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By Kris Grant

It was definitely the year of the little-guys-make-good, the year when great design and planning was found in the heartland of San Diego. And it was a year when one of the biggest developments, Vantage Pointe condo tower in Downtown San Diego, was found deserving of a smellier award: the Grand Onion, for failing to establish a human-scale element at street level.
Ahh, if only Vantage had looked to the neighborhoods of South Park, North Park and Golden Hill for inspiration, communities where pedestrians and neighbors matter. Projects of these communities were in the limelight at the Annual Institute of Architect’s “Orchids and Onions” award, walking away with three of the 14 orchid awards presented.
Now sponsored by the San Diego Architectural Foundation (since 2006), Orchids & Onions is a San Diego tradition that dates back to the 1970s. This year, 117 nominations were received, said SDAF’s executive director Leslee Schaffer, and more than 500 online comments were received.
“Flawless! Perhaps an odd thing to say when we’re talking about a small building that aims to be a good dive bar, but in The Station it’s possible to see how history can be respected and strategies can be created that are nimble enough to make architecture on a small budget and without predetermined forms.”
Such was the nine-member jury’s summation of “The Station,” which gave the AIA’s highest honor to architect Lloyd Russell and developer Sam Chammas. The Station Tavern and Burgers in South Park is sited on a block that the 30th Street trolley used to pass through. The jurors said that The Station could have walked away with orchids for each category — architecture, interior design, public art, sustainable design, landscape architecture, planning process and historical renovation.
The Station maximizes its iconic location by not maxing out its building envelope. Respecting the historic precedent of the trolley easement, it is oriented to provide as much exterior dining space as interior space. Certain elements of the original building were salvaged and incorporated into the design resulting in an interesting variation of places to dine within the small footprint of the original structure. An outdoor patio evokes a train platform while the outdoor space is punctuated by a tower articulated with solar panels. A welcome addition to any neighborhood, the blend of old and new with a quirky twist is uniquely South Park’s newest eatery and hangout.
North Park’s Art Produce gallery-cafe-office complex won an orchid for Public Art.  The gallery-cafe-office complex is located at 3139 University Ave.  It was owner and designer’s Lynn Susholtz’s second Orchid; she won in 1998 for the playground at North Park Elementary School (now Alba Academy.) “I really need to thank all the artists who make me look good,” said Susholtz, and she beseeched all the architects and builders in attendance to “include artists on your design teams.”
“Mike Burnett’s MXD830 carries forward the San Diego-centric architect/developer
paradigm with economy, sensitivity and pizzazz.” Wrote one juror, “It shows a sophisticated use of materials and of references to historic architectural moments,” while another simply wrote, “This is modern urbanism at its best.”
Mxd830 is an eco-friendly, infill, mixed-use building designed and built by architect/developer Mike Burnett as part of his graduate degree thesis. Earlier this year the project received the San Diego Architectural Foundation’s Community Award.
The building supports the diverse artist community of Golden Hill and helps revitalize the commercial corridor of 25th Street. This building comes alive inside with color and warmth, seems to contrast nicely the stark white minimal exterior shell. Each design move is made with intention and the idea that each space considers hosting a creative user makes them fun, interesting and special. The compositional low water landscaping helps reinforce how new development can still provide lush-looking grounds and still respect our desert location. The project handles its location well, mitigating two very different neighbors — busy gas station next to the freeway on one side and an Irving Gill historic home on the opposite. The low profile massing of the building pays respect to the Gill home and yet gives the street the needed storefront edge commonly found along a neighborhood commercial corridor.
Additional recipients included:
An orchid for historic preservation was given to The 1906 Lodge, a bed and breakfast that was originally an Irving Gill and William Hebberd-designed boarding house in Coronado.  In the renovation, the lodge was lifted off its foundation to construct underground parking.  The architect was Jeff Dreyfus of Bushman Drewfus Architects of Charlottesville, Va. The jury was “pleased to see the commitment to preservation, showing how past and present can co-exist.”
An orchid for historic preservation went to Euclid Tower, an 80-foot Art Deco tower originally designed as part of a drive-in soda fountain in City Heights now that community’s most recognizable icon.
The People’s Choice orchid was presented to ResMed, a developer and manufacturer of products for the diagnosis and treatment of sleep apnea, for its state-of-the-art headquarters building near Montgomery Field.
Starlight cocktail lounge in Little Italy, designed by Bells and Whistles, received an orchid for interior design.  The 1950s-era lounge utilized sustainable materials in its design, which includes a novel hexagonal-shaped entry portal.
Hamilton’s Children Garden garnered an orchid for landscape architecture.  The jury credited its team with “exploding with interpretative activities that keep kids’ imaginations in high gear.”
Point Loma Marina at America’s Cup Harbor was presented an orchid for architecture which “gracefully embraces the water’s edge and provides an opportunity to marvel at the architect’s great attention to detail.”
Bacon Street Offices, a former auto repair shop complex, is now an architect’s office in Ocean Beach.  Designed and owned by Architects Hanna Gabriel Wells, the project, said the jurors, “shows the community that you can give back to the earth and still thrive as a business.”
Ten years in the making, The Robert Paine Scripps Forum, a LEED-certified project, is located south of the pier at Scripps Institute of Oceanography, is a state-of-the-art teaching and conference center.  “In an unimposing and relaxed retreat the brightest minds can gather to tackle the planet’s greatest scientific challenges,” the jury said in bestowing an orchid for architecture to the project.
High Tech High in Chula Vista was awarded an orchid for sustainable design, recognizing its “abundant daylight, photovoltaic solar energy, optimized energy systems and an anticipated LEED Gold rating.”
In addition to Vantage Pointe, the following projects received onions:
Jamul Casino received the People’s Choice onion as residents in the rural Jamul community shudder to think of increased traffic that will come with the project.
SDG&E utility boxes were called out for their innocuous fit with the local environment.
The Uptown Interim Height Ordinance’s onion cited an apparent “back-door brokered ordinance done without planning protocol, proper public hearings or any real research.”
Plaza UTC’s Landscape Retrofit received an onion for having even more grass than before during drought conditions.
The Port District received an onion in the area of historic preservation for its decision to demolish the Ryan Aeronautics district, “a key part of San Diego’s aviation heritage where T. Claude Ryan constructed the first buildings at Lindbergh Field only a few years after he designed and built The Spirit of St. Louis.”
Mission Florence’s onion for architecture was merited, said the jury, as “the designers appeared to have thrown in every piece of architectural Styrofoam they could find to disguise the clumsy creation which crushes its Washington Street intersection like an 800-pound gorilla.”
Grossmont Medical Terrace Parking Structure received an architectural onion and was described by the jury as a “hideous scar on the landscape” where “form follows nothing.”
The Escondido Police and fire Building’s onion for architecture was merited for “another missed attempt at using architecture to engage a community.  Instead the building decided to present another blank wall in what can be described as conduct unbecoming an officer.”

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