Orchids & Onions

It’s your town, San Diego. Let us know what you think about
San Diego’s spaces and places. Consider. Share. Comment. Vote.

Save the Date for Orchids & Onions 2020, October 1!


It’s Time to Nominate!

Visit the Orchids & Onions website and nominate your favorite projects.


What to Know About O&O…


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 are the criteria that are used to evaluate projects. 


  • Exemplifies good place making, i.e. 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, 2019 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


Here is How it Works

Nominating and Jury Process

It all begins with you—proud San Diegans who share a vision to make our city all it can be. Nominations typically open in June. Visit the Orchids & Onions website 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. Be sure to share and comment on your favorite entries as those that get the most attention from the community will make the shortlist for consideration by the public for the People’s Choice award.

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
You and other San Diegans determine the nominees and winners for each year’s People’s Choice Orchid and Onion. This is how it works. During June and July nominated projects with the most online interest become nominees for the People’s Choice Award. Come August, votes are cast online to determine the year’s People’s Choice Orchid and Onion. Join us in October to celebrate the winners!

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. 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. The Orchids & Onions Awards Gala is held each year in October, we hope to see you there!


More About Orchids & Onions

Orchids & Onions In The News
Daily Business Report-October 7, 2019 (San Diego Metro)
The San Diego Architectural Foundation Announces the Official 2019 Orchids & Onions Winners (Oside News)
Two East County Projects Win Orchid Awards for Architecture (East County Magazine)
Here is San Diego’s best and worst architecture (San Diego Union Tribune)
San Diego Architectural Foundation Announces 2019 ‘Orchids & Onions’ Winners (Times of San Diego)
43rd Annual Orchids & Onions Awards (NBC 7)
The San Diego Architectural Foundation Hosts The 43rd Annual Orchids & Onions Awards Ceremony (There San Diego)
43rd Orchids & Onions Awards Ceremony (NBC San Diego)
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)

Want More?
For more information about the Orchids & Onions program, visit the official Orchids & Onions website.

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

    Richard Rogers
    Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners

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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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