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A Behind-the-Scenes Look at Orchids & Onions 2020

With Orchids & Onions 2020 just two short months away, our flagship event of the year will be here before we know it! Even a pandemic isn’t going to stop this celebration from happening. What’s more, Covid-19 has inspired us to put a creative spin on 2020 festivities, so we …

With Orchids & Onions 2020 just two short months away, our flagship event of the year will be here before we know it! Even a pandemic isn’t going to stop this celebration from happening. What’s more, Covid-19 has inspired us to put a creative spin on 2020 festivities, so we can bring you an “O&O” unlike any other.

Orchids & Onions Co-chair (and SDAF Board Member) John Martinez presents a glimpse into planning the 2020 event, dishing on what San Diego can expect from the awards banquet this year — and why it matters.

What are some of the challenges and opportunities of planning a virtual event?

Orchids & Onions 2015 at the San Diego Museum of Art

The hardest thing is orchestrating an event of this size and scope virtually. It’s unchartered territory for us. While on the surface it appears that the pandemic limits what we’re able to achieve in comparison to years past, that’s not the case at all. Going virtual provides us with a unique opportunity that we haven’t had before. It’s causing us to think outside the box and be creative. And that’s fun. By creating an exciting virtual event full of surprises we can expand our audience and reach people that may never have attended Orchids & Onions, and it will be exciting to see where it takes us.

What are some of your favorite moments from years past?

Two years ago when Eitol won the People’s Choice Onion, they turned the tables and surprised everyone with a huge celebration on stage that included sparklers, glitter, even some male strippers! They recognized the opportunity to turn lemons into lemonade and have since hosted great SDAF events at their location, which has become a neighborhood icon.

Can you speak to the planning that goes into it?

It may surprise people that the event planning begins a full year prior to awards night. So many dedicated volunteers spend hours a week, for months on end, organizing the jury selection, promoting nominations, building the website, contacting the nominees, and preparing for this special evening.

What does Orchids & Onions achieve for the local design world?

We love the conversation that happens because of O&O. Too often this dialog only takes place in our design silos, and O&O’s mission is to open that discussion and give voice to the public so everyone that is actually affected by our built environment has an opportunity to offer their opinion.

John Martinez

How has it evolved?

This is the first year we have gone virtual and what an exciting time it is to view, network, and discuss the pros and cons of our communities on a platform that is open to everyone.

Why is it important in 2020?

We’ve all felt the physical distance, seen the empty offices, unoccupied restaurants, and vacant plazas over the past few months. Let’s come together through this virtual event to celebrate the buildings and spaces we all look forward to coming back to.

Why shouldn’t it just be Orchids?

It’s a great question, and we’ve heard it in years past. Unless we can have an open and respectful discussion about the criticisms of some of our spaces, can we ever improve? Can we truly understand what’s good without having a conversation about what’s bad? This may be relative, but a huge opportunity becomes not so much in what we say but in how we listen, learn, and improve with one another.

What do you want people to know about this year’s event?

Be prepared to be surprised. This will be unlike any Orchids & Onions we have ever had!

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How SDAF’s BEEP Program is Inspiring the Next Generation

At the root of Laura DuCharme Conboy’s architectural career is a simple love. A love for making things. It goes back to her high school drafting class, where she developed a passion for drawing. Whether she’s crafting 3-D cakes in the kitchen or designing award-winning, high-end residences, Conboy long has …

At the root of Laura DuCharme Conboy’s architectural career is a simple love. A love for making things. It goes back to her high school drafting class, where she developed a passion for drawing. Whether she’s crafting 3-D cakes in the kitchen or designing award-winning, high-end residences, Conboy long has found fulfillment in fashioning the built environment at all levels.

Eventually, her passion led to a career, and as the owner of DuCharme Architecture, an SDAF partner, her business has thrived for 29 years. Conboy also is a San Diego Architectural Foundation board member. She has a vested interest in bringing a love of architecture to the next generation, and she’s doing it through SDAF’s Built Environment Education Program (BEEP) for kids.

“Design happens at the micro scale or the macro scale, whether it’s a culinary dish or a house,” Conboy says. “The evolution of an idea is motivating, and it’s rewarding to see it executed.”

At its heart, BEEP is a program at the “micro” level, engaging youth in hands-on activities such as sketching and small-scale construction projects.

“Learning to sketch engages their minds,” Conboy says. “BEEP sets out to make kids aware of the world surrounding them, to look at things more closely when they walk into a space and become aware of how it makes them feel.”

BEEP’s signature event of the year, KidsSketch (hosted as part of OH! San Diego), attracted more than 60 youth to Coronado and La Jolla, as students in grades 3 to 12 turned out to sketch nearby buildings and structures. The goal is to inspire young minds to care about the built environment, so that as they grow they can have a voice in how their communities develop.

During San Diego Design Week this September, representatives from SDAF’s BEEP program will lead kids in building geodesic domes, like the ones made famous by acclaimed architect Buckminster Fuller. The participants, however, will be making the domes on a much smaller scale, from toothpicks and gumdrops.

For her part, Conboy savors the chance to share her enthusiasm for architecture with young people, letting them know how rewarding the profession is, and how interesting life can be when you understand your surroundings.

A geodesic dome project with the Brownies

While the BEEP program may not impact San Diego’s actual built environment anytime soon, it’s about inspiring kids to think about their potential impact on the built environment earlier in life.

Says Conboy: “Hopefully our impact will be felt when young people look up from their devices at the world around them, become concerned and interested, and then realize that they can shape their own built environments in the future.”

Learn more about SDAF’s Built Environment Education Program here.

 

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Orchids & Onions People’s Choice Winners of the Past

As we encourage you to engage with your favorite 2020 nominees for Orchids & Onions 2020 — to like, comment and share to support your pick for the People’s Choice winners — we wanted to show you why it all matters. Here, we look at some of our favorite People’s …

As we encourage you to engage with your favorite 2020 nominees for Orchids & Onions 2020 — to like, comment and share to support your pick for the People’s Choice winners — we wanted to show you why it all matters. Here, we look at some of our favorite People’s Choice winners from the last 10 years. They’re winners we may not necessarily have chosen ourselves. But you did, and that’s the point.

Orchids & Onions People’s Choice winners celebrate the public’s role in helping shape San Diego’s built environment. It’s your city, after all, and your opinion matters. Take a look at some of your top (and some controversial) picks from the last decade.

People’s Choice Orchid Winners

 

2010. Elephant Odyssey, San Diego Zoo

The new 7.5-acre habitat was praised for creating a journey through time, highlighting animals of the past, present and future — such as elephants, lions and horses. The project is the largest single design and construction project ever undertaken by the San Diego Zoo. Its architecture was lauded for “carefully and ingeniously responding to the needs and scale of the animals.” While the public loved the elephant exhibit, not all of the jurors were as impressed. “We are not giving an Orchid to something with fake rocks,” one of them proclaimed. Um, yes we are.

2014. La Jolla Shores Lifeguard Station

Photo by Darren Bradley

The architectural beauty of this lifeguard station, designed by RNT Architects, is a testament to its important function — saving lives.

2016. Sempra Energy Headquarters Building

Sempra Energy’s San Diego headquarters, also known as the Cisterra Tower, was designed by Carrier Johnson, an SDAF partner. According to Sempra Energy’s website, the 16-story building has a 52-kilowatt solar panel system and overall energy use has been reduced by 29 percent, compared to similar buildings in the region. The structure also was designed for optimal water efficiency, and has been awarded Gold Certification by the U.S. Green Building Council’s  Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program.

2018. Brandon-Beaver Building Renovation — Bankers Hill

Photo by Jim Brady

In 1963, renowned San Diego modernist architect Homer Delawie, A.I.A., designed the Brandon-Beaver Building. Originally a medical office building, it served the community for over 50 years. Over time, the building was infilled, overgrown with vegetation, and became a visual blockage from the neighborhood to the canyon beyond. The building eventually was purchased and renovated in 2017, maintaining the neighborhood scale of the building. The mid-century modern architecture was preserved, and the building became transparent by adding windows on all sides and removing all the interior walls. The renovation was designed by domusstudio architecture, and the repurposed building has revitalized the neighborhood at the end of Third and Olive.

People’s Choice Onion Winners

 

2011. Pacific Highway Inactivity

In comments given in bestowing the award, the public had this to say: “San Diegans have been debating the future of the gift of our bayfront since before the Nolan Plan of 1908. And yet today Pacific Highway sits vacant, an occasional shortcut for the traffic weary commuter; a place that no dog walker dare tread — much less someone looking for a glass of water or a pack of gum or even directions.”

2016. Hilton Garden Inn Downtown/Bayside

San Diegans were not fans of the hotel’s design, thinking it more an eyesore than an asset.

2017. San Diego International Airport Car Rental Facility

Photo by Ian Patzke

Is there anything positive to be said about a parking garage’s design? If so, no one could think of it in time for the 2017 awards.

Who will win the coveted People’s Choice Awards in 2020? It’s all in your hands! Have your say here and make sure to like, comment and share your top picks. The photos with the most engagement will win this year’s People’s Choice Orchid and Onion.

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6 Questions with O&O Juror Stacey Pennington

As part of the 2020 Orchids & Onions jury, Stacey Lankford Pennington brings to the table a deep background in urban planning. Having received her Master in Urban Planning from Harvard University Graduate School of Design in 2005, she’s been billed by Bisnow Commercial Real Estate News as one of …

As part of the 2020 Orchids & Onions jury, Stacey Lankford Pennington brings to the table a deep background in urban planning. Having received her Master in Urban Planning from Harvard University Graduate School of Design in 2005, she’s been billed by Bisnow Commercial Real Estate News as one of the “50 Most Influential Women” in the field.

A recipient of the Harvard University Frederick Sheldon Traveling Fellowship, Pennington is the president and founder of SLP Urban Planning and in 2020 is serving on the Orchids & Onions jury for the first time.

We talked with her about exceptional design, why it matters, and the role Orchids & Onions plays in it all.

Tell us about SLP Urban Planning. I launched the firm in 2006 after falling in love with the pace and insight of the real estate development world. My firm always has focused on sustainability and urban engagement. I love the opportunity to think through what would be best for the community. There’s a magic that occurs in spaces and how they are defined and shaped by the users themselves, and that magic is the foundation for all the work we do at SLP Urban Planning.

What projects have you worked on that have contributed to the shaping of the urban environment? My most recent project has been the Strategic Activation and Site Enhancements at Seaport Village. Another key project that I’ve been really involved in is Makers Quarter and the transformation of the Upper East Village.

When I first got involved in 2012, this part of the East Village was a void in San Diego’s urban fabric. It was a part of town that didn’t have a strong connection with the community. I led the effort to create immediate change, with the objective of bottom-up community engagement and testing ideas to inform the future. The effort included the transformation of an asphalt parking lot into downtown’s first community garden. It also included SILO, a dirt lot turned into an outdoor community and arts venue.

Why is thoughtful design important in San Diego? It’s the backdrop for how people live their lives. A place-based and community-based approach to thoughtful design and architecture contributes to the richness and character of San Diego. The more we can elevate thoughtful design, the more we can grow as a city and region.

 What is an Orchid or Onion in your view? An Orchid pushes the limits of what placemaking in community means. It represents spaces that have gone above and beyond in engaging community, asking the right questions and challenging all preconceptions. An Onion demonstrates that the team saw a challenge and decided not to address it. They didn’t even ask the questions.

Why is the Orchids and Onions program important? The Orchids & Onions program is so important for our region. It shapes and reinforces the quality of architecture and community engagement. It’s a tradition in the built environment that celebrates the wins and losses. That power of contemplation and reflection is crucial, and for those shaping the built environment every day, it’s critical to have an open forum like this. It also invites the public to be involved, and that dialog is the magic of design in and of itself.

What made you want to be a juror in 2020? This is an exciting year to be a juror. It’s been a strange one to say the least. With coronavirus and important discussions around race and equality, our day to day work is at the center of it all. We’re holding those parameters up with the utmost respect. Being a juror is an opportunity to embrace the challenges of this year and have a voice.

For more on Orchids & Onions 2020, check out this year’s nominees and get ready to vote in August.

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Turning It Around: Making the Leap from Onion to Orchid

Over the course of its 44-year history, Orchids & Onions has become the San Diego Architectural Foundation’s (SDAF’s) flagship event for a reason. The annual people’s choice awards, highlighting the most impressive and most questionable San Diego architecture, holds design professionals to a higher standard. The awards also give the …

Over the course of its 44-year history, Orchids & Onions has become the San Diego Architectural Foundation’s (SDAF’s) flagship event for a reason. The annual people’s choice awards, highlighting the most impressive and most questionable San Diego architecture, holds design professionals to a higher standard. The awards also give the public a pivotal voice in the shaping of San Diego’s built environment.

There can be a fine line between what qualifies as an Orchid (the pinnacle of architectural achievement) and an Onion (considered a blight on San Diego’s urban landscape). But Onions don’t have to make you cry. In fact, many recipients have used them to spur future achievement, turning architectural shame into design glory.

We turned to SDAF board member Roger Showley, our in-house historian, for help in compiling this list of Onions that became Orchids (and vice-versa). It’s proof that while the public demands excellence, it also rewards progress.

1976: San Diego Unified School District. In 1976, the school district received an Onion, then an Orchid in 1984, then an Onion in 2007.

    • Onion, 1976: “With a ‘standard package design,” San Diego city schools has built 10 elementary schools with little if any identification with the needs of the individual neighborhoods in whcih they are placed. The emphasis, which is apparent in the design, is total security from the surrounding community.”
    • Metamorphosis (Orchid), 1984: “The SDUSD is dramatically changing its design emphasis away from windowless, security conscious schools for which they received a 1976 Onion award…. The planning process has encouraged extensive public involvement and may eventually result in school facilities that are more responsive to the needs of the surrounding community. These bold efforts of the district deserve recognition from the general community at this critical point in the process.”
    • Onion, 2007, Thurgood Marshall Middle School, Scripps Ranch: “The worst of everything, from its site planning to the banal architecture to the lack of light and air in the classrooms to stucco, stucco everywhere . . . and what were they thinking when they put in those fake, fiberglass Doric columns?!

The San Diego Convention Center

1977: Big Dipper rollercoaster in Belmont Park, Mission Beach: The threatened demolition of this 1925 landmark earned an Onion: “A very significant historical landmark to the community will be lost by the City Council action in recommending the removal of the wood roller coaster.” Then in 1991, the coaster won an Orchid for being saved and restored after all. (No jury quotes available.)

1990: The San Diego Convention Center received an Orchid for architecture and an Onion for planning.

    • Onion: “What happened to waterfront access and building setbacks? Weren’t any lessons learned from the paternal twins next door [Marriott Marquis San Diego Marina hotel twin towers that did not match]? A building of this size should have been given a larger site instead of being built right on the water’s edge, blocking scenic views and easy public access to the bay.”
    • Orchid: “The architects have risen to the challenge along the bayfront and have instilled this mammoth center with a sense of lightness and emphatic imagery.”

1991: MTDB Harborview Trolley Station, a below-grade section of the trolley paralleling India Street.

    • Onion 1991: “Harbor View or Harbor Wall: After three successive Orchids for enlightening transportation planning, the frangrance must have gone to the heads of the MTDB [Metropolitan Transit Development Board, todays MTS] board. Separating the city from the bay neighborhood is not worth the traffic benefits. Let’s hope they get out of the veggie patch and back to the flower garden.”
    • Orchid, 1992: “Speak up and be heard or as the saying goes, ‘The squeaky wheel gets the oil.’ This Orchid goes to the community for insisting that the trolley be changed from an elevated structure that would block the bay view to an underground structure.”

1996: Solana Beach Train Station

    • Orchid 1996: “What a Quonset hut wishes if it could be when it grows up! What could have been a rather ungainly shape has been deftly turned into a whimsical practical piece of ‘wall-in’ sculpture. A very upbeat yet relaxed place to wait (and wait and wait some more, knowing Amtrak) for a train. Great.” “It works, it’s fun, has a tie to the history of the community, very creative.”
    • Onion 2000: Grade Separation: “The grade separation of the railroad tracks from the road was deemed necessary for public safety and convenience. But its execution is like using an A-bomb to kill a fly! The enormous gash in the grounds, the concrete ramps and bleak industrial design looks like a railroad platform outside some European factory town. All concrete and gunite, there is very little vegetation to soften the hard surfaces. Is this an old zoo enclosure? Are there bears and gorillas on display here? Probably just the train passengers climbing up from the depths of this gravel pit.”

1997: The jury awarded El Cortez Hotel an Onion for historic preservation, in 2000 an Orchid for the conversion to a condo building, and in 2006 an Onion for the proposed tower on the balance of the block.

    • Onion, 1997: “How many times has the community of San Diego been presented with plans to revitalize this historic section of downtown, only to be disappointed? The jury awards this Onion to those past owners with their empty promises.”
    • Orchid, 2000: “A beautiful and grand restoration of the long-faded grand dame of San Diego’s skyscrapers. A vibrant classy restoration that will be the cornerstone for more residential on the best hill downtown.”
    • Onion, 2006: “This proposed project will rob Cortez Hill residents of their special relationship with their neighborhood icon, the historic El Cortez Hotel. The proposed structure is a high-density, blocky building, with virtually no outdoor space for its residents and it occupies every square inch of lot space.”

The San Diego Central Library. Photo by Darren Bradley.

1998: The jury gave the city an Onion for lack of progress on a new central library. In 2014 it gave the city an Orchid for the new library:

    • Onion, 1998: “This is an overdue notice. Why haven’t we built our new downtown library yet? There is an award-winning design for a domed library and cultural landmark waiting to be planted and nurtured downtown.”
    • Orchid, 2014: “It is a grand gesture that has created an iconic addition to the skyline of San Diego and contributed to further activation of the East Village.”

2000: eHotel Onion: The jury bestowed an Onion on this redo of the historic Riviera Hotel on Park Boulevard for painting the red brick white and adding a giant “e” on the facade. “E-gads! The horror! This beautiful brick building has been covered with a glaring white paint and a huge ‘E’ emblem that looks like some giant bird dropping. This reeks like an Onion from anywhere downtown.” Soon afterwards, the owner undid the paint job.

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Sowing the Seeds for Orchids & Onions Success with Alicia Griffiths

When Alicia Griffiths returned to San Diego after 10 years in London, she didn’t know what was in store. But it’s clear she’s landed in the right place. With 14 years of public relations experience to her name, Griffiths is the newest addition to the Orchids & Onions team — …

When Alicia Griffiths returned to San Diego after 10 years in London, she didn’t know what was in store. But it’s clear she’s landed in the right place.

With 14 years of public relations experience to her name, Griffiths is the newest addition to the Orchids & Onions team — a public relations volunteer at the San Diego Architectural Foundation (SDAF). Having worked for tech startups in San Francisco before leading communications campaigns in London for the likes of L’Oreal, Salesforce and Mastercard, Griffiths brings a keen PR and marketing awareness to the role.

Craving a career change, Griffiths returned home to San Diego in 2016 with her husband, Laurence. The daughter of an interior decorator, design long has played a pivotal role in Griffiths’ life. Feeling a creative itch, she wanted to give it a try herself.

“I did my interior design schooling while raising two kids, and here in San Diego, I wanted to combine both of those passions,” she says. “The San Diego Architectural Foundation allows me to do that.”

For Orchids & Onions, Griffiths serves as a liaison between the committee and local media, inspiring them to promote the annual people’s choice awards (and SDAF’s signature event) in their communications. She also provides strategic input on the event’s wider marketing strategy.

Although Orchids & Onions is a San Diego tradition of 40-plus years, Griffiths was new to it, having spent so many years overseas.

“What I love about my role is the ability to help the community see why design matters,” she says. “I love the aesthetics of design, but it actually has a concrete benefit for people that they’re not always aware of. It impacts quality of life, well-being, how we interact with the community and workplace. And I think all of that is really impactful.”

As a San Diego institution, Orchids & Onions introduces the public to exceptional (and questionable) design where they live, work and play. Part of Griffiths’ role is to nurture the public’s appreciation for design.

She’s doing it at a time when the 2020 Orchids & Onions awards will be different from any other in its history. For the first time, O&O, as some call it, will be virtual. That will allow the awards, long considered an exclusive celebration, to reach a much wider audience.

“With it being virtual, Orchids & Onions 2020 will be really unique,” Griffiths says. “There’s no blueprint for this type of event. I embrace the challenges and opportunities in bringing more people into the SDAF fold as we face a pandemic. It feels like there is no limit to what we can do, and that’s exciting.”

Have you nominated a project for Orchids & Onions yet? The deadline to nominate is July 10, so nominate a project while you still can!

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Shining a Light on SDAF Board Member Maddy MacElwee

As treasurer of the San Diego Architectural Foundation (SDAF), Maddy MacElwee enjoys doing her part to further the foundation’s mission. She’s served on the SDAF Board of Directors since 2016, after being nominated by SDAF President Margit Whitlock. Working on the sales and construction side of the design industry inspired …

As treasurer of the San Diego Architectural Foundation (SDAF), Maddy MacElwee enjoys doing her part to further the foundation’s mission. She’s served on the SDAF Board of Directors since 2016, after being nominated by SDAF President Margit Whitlock. Working on the sales and construction side of the design industry inspired MacElwee to find an outlet for her creative side, and she was happy to find it through the foundation.

“SDAF helps me use the other side of my brain,” MacElwee says. “I love the relationships I’ve been able to build with my fellow board members. The foundation has immersed me in the San Diego design community, and I really enjoy having the opportunity to spread the word about SDAF and its mission.”

Lighting Up a Promising Career

MacElwee’s life story is nothing if not a lesson in resilience. She’s rebounded from hard times more than once, and tenacity propels her forward. Having grown up poor in Chula Vista (her family led puppet shows at the Balboa Park Puppet Theater), MacElwee was blessed not with ample opportunities, but with an internal drive that served her well.

A project at Summit Point that TLE played a hand in

In 1990, MacElwee was 23, a single mother without a college education. Nonetheless, she landed her first office job working for a lighting representative in Seattle. A few years later, she moved back to San Diego and began a slow, steady climb through the ranks of reputable lighting companies. By 2016, she had founded The Lighting Element (TLE) and become an independent rep for Philips lighting and many other reputable lighting brands.

As a business, TLE represents lighting manufacturers, making recommendations for lighting products used in various building projects. Acclaimed projects TLE has worked on include the San Diego Convention Center and the Immaculata Church at the University of San Diego, which won a national IES award for lighting design by Ron Neal Lighting Design.

“Lighting can really make a huge impact on a building or a room,” MacElwee says. “You can spend all the money in the world on the building and the finishes, but if it’s not well lit, you won’t visually appreciate its beauty. The best lighting designs are ones where you notice the impact of the architecture. Unless the luminaires are showpiece decorative items, you should notice the effect of the lighting, not the fixtures themselves.”

Today TLE has 11 employees, including MacElwee, the CEO, and her husband Scott, the company’s vice president. TLE’s values are inherent in MacElwee herself. They’re things like “Be a champion,” “Be people smart,” “Dare to be different,” and “Be humble.

Maddy and her husband, Scott, at a Padres game

“I think humility is the most important of all our corporate values, because you never know what it’s like to be in somebody’s shoes,” MacElwee says. “Most conflict comes from misunderstanding somebody else’s perspective.”

‘Creating an Atmosphere’ for the End User

MacElwee comes across as sweet — and she is. She has a gift for motivating people, believing that success is a marathon, not a sprint. But in the construction industry, you have to have thick skin. MacElwee, who had her first child at 17, has her share of that, too.

“Lighting should create an atmosphere that the end user is looking for,” MacElwee says, “whether it’s drama, function or subtlety.” She likes the fact that light is similar to life. “There’s a big component of light that’s necessary to live,” she says. “I like to think that what we do at TLE matters, that it’s helping to move the needle for people in some way.”

No matter what happens, MacElwee strives to stay positive, and it’s served her well. “I wake up every day moving forward,” she says. “If you work really hard and keep your word, you can really go far. I believe our biggest obstacle in life is our own self-doubt. If you can overcome that, you can do anything.”

Learn more about the 2020 SDAF Board of Directors and their achievements.

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Member Spotlight: Curtis Micklish Has a Big Vision for Small Living

Curtis Micklish, the man behind Micklish Studio, joined the San Diego Architectural Foundation (SDAF) because he wanted to feel part of the local design community. Impressed by SDAF’s Orchids & Onions, PechaKucha and Open House programs, Micklish relishes the sense of belonging he feels through SDAF. “SDAF gives the design …

Curtis Micklish, the man behind Micklish Studio, joined the San Diego Architectural Foundation (SDAF) because he wanted to feel part of the local design community. Impressed by SDAF’s Orchids & Onions, PechaKucha and Open House programs, Micklish relishes the sense of belonging he feels through SDAF.

“SDAF gives the design community a voice to be heard and allows us to appreciate the great designs of San Diego’s past and present,” Micklish says. “We’re a big city that still feels small, and SDAF events really bring that out. There’s a certain level of intimacy to them that makes them special.”

Also special are the talents and expertise that members like Micklish bring to SDAF. Through their artistry and professionalism, SDAF members are helping to shape San Diego’s built environment. And as a building designer, Micklish plays a key role in that.

For Micklish and his wife, Christina, who heads up Urbanist Guide San Diego, it’s been a dream to be able to create a home in Hillcrest. They established roots there two-and-a-half years ago, and it’s a community they have embraced at every turn.

 

Big Ideas Create a Bigger Feel

So it’s all the more gratifying for Micklish, the building designer behind The Jackson and The Duke, to know that his next project, Cayuca, will be in Hillcrest.

Cayuca will be a small-living residential community that embraces concepts such as Hygge, a Danish and Norwegian word meaning “mood of coziness.” It aims to bring more happiness to daily life through simplicity and sustainability.

“I started to realize that we could do it smaller,” Micklish says of his vision for the residential development. “There definitely is a ceiling on larger apartments in San Diego. They’re getting too expensive, only attracting a certain type of person. When people can no longer afford it, that’s when it starts to shift for me.”

Micklish is intent on staying on budget so Cayuca can be affordable for buyers. To keep costs down, he chose to focus on small-space living.

Breaking ground on Cayuca in August, the complex at 10th and Robinson will consist of 25 units — eight two-bedrooms and 17 studios. Usually, the scale of the building would be 20,000 square feet, yet Cayuca will be nearly half that — 12,500 square feet.

Micklish found inspiration for Cayuca in the renovation of his home. The previous owner had split the 750 sf + garage into four small living spaces. Inhabiting just 150 square feet of space himself, he rented the other three units.

“It inspired the idea of carving out unique niches for bed spaces, so you feel like you still have this nice living space but you’re living in smaller square footage,” Micklish says. “It’s livable, but your rent and utility bills are a lot less. Those are some of the pieces that inspired Cayuca.”

Sustainable Materials Help Reduce Costs, Carbon Footprint

 

A rendering of what Cayuca will look like

 

From that vision, Micklish started to integrate sustainable elements into the mix. With the escalation of global warming, he feels a responsibility to do his part to combat it. It’s required ingenuity and a shift in mindset.

In practicing sustainable strategies such as partnering with Habitat for Humanity, Micklish is deconstructing the existing buildings to recycle building materials. In doing so, he receives the benefits of a tax rebate and reduces Cayuca’s footprint in the heart of San Diego.

“It’s a key to creating the housing that San Diego needs right now and to making it affordable,” he says. “We’re doing that by making things smaller and more sustainable.”

For Micklish, a self-described building designer and builder, every project starts with a vision that slowly evolves into a design. Driven by a desire to improve the feel of spaces, he aspires to create a place he’d like to live in.

“It takes a lot to be able to guide and execute a vision,” he says. “I work on a project from start to finish. I don’t know if I could do it any other way.”

The Power of Effective Design

Micklish’s father was a carpenter who worked himself up to management and who “gave everything” to his work. Growing up a witness to his father’s passion, Micklish learned to care deeply about his own design process.

He candidly professes that design is an addiction for him. It has been since he first felt inspired by a design magazine at age 19. It stirred something in him, and it wasn’t long before he built a coffee table for Christina. Carving out a vision, quite literally, “felt magical to me,” he says.

“That’s why people want to be carpenters, you can transform the space,” he adds. “Design is transformational, too. Cayuca is an example of how design can transform how you feel, how you live and how you connect with your community.”

Moving back to Hillcrest from Mount Helix even made the Micklishes feel more connected to each other. Redesigning their 400 square-foot Hillcrest home to make it more livable put them more closely in touch with their priorities.

“Small space is not for everybody,” Micklish says. “But it does cause us to reflect on what we want out of life. It frees us from this idea of excess. It’s quite liberating in that regard.”

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3 Ways to Learn About Diversity in Design

The protests against racial injustice sweeping the nation have caused us to reflect on what more we can do to help advocate for a more diverse society. By sharing the resources below, we hope to spur and become part of a thoughtful discussion on diversity.  For those in the architecture …

The protests against racial injustice sweeping the nation have caused us to reflect on what more we can do to help advocate for a more diverse society. By sharing the resources below, we hope to spur and become part of a thoughtful discussion on diversity.  For those in the architecture and design space interested in learning more, here are some films, books and articles to get you started.

Discover Paul Williams. Paul Williams was the first African-American to become a member of the American Institute of Architects in 1923, and he was inducted as the AIA’s first Black fellow in 1957. Learn more about his fascinating and trailblazing journey (which includes teaching himself to draw upside down so that his white clients would not have to sit on the same side of the table) in this AIA article or through this PBS documentary.

Learn about the “Tu White School of Architecture.” Are architecture schools doing enough to improve diversity? It’s too little too slow, according to the designer and advocate behind the Tu White School of Architecture, an important satirical work from Chris Daemmrich,

Get busy reading. Don’t know where to start? Here are five essential books to read fthat can help make cities more inclusive.

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San Diego Architectural Foundation is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization dedicated to education and promotion of outstanding architecture, planning and urban design throughout the San Diego region.

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