Peeling It Back: A Closer Look at the Grand Onion

Year after year, as the Orchids & Onions gala approaches, people throughout San Diego inevitably ask “Why can’t it just be Orchids?”

The answer, of course, is simple, and perhaps said best in the words of Orchids & Onions Co-chair John Martinez: “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.”

In that spirit, this year’s Grand Onion winner, the Apartments at 1836 Columbia Street, presents a great opportunity we can learn from and improve upon. Understand that not just any design can earn a Grand Onion. It takes something…special. Jurors criticized the apartments for failing to complement the feel of the neighborhood  overall. And while jurors agreed the Apartments at 1836 Columbia were the hands-down winner of 2020’s Grand Onion, some of  their insights may surprise you. Take a look at a few of them.

“There’s nothing to soften this building, especially considering there are single-story properties all around it.” 

“It does not play well with adjacent properties.” 

“It could be an urban planning Onion as well.”  

“There is no green space, no trees or plantings.”

“Front, back, and sides, all = Onion.”

Whereas an Orchid represents spaces that go above and beyond in engaging community, asking the right questions and challenging preconceived notions, an Onion represents a missed opportunity, a failure to rise to the challenge.

So why bother talking about them at all?

Because in “celebrating” missed opportunities — like a Grand Onion apartment complex in one of San Diego’s most popular neighborhoods — we bring accountability to our design decisions. And maybe (just maybe), we’ll ask harder questions next time.

That can only be a good thing.

 For more on Onions, read about Onions that became Orchids (and vice-versa).

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