New San Diego Architecture Up For Orchids And Onions Nominations
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: This is KPBS Midday Edition, I am Maureen Cavanaugh. You may not know much about architecture, but you probably know the buildings that you like, and the buildings that you don't like. For the next few days you have a chance to put in nominations for your favorite and least favorite new buildings for the annual Orchids & Onions awards. The awards are given out by the San Diego Architectural Foundation, in the hope that it will make people more aware of the built environment around them. Last year, everything from a modern art sculpture to an emergency generator were included in the awards. Joining me to explain more about the awards and how to evaluate the architecture around you are my guests. Kevin deFreitas is a San Diego architect with his own practice. He is also on the board of the San Diego Architectural Foundation. And Perriann Hodges is an architect at Studio E Architects in San Diego. She is cochair of the Orchids & Onions events. Welcome to the show. Perriann, is there a risk it having rewards like these, that people just concentrate on making fun of the Onions? PERRIANN HODGES: Not really, because it is tongue-in-cheek and how Orchids & Onions is. We really try to promote the conversation of keeping that alive. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Do you think, Kevin, that you have to know a lot about architecture in order to evaluate and determine if a building works? KEVIN DEFREITAS: I think that is what is interesting about this program, it is not simply professionals patting themselves on the back and recognizing achievements within their peer group. It really encourages the citizens of San Diego to get involved and comment with their own opinions. You don't have to have any architectural background. That is what makes this fun, because this is the community that San Diegans live in, and it is theirs. Buildings are in the public realm, so they have every right to comment on them. It is meant to be more engaging, and more grassroots, unless technical and professional. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: What makes a building work? Is it just if it is aesthetically pleasing? PERRIANN HODGES: I think that is the age old question of form over function, in my personal opinion it is the balance between the two, because it really does have to function for the intended purposes, but form is also beautiful. KEVIN DEFREITAS: A client hires an architect to build something for their own purpose within a context and budget, and it has to work within building codes. But it lives within the public realm, so you drive by the building and you enjoy it or you don't, and it is pleasing aesthetically or from a pedestrian point of view. There are all sorts of criteria. That is what is unique about building, it's serving the client, but it also contributes to the fabric of the whole city. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: You make an interesting point, Kevin, how do you think we are affected by our building environment? KEVIN DEFREITAS: I think dramatically, even more than most people in it to our understand. The way that the city works, it is either quite amazing or frustrating, or pieces of it are both. Certain communities are much more exciting to visit than others. Scripps Ranch for example is incredibly clean, the American dream, but a lot of people are flocking towards downtown to live in an urban environment that is a little more gritty, but more interesting, active, more energetic people, or activities. They are willing to trade what is traditionally more preferable for something that is more exciting. I think it depends really on your point of view, but that is the way that it works. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Do you think many people realize what they are feeling about a certain environment may have a lot to do with how it is built? PERRIANN HODGES: I don't know if they are putting two and two together, but I really think that the intuition of walking into a space, you don't really have to have a college degree that to know that it works or doesn't. You really have a gut instinct to know that this is awesome, or it may need some improvements. KEVIN DEFREITAS: The great thing about design, most people that you talk to, if they close their eyes they can describe a memorable space. Whether it is real or not, the light, the smell, the textures. Everyone works and lives in architecture. They know a lot about it because they spend hours every day in it. They may not have formal training or lingo that is specific to it, but everybody knows about buildings because they deal with them all of the time. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Perriann, how are the Orchids & Onions awards supposed to educate people about architecture they see around them? PERRIANN HODGES: Each year we have a jury of design professionals, and this year is the first year that we are allowing applications for a member of the public to come in and join. I think the jury plays a huge part in that role. Especially in how in comments and when they go and visit, we do have a full jury tour when they visit all of the projects. All of the jury deliberations at all of the comments on the projects, we include those in the awards ceremony, so people really understand why that award is given. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And you have a People's Choice Award? PERRIANN HODGES: We do, it is another way for us to really engage the public and it is the People's Choice Orchid, and the People's Choice Onion. That's also a public vote process. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I want to ask you a little bit about last year's winners. The Grand Orchid winner was for the fallen star sculpture on the UC San Diego campus. Remind us what that is, Perriann. PERRIANN HODGES: I would describe it as the upside down house on the campus. It is very unique. I would describe it as much more of a sculptural piece than the form, that we're talking about, for versus function. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: It's kind of like the Wizard of Oz house dropped on the top of the building. It's sort of hanging off the edge of it. Why was that given the grand orchid? PERRIANN HODGES: The jury really fell in love with it. It was also because of who put together the project, and the big names brought to San Diego from that project. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: What about the green build at the San Diego International Airport that also one the grand orchid last year. How important is sustainability in a winning design these days? KEVIN DEFREITAS: I think it is essential these days. Ten years ago it was sort of a political issue and you could divide people. Some said this is not happening, this is global warming. Other says it is, and it hurts business. Now I think everyone is on the same page. When you talk about the sustainability ten years ago very few people were interested and it would often put people to sleep. Or it was out there, that you had to live in an igloo made out of recycled two liter bottles, and make your own clothes out of hemp. Now, people are really, really engaged in this issue. I think kids are changing, they are seeing these videos about polar bears starving to death because of polar ice melting. It becomes very literal, to them, and they are pushing parents. They are the generation to really change things for us. To answer your question, to do a building that is not sustainable today is irresponsible. I think architects and designers take that to heart. Be this is, if you can accomplish aesthetics and comfort and using less resources and less energy and water, you are incumbent to do so. It is just being responsible. Sustainability is responsibility. I often joke, my parents are children of the Great Depression. You didn't waste out of necessity. We got into an era where it was actually okay to waste, we had cheap power and cheap resources. The way that people lived for the previous several thousand years was using everything to its fullest capacity, and were getting back to that, it's just smart. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: What are some of the categories that are going to be judged? PERRIANN HODGES: There is architecture, historic preservation, interior design, let's keep architecture, but we also have a miscellaneous category where we allow public art, architectural lighting or graphics, or something of that degree. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: When it comes to the Onions, are there certain types of structures that are more likely to get a thumbs down? I saw a couple of signs that really did not seem to work as far as the jury was concerned. KEVIN DEFREITAS: Signage comes up frequently. I hate to say it, but a perennial winner of an Onion has been the San Diego Unified School District. The year that I juried the wards, we gave an award to the police substation in University City. We walked in and the police officers started explaining the whole building to the jurors, they really knew a whole lot about it, which is unusual for the user to know how the building works and its features. We went to the school, and what struck me is, the police station looks like what a school should look like. It was inspirational, light filled, and well done. And the school look like what a police station/prison should look like. Poorly done, meant to keep everybody in, not inspired, and so, I think the thing that unifies the Onions is that they were misses. We are not sticking it to the building owner or the specific architect. It is going to the building. Things go rogue for any number of reasons. I think what makes this program incredibly unique, is that we're not just patting ourselves on the back for successes, but calling ourselves out on the misses, saying we are accountable and we can do better. Let's not repeat this, let's learn from it. I think that is the learning component that is very important about the program. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: When the Onions are announced, there seems to be a general agreement, especially if it is something that is very much in the public eye. I am thinking of that generator unit that was part of the Onions from last year. I think this goes to a central question that a lot of people ask about the way that San Diego looks. Kevin, do you think there is any clear vision for architectural growth here in San Diego? KEVIN DEFREITAS: That is a really, really important question. And it's very difficult to answer in one fell swoop. I think we don't have a very strong architectural vision. I grew up here and I remember from a very young age everyone saying we do not want to become LA. I think we focus so much on what we did not want to become, as opposed to what we wanted to become, that we were becoming what we did not want to become. I think if you look where you want to go you have your best chance of getting there. I don't think we are very clear on where we want to go. There were some huge projects that were done. Mission Bay in the 50s and 60s, and Balboa Park in the turn-of-the-century. That was a huge vision what the population of the city was much smaller, and the resources more discrete than they are now. The biggest thing that we can do now is a public library, and I think our vision has shrunk dramatically. PERRIANN HODGES: I really agree with Kevin said, it is easy to assume that we don't have control over the built environment and urban design. The reality is, we all play a role in shaping the built environment and we all need to get on the same page with that. KEVIN DEFREITAS: I had a professor in school that would give these amazing sites. One of them was a major center overlooking the Molokai Channel in Hawaii. Whales migrating, all of these great metaphors to pull from. A student put up and especially poor project, and he said I'm not even going to talk about this. I gave you an A- site, and you designed a C+ building. That stuck with me over the years. San Diego is an A- location if you did not touch it. To put up a C+ building that will last for over eighty years is really, really, a huge missed opportunity. There is a joke attributed to Frank Lloyd Wright. He said doctors, they bury their mistakes. Architects have to look at them for eighty years. They last a long time. You have to be careful. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: A lot of people who have vision here in San Diego were making these statements, isn't that right? KEVIN DEFREITAS: Absolutely. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: So we are moving in some positive directions. KEVIN DEFREITAS: Sure, like the idea district downtown. Ron Roberts is talking about connecting Balboa Park and downtown with a gondola, which is an old sky tram, which is an older idea, connecting the Bay of San Diego to Mission Bay and beautifying it. There are big visions out there, but the execution is really what is needed. That takes a lot of focus, and there are some reasons why that is not happening from a political standpoint. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I think our conversation here will get at least a few people to take another look around at the buildings that they see every single day, and maybe they will want to nominate some newer buildings for the 2014 Orchids & Onions award. The nomination period closes on August 1, and the award ceremony is set for October. Thank you both very much.
You might not know much about architecture, but you probably know the buildings you like and the buildings you don't.
For the next few days, you have a chance to put in nominations for your favorite, and least favorite new buildings for the annual Orchids & Onions awards.
The categories range from architecture to landscape, interior design and historic preservation.
The awards are given out by the San Diego Architectural Foundation in the hope that it will make people more aware of the built environment around them.
CORRECTION: Perriann Hodges was incorrectly identified as an architect. She's currently working toward becoming a licensed architect. KPBS regret the error.