COAST CITIES —Orchids for designs that inspire; onions for flawed and unsightly creations. That’s the idea behind Orchids & Onions, an annual contest weighing in on public art and architecture in San Diego. In the quest to find the good, bad and ugly, last month San Diegans submitted online nominations, and there were no shortage of North County projects in categories like landscape architecture, historic preservation and sustainable design.
A jury will soon vote on the Orchids & Onions, and an award ceremony will be held Oct. 11. Until then, locals can browse and comment on 145 nominations on the Orchids & Onions website. And beginning in more than a week, the public is encouraged to vote on the people’s choice category.
Many online comments have already praised a Solana Beach project.
The Fletcher Cove Community Center, sitting atop a bluff overlooking the ocean, received a nomination for injecting an old building with new life. According to lead architect Stephen Dalton, the project involved stripping the old community center down to “its bare bones” and completely restoring it. Among the challenges, the community center couldn’t be expanded because of coastal regulations.
“So we decided to make it more spacious,” Dalton said. “We added outdoor patios, widened doors and windows. That had the effect of opening up the building to more natural lighting.”
In addition to funneling in natural lighting, the facilities were designed for low water use and built using recycled materials. As such, the community center is pursuing LEED certification, meaning it could be recognized as environmentally friendly by the U.S. Green Building Council.
The building’s most striking feature may be its roof, which mimics a breaking wave.
Best of all, Dalton said, is knowing the locals banded together to raise money for the project.
“So many people contributed at a grassroots level,” Dalton said. “Everyone is proud to be a part of this.”
The 17th Street Lifeguard Tower, another community-backed project, garnered a nomination. The old tower was pounded by waves during high tides, often flooding the ground floor. Inside, lifeguards were so cramped they had a difficult time treating performing other first-aid necessities. The newly designed tower, however, has a large observation deck and room to accommodate a lifeguard truck, boat, restrooms and first-aid stations, as well as other amenities. Surrounded by short walls, it’s also protected from surging surf.
“The community really wanted the project,” said Jeff Wilkes, the lead architect who “cleaned up previous designs” of the building. “Many united to voice what they wanted at design meetings.”
“We worked with lifeguards and the public to create a building both aesthetically pleasing and functional,” he said.
Mary Lynn Dominguez, a local artist, said she was proud her “Dawn to Dusk” mural off of the Lomas Santa Fe Interstate 5 exit was nominated.
“So much hard work went into it — feels great to hear positive reactions,” Dominguez said.
The mural adorns each side of the freeway interchange with images of abstract waves, seaweed and other ocean forms. According to Dominguez, she spent more than a year cutting and assembling the tile pieces together.
Not all architecture is up for an orchid or onion. The rules? No unfinished projects or single-family residences are eligible. And the project must have been built or restored in the last three years.
Orchids & Onions started more than 35 years ago, according to Leslee Schaffer, executive director of the San Diego Architectural Foundation, the group that organizes Orchids & Onions. Compared to years past, she said the contest is more interactive.
“The website and nomination process let’s people sound off,” Schaffer said. “We want to promote awareness of the best architecture and architects.”
What about those projects that are crowned onions? Schaffer said the architects responsible for certified onions have the chance to defend their projects at the awards ceremony. Also, onions aren’t necessarily always onions thanks to a more recent program called Orchids, Onions & Opportunities. The program looks at how poorly received projects can improve and transform the community. For example, once an onion, The “Cardiff Kook,” a statue famous for being dressed up by locals, was later recognized for bringing the community together.
“That’s what it’s all about, galvanizing the public and getting people involved in architecture around the county,” Schaffer said.