The SDAF Volunteer Whose Heart Beats for a Border Town

  • Carolina Salgado loves building community, whether she’s south of the border or north of it. 

On a Tijuana hilltop with one road in and one road out, Carolina Salgado spent the fabled days of her youth. It was the kind of idyllic upbringing where kids played in the street and biked around the neighborhood. Where grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles lived just blocks away. Where everyone knew everyone.

The small Mexican community had one main street, one park, “one of everything, basically,” Salgado says. “Once you were up there, you didn’t need to go down for anything else.”

The soft-spoken Salgado, the daughter of an architect, developed a love of design early, thanks to her father’s influence. Girlhood memories of shadowing her dad at construction sites and translating for him during client meetings instilled in her an interest in architecture that never left.

Carolina Salgado

As San Diego’s first-ever Design Week approaches Sept. 9-13, Salgado’s desire to use architecture to build thriving communities reminds us how impactful design can be. What’s more, her longtime support of the San Diego Architectural Foundation (SDAF) as a dedicated volunteer shows that building community often unfolds deliberately — one small step at a time.


Forging Her Own Path, Building Community on the Job

Salgado’s walk in the footsteps her her father, Gustavo, began at the University of San Francisco, where she earned a degree in architecture with a focus on community design. Today, she works as a designer and project manager at a small San Diego design/build firm, where she designs residential models and savors the opportunity to learn along the way.

“I love the evolution of the design process,” she says. “It’s fun for me to be immersed in a tight-knit architectural community like San Diego’s. A sense of community really drives my professional goals. I love the whole idea that anything you design comes alive in the community, affecting how people live, work, play and feel. It’s a challenge and responsibility that excites me.”

Seeing an opportunity in green initiatives, Salgado is preparing to take the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) exam and looks forward to learning more about sustainability in the built environment. Acquiring sustainability expertise will empower her to develop green communities on both sides of the border. Returning home to contribute to more sustainable neighborhoods in Tijuana would be most gratifying of all, she says.

Volunteering Broadens Her Network

Salgado at Joshua Tree National Park

If Salgado is driven by a desire to build stronger communities, she also feels a sense of community through SDAF, where she’s volunteered for PechaKucha Night (PKN) on several occasions. On Oct. 1, she’s looking forward to volunteering for SDAF’s flagship event, Orchids & Onions, as it goes virtual for the first time.

By now, 44 years since it began, Orchids & Onions has become a cherished San Diego tradition, known as much for celebrating vaunted design as for holding architects accountable for their design decisions.

Orchids & Onions is vital to San Diego’s design community, because it really shows the level of excellence we should be reaching for as designers,” Salgado says. “As a young designer, it fuels my vision for what’s possible. Even the Onions are important. In them is the simple truth that we can always learn from our failures and strive to be better. And there’s a lot of value in that as well.”

A staunch supporter of nonprofits, Salgado was drawn to SDAF through the social nature of its events and the warmth of its people. She’s volunteered for SDAF regularly for the last two years and is looking forward to seeing what inspiration Orchids & Onions provides this fall.

“I like any experience that opens my eyes and helps me gain a new perspective,” she says. “With SDAF, it’s a learning experience just being there. One that has helped me grow. One that has given me a vision for what’s possible.”

Orchids and Onions 2020 is looking for volunteers to help with this year’s event. If you’re interested in helping out, email

Featured photo by Jim Brady  of Brady Architectural Photography. All other photos courtesy of Carolina Salgado.

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