October 7th, Save the Date! SDAF’s 45th Orchids & Onions Event!

O&O Interview with John D. Martinez

We can’t believe it’s already been 45 years since the San Diego Architectural Foundation has held its first annual Onions & Orchids event! In anticipation, we spoke to this year’s Chair of O&O, John Martinez, and learned how this year will be a bit different by expanding to a broader audience. This way, more people can not only learn about San Diego’s unique and beautiful built environment, but they can also have their voices heard!

O&O Event Chair, John D. Martinez

What made you decide to chair this event?

I’ve been involved with Orchids & Onions for the last five years as a volunteer, and the more I became involved, the more I thought how important it is for San Diego to discuss how we can all improve our built environment. And the second reason is it’s a lot of fun! We always have a blast as a committee putting on this event. And so hopefully, this year will be as fun as years past!

Last year O&O went virtual. Will this year’s event be in person or virtual?

This year it’ll be both! We are going to do a hybrid event. Everything that we learned last year with COVID will help us propel this year’s event into something we’ve never done before – a hybrid event, having both a virtual experience and an in-person experience. So, whether you are in a theater in San Diego or Tokyo, it will be a lot of fun!

Having meetings via Zoom brings a broader audience!

Exactly. The more people learn, the more surprised they are that our built environment is rich and known as the City of Villages – a collection of neighborhoods like Hillcrest, University Heights, Barrio Logan, Kensington, etc. Each has its own unique character, and the City of Villages concept has been used to promote smart growth and walkable communities. Throughout the entire city, there are many notable examples of different styles, periods, and new cutting-edge design that is taking place that we are assisting in showcasing this year.

 Many people are excited to be in person again, but there’s a lot of very hesitant groups, and that’s understandable. Holding it as a hybrid event allows people to join that may still be uncomfortable going out without a mask, or maybe even out at all right now. A hybrid event allows us to serve more of the San Diego community and beyond.

In what way does the O&O program benefit the San Diego Community?

We pass by buildings and parks and plazas and sculpture every day and in our lives. During 2020 a lot of people were at home, and they were walking around their neighborhoods. And I think we have these experiences every day, but at the same time, we’re not able to discuss what is built in our neighborhoods. And this is that one event a year that we can have that conversation and kind of show-off or critique the things built in our neighborhoods and hopefully learn from others.

John D. Martinez

What do you want to see come out of this event?

What I’d love to see is – because we have spent a year apart – is people getting back together again and sharing experiences that we missed out on over the last year.

In addition to that, many great things are happening in National City right now – also San Ysidro, Lemon Grove, Julian, Pacific Beach, and La Jolla. We should focus on what’s happening in these other communities.

What’s unique about San Diego is that we are continually growing and changing so rapidly that it sometimes feels like being a tourist around our own communities. Things are constantly evolving which means we can always go out and check out what’s new.

I think we already touched on this, but why do you think it’s important?

It’s essential to have this dialogue and learn from each other. What is being built or already built in our neighborhoods doesn’t often get a lot of spotlights. And as architects, designers, and different professions in the community, we can all learn from each other. We can share the experiences and the richness that we bring in – our diversity, our community. It’s critical to the success of San Diego to always be learning from one another.

Hearing each other’s perspectives and sharing those differences are opportunities to do that. I get many ideas from other designers and projects throughout the city, and this is our one chance every year where we can showcase those ideas.

What is your favorite part of O&O?

My favorite part is probably the jury tour. We get to go with the jury and tour all the projects nominated by the public throughout the month of June. The tour is at the end of July, and we go from site to site. It’s fantastic to see the diversity of opinions between the jurors, and one juror may look at a building and think it’s the best building ever. And the next year someone may say that it’s the worst building they’ve ever seen in their life. And then they both kind of hash it out. I get why they think the way they do. It’s great to witness that discussion and lead the process to keep things fair. But just being able to hear that conversation happen in person is a lot of fun.

It would be interesting to have people sketch the O&O buildings and see their perspectives!

Since you mentioned sketching, that’s something that we’re going to be doing a little bit differently this year. We have a variety of programs that SDAF provides, and KidSketch, a BEEP program that is geared toward the youth. And last year, we incorporated a youth jury as part of the process. They shared their input along with our professional jury in selecting an Orchids & Onions audience, and we’re going to be doing that again this year.

Along with that, we’re going to do a KidSketch of one of the Orchids & Onions winners projects from last year. It’s great to see the cross-promotion between our programs. Design happens at such a young age. I think a lot of people start this from a young age. To provide these programs and opportunities for kids to get out there to sketch and learn from other architects is incredible.

At the same time, it’s never too late to start those talents. I didn’t wake up at twenty-five and decide I wanted to get into architecture. Sketching is something that I need help with, too. So yeah, I think these programs allow us to get out of our homes and see a building or a public space. And being able to get together and experience it together is fun.

Last year SDAF sponsored a fundraiser to raise scholarship funds in partnership with SDNOMA. Are you doing it again this year?  

Yes. We had such remarkable success in that. There’s a great need for that. It wasn’t just for last year; it’s just as important this year, if not more. We had a considerable amount of people contribute to that scholarship fund. We’re looking to expand on that this year. And again, shed a spotlight on not only the lack of diversity in our neighborhoods but also in our professions.

That’s all I have unless you want to add something else.

June 7th is when we will be kicking off a call for nominations, and I’m excited for them to start coming in! People will be able to log in to our website and submit pictures and information about their favorite and least favorite places in their neighborhoods and be able to comment on those as well.

Thank you, John! We’re excited, too! 






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