Preview tour offers glimpses of San Diego’s best — and worst — architecture in this year’s Orchids & Onions contest
For would-be winners in the annual Orchids & Onions architectural contest for San Diego’s best and worst in recent urban design, it paid to be present when the nine jurors dropped by Saturday during an all-day look-see of 18 nominees.
Those who led tours of their nominated Orchid projects could point out the innovations and recount the compromises on the way to ribbon-cutting ceremonies over the past three years.
Those responsible for Onion nominees were not on hand to defend their works. That left jurors to speculate on what went wrong.
Their observations will be revealed at the Oct. 4 gala at the U.S. Grant Hotel when Orchid winners will receive bouquets of orchids and thank their colleagues, funders and loved ones. Onion winners -- if they show up -- will receive bunches of onions and, if they get in the spirit of the evening, will crack a joke, blame city building inspectors and promise to do better.
Sponsored by the San Diego Architectural Foundation, Orchids & Onions is a San Diego tradition that began in 1976 as a way to educate the public on good design and encourage public agencies and private developers to do better.
The jurors -- architects, landscape architects, interior designers, a developer, an artist and a clean-tech executive -- will meet Wednesday to vote on the winners and losers.
Between Aug. 15 and Sept. 15, the public can vote online at orchidsandonions.org for the People’s Choice Orchid and Onion.
“What we sometimes find is there are just too many to look at and lots of times, it’ll become the people’s choice,” said O&O Co-chairwoman Laura Warner.
She said this year’s 118 nominees reflected “a lot of creativity and innovation” by San Diego designers. Less than 10 percent were nominated to receive Onions.
Among the projects toured with those in the know were eight public projects; Nolita Hall, and Born and Raised restaurants; the IDEA1 mixed-use building in Little Italy; and a former, nearly windowless doctor’s office from the 1960s that was remodeled by Domusstudio Architecture to reveal breathtaking views of Maple Canyon in Bankers Hill through newly installed floor-to-ceiling windows.
One juror said regretfully that when he tries to add a carefully crafted stainless steel railing to a project, as at the Orchid-nominated San Diego Central Superior Courthouse in downtown San Diego, “it gets cut out.” But another juror called an undistinguished set of posters in one judge’s courtroom “hokey.” The $555.5 million included no money for public art.
There were many other details that caught the jurors’ eyes as they rode their chartered bus from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.: a dog bowl built into a drinking fountain at Del Mar City Hall, the interior woodwork at Point Loma Nazarene University’s Lyle and Grace Prescott Memorial Prayer Chapel and cheeky epithets drawn on the toilet seats at Born and Raised restaurant in Little Italy.
Jurors offered short but biting comments as they drove by Onion nominees: the Waterpoint condo project in Point Loma looks like a “travertine fortress.” Fire Station 22 on Catalina Boulevard: “It’s a Target” -- a reference to the fire-engine red garage doors. The Park, the nearly finished high-rise condo project just west of Balboa Park where prices start at more than $1 million: “There’s nothing ‘San Diego’ about it.”
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