachy and coastal” vibe.” For landscape architecture, the jury said they liked the “thoughtfully designed drought tolerant landscaping to the clever bamboo grove at the center of the building.”

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Ilan-Lael Center (Orchid for collaborative architecture)
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Orchids and Onions 2019: Ilan-Lael Center (for arts education), Orchid for Collaborative Architecture
(John Durant)

930 Orchard Lane, Santa Ysabel. Owners/developers: IIlan-Lael Foundation and James and Anne Hubbell. Architect: Hubbell & Hubbell Architects

Judges’ comments: “They wanted to honor both the building and James Hubbell because they felt both he and the building were an important part of the identity of San Diego.”

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Linda Vista Skate Park (Orchid for placemaking)
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Orchids and Onions 2019: Linda Vista Skate Park, Orchid for Placemaking
(Glen Schmidt)

6893 Osler St., San Diego. Owner/developer: City of San Diego. Architect and landscape architect: Schmidt Design Group and Site Design Group

Judges’ comments: Jurors praised the design for the 100-foot-long bridge over the skate park, which provides both public access to the recreation center and a stellar place to view the skateboard aerials below. “This is to skate parks what Torrey Pines is to golf courses.”

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Makers Quarter Block D (Orchid for architecture)
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Orchids and Onions 2019: Makers Quarter Block D (office building), Orchid for Architecture
(Nick Merrick)

845 15th St. San Diego Owner/developer: L2HP. Architect: BNIM Architects

Judges’ comments: Unlike some other buildings in the East Village, Block D is “not doing too many things. It’s really refined. The moves they’re making are just really well done, really well executed.”

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Miller Hull San Diego Studio (Orchid for interior design)
Miller Hull Partnership - Point Loma Marina
Orchids and Onions 2019: Miller Hull San Diego Studio, Orchid for Interior Design
(Chipper Hatter)

4980 N. Harbor Drive. San Diego Owner/developer: Miller Hull Partnership. Architect: Miller Hull Partnership

Judges’ comments: The jury agreed that Miller Hull’s new Point Loma office was a resounding success. One juror described the office as a “calming space with a simple design that highlights the beautiful shell of the building and the Bay just beyond the windows.”

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Mission Hills-Hillcrest/Harley and Bessie Knox Library (Orchid for public art, Onion for architecture)
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O&O 2019 - Mission Hills-Hillcrest/Harley and Bessie Knox Library, Orchid for Public Art (Climate Clocks located inside library), Onion for Architecture
(Andy McRory)

215 W. Washington St., San Diego. Owner/developer: City of San Diego. Architects: Mosher Drew, Manuel Oncina Architects and Ferguson Pape Baldwin Architects. Artist: Janet Zweig

Judges’ comments: The public art installation, Climate Clocks, was praised for its climate change message. “Art is about an important issue that needs to be talked about. It is relevant and driving (a) tough conversation,” one juror said. “This is what art should do.” For the building, jurors said “Its arts and crafts meets Mission style gone terribly awry. From faux rocks to the inhospitable chain-link fence separating the library from the adjacent school, the jury felt the project was a huge missed opportunity to connect with the community.” (The last time a project got an Orchid and an Onion was in 2008 with the Landsailers art pieces in Pacific Beach and La Jolla.)

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Morning Glory (Orchid for architectural detail)
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Orchids and Onions 2019: Morning Glory (restaurant), Orchid for Architectural Detail
(Zack Benson)

550 W. Date St., San Diego. Owner/developer: CH Projects. Designer: Basile Studio

Judges’ comments: “Morning Glory wowed the jurors with its’ playful palette of cotton candy pink, mint green, warm wood and shiny copper. Located on the second floor overlooking Piazza della Famiglia and India Street, the jury was most impressed by the automated window awning design, that is both elegant and functional.”

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Millennium Mission Valley (Onion for architecture)
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Orchids and Onions 2019: Millennium Mission Valley, Onion for Architecture
(Maha Bazzari)

5080 Camino del Arroyo, San Diego. Owner/developer: Dinerstein Companies. Architect: TCA Architects

Judges’ comments: The jury was dismayed by the Millennium, which one juror described as “yet another stucco box with balconies.” They lamented that the uninspired building in Mission Valley is “grossly out of scale, lacks articulation and will soon be outdated.”

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Raised by Wolves (Orchid for interior design)
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Orchids and Onions 2019: Raised by Wolves (cocktail lounge), Orchid for Interior Design
(Zack Benson)

University Towne Centre, 4301 La Jolla Village Drive. San Diego Owner/developer: CH Projects. Designer: Basile Studio

Judges’ comments: “The jury was wowed by CH Projects’ most recent masterpiece, a boutique liquor store with a hidden cocktail bar in the middle of UTC mall. Raised by Wolves made the jury feel as if they had traveled back in time to early 20th Century Paris.”

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Truax House (Onion for landscape architecture)
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Truax House (apartments), Onion for Landscape Architecture
(James Brady)

2513-2515 Union St., San Diego. Owner/developer: Soheil Nakhshab. Architect: Nakhshab Development & Design.

Judges’ comments: “Sad is the best way to describe the steep, sloping hill of tiny landscaped plants behind the historic Truax House. In fact, the sparse vegetation and lack of color only succeeds in highlighting the horrible cinder block retaining wall above.”

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Shift Apartments (Onion for architecture, People’s Choice Onion)
Shift Apartments
Shift Apartments are the East Village’s newest apartment building features a unique red tower and has 368 units, shown on May 30, 2018.
(K.C. Alfred / San Diego Union-Tribune)

1501 Island Ave., San Diego. Owner/developer: LMC Communities (Lennar Corp.). Architect: Carrier Johnson + Culture

Judges’ comments: The jury agreed that Shift Apartments was an architectural miss. They cited the building’s lack of cohesiveness. “The building is so awkward, it’s just a mess; none of it holds together,” one juror said. An online voter said “how about searching for another color palette that lends itself to the setting, locale, shape and form of the building? How about searching for another form altogether?” (The last time a project got two onions was 2009 with the Vantage Pointe apartments downtown.)

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Conrad Prebys Performing Arts Center (People’s Choice Orchid)
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Orchids & Onions 2019: People’s Choice Orchid, Conrad Prebys Performing Arts Center
(Darren Bradley)

7600 Fay Ave., La Jolla. Owner/developer: La Jolla Music Society. Architects: Epstein Joslin Architects and JWDA

Judges’ comments: “This place has a comfortable ambient vibe to it all. The lights, the structure. It all feels so inviting.”


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Phillip Molnar covers residential real estate, as well as other business issues for The San Diego Union-Tribune. He is an award-winning New Jersey, California and national reporter. Before coming to the Union-Tribune, he worked for the Monterey Herald, The Express-Times and New Jersey Herald. He lives in Golden Hill.
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