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Orchids, Onions honors best, worst in recent crop of architecture

Architects honored condos, hospital facilities and theater restorations that have blossomed in the past few years as well as those that plain stink, Thursday night during the 2008 Orchids and Onions awards ceremony.

Those "honored" left the San Diego Hall of Champions with delicate flowers and pungent vegetables following the tongue-in-cheek awards ceremony. No one was safe from the jokes as emcee Troy Johnson, editor of Riviera magazine poked fun at guests' fashion statements.

"You with your architect-glasses, you're the Beat poets of blueprints," Johnson said.

Sponsored by the San Diego Architectural Foundation, the goal was not to make fun of bad projects, but to create a dialogue about San Diego's built environment, said commentator Ted Smith, a long-time member of San Diego's architecture community.

While the crowd was not in agreement with every award, resounding applause was elicited by an Onion given to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The government was "honored" for the Triple Border fence as Green Day's "American Idiot" was piped in. The structure, which will run from the coast of San Diego through Texas, has been erected despite the objections of virtually every environmental group. Johnson deemed the fence "San Diego's very own Berlin Wall."

Later in the evening the audience was treated to a parody of "Extreme Makeover: The Border Fence Edition" in which the fence was dressed up as a more friendly greeting to our southerly neighbors. The steel-plated structure was covered with a white picket fence, the Berlin Wall, the Great Wall of China and finally a giant cutout of President-elect Obama, which read "Under New Management."

An Orchid went to architect Boone Hellman, who designed the UCSD Moores Cancer Center. Hellman dedicated the award to his wife Cindy, who soon after the building's completion was diagnosed with breast cancer. The Hellmans spent a good deal of time in the building Boone designed while Cindy received treatment.

Balboa and Birch North Park theaters received Orchids for historic preservation, which has revived both respective neighborhoods. The demolition of Hotel San Diego, received an Onion in the category. The hotel, which served as low-income senior housing, was knocked down to make way for a new federal courthouse. More than two years later the former site of the hotel sits vacant.

Another notable award was the Orchid for landscape architecture that went to rouge-architect Martin Schmidt for the guerilla installation of Los Agaves Jardin at the corner of Grape and State Streets in Little Italy. After contacting both the city of San Diego and Caltrans, Schmidt discovered the weed-ridden vacant lot was not under the jurisdiction of either. Schmidt took it upon himself to design and install the garden, drawing inspiration from his favorite margarita ingredient, he said.

The Grand Orchid went to the Lux Art Institute in Encinitas and the Grand Onion was awarded to the proposed airport parking structure, which judges said would block out the sun for airport visitors.

The People's Choice Orchid Award was given to The Rainforest Project and was presented by County Supervisor Ron Roberts. The mural is comprised of a mixture of wall-paintings, stained glass and mosaic tile and has become an integral part of treatment in the children's ward at Kaiser Permanente. The project beat out the Second Street Studios in Encinitas and the Good Earth green roof project with 29 percent of the vote.

"Twenty-nine percent ... it's kind of like Aguirre's spread," Roberts joked, in reference to outgoing City Attorney Mike Aguirre.

The People's Choice Onion went to The Rock Church, for its massive block of concrete and gargantuan parking lot. Judges deemed the structure "Wal-Church," Johnson said.

The only group to be awarded both an Orchid and an Onion was the city of San Diego Commission for Arts and Culture. The group was honored for the "Landsailers" sculptures atop utility boxes by artist Neal Bociek. While the sculptures alone are very attractive, judges likened trying to hide utility boxes with sculptures with, "tattooing a flower around a wart on your nose," Johnson said.

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