Orchids & Onions
It’s your town, San Diego. Get ready to let us know what you think about
San Diego’s spaces and places in 2019.

Consider. Nominate. Comment. Share. Celebrate.

Orchids & Onions 2018 was a success!
Thank you to all who joined us at the US Grant to celebrate the winners! View the 2018 nominees and winners.

Orchid Award Winners can Order Additional Plaques by November 15, 2018.

Orchid or Onion? You Help Decide.
Ever ask yourself why a place becomes a favorite spot that people return to time and again to make memories that last a lifetime? Or what makes San Diego “San Diego”? Why is our city so special, and could it be even more special? And what about the future of our downtown, the waterfront, the parks, the neighborhoods we call home?

To answer these questions, we turn to you—yes you! SDAF’s Orchids & Onions program brings San Diegans together to decide which parts of the built environment—be it building, park or plaza—make our city a better place to live. Each year brings in a whole new crop of projects, spaces and places to consider, nominate, comment on and vote into fame or infamy. Get involved and make your voice heard!

What Makes a Project an Orchid or an Onion?
Making San Diego an even better place then it already is by designing and building inspiring spaces and places, starts with thinking about the elements of design. Here is the criteria that is used or evaluate projects. 


  • Exemplifies good place making, ie it is a functional and memorable place or space to be
  • Contributes to its surrounding context and adds to community character
  • Skillfully and thoughtfully detailed and crafted – showing respect for materials and the community
  • Expresses something relevant to our time and place – San Diego, 2018 as well as its function
  • Provides social and economic benefit to San Diegans
  • Encourages social interaction or a quiet moment
  • Elicits a sense of civic pride
  • Is technologically or environmentally innovative
  • Supports community building


  • The opposite of an Orchid
  • A missed opportunity 
  • A blight or eyesore that shows a lack of commitment to quality design and our community

Be Part of the Process: How It Works
It all begins with you—proud San Diegans who share a vision to make our city all it can be. When nominations open next June, 2019, visit the Orchids & Onions nominations page and nominate your favorite projects. Categories include architecture, interior design, urban planning, landscape architecture, historic preservation and “miscellaneous”-anything not covered by other categories. This can range from public art and environmental graphics to sustainable and technological innovation in design.

After nominations close, a multidisciplinary jury convenes to cull the nominations for the year’s harvest for best and worst. Made up of design professionals, plus one student and one member from the general public, the jury tours the cream of the crop, traveling to each project for firsthand evaluation. Jurors then deliberate on which entries earn a spot at the winner’s table (our orchids) versus those that need to be composted (the onions).

Cast Your Vote for People’s Choice
With a diverse collection of eye-catching projects to choose from, you, the San Diego community, vote online for the People’s Choice orchid and onion. Make sure to cast your vote come next September, then come see which projects win top picks at the awards event.

Step Up to Sponsorship
When you become a sponsor for this vital and vibrant program, you not only support its continued and future success, you also make your organization visible to a unique audience of professionals and fellow citizens committed to inspired place making. Your support will be recognized throughout the season, from opening of the nominations through to the exciting awards ceremony. Click here to learn more about sponsor benefits, levels of sponsorship and how to become a sponsor.

Awards Festivities
Join us for a fun-filled, thought-provoking night of commentary and discussion about San Diego’s built environment as we award the orchids and onions. Attendees include design enthusiasts, industry professionals and city leaders who all bring their energy and insights. This year’s ceremony was held on Thursday, October 4th at the US Grant Hotel, a past orchid winner. Next year’s will be held in October 2019.

Orchids & Onions In The News
Downtown projects garner bouquet of orchids from SDAF (San Diego Downtown News)
In San Diego Architecture, Orchids Outweigh Onions (KPBS)
Orchids & Onions: San Diego’s best and worst architecture (The San Diego Union-Tribune)

View Past Winners

See the 2018 winners

See the 2017 winners

  • The only way forward, if we are going to improve the quality of the environment, is to get everybody involved.

    Richard Rogers
    British Architect
    Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners

Meet our dedicated volunteer committee

Upcoming Events

Open House San Diego 2019
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San Diego Architectural Foundation



P.O. Box 122228
San Diego, CA 92112-2228
Federal Tax ID: 95-3513927

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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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