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! Not even a pandemic is 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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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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