Ocean Beach Comfort Station Wins Orchid in the 2012 “Orchids and Onions” Ceremony

by on October 12, 2012 · 4 comments

in Civil Rights, Culture, Economy, Environment, History, Ocean Beach, San Diego

Artist Shinpei Takeda and Architects Kevin deFreitas and Sillman Wright Deserve Praise for this Creation at the Beach Despite the Lengthy Bid and Construction Process

Modesty can pay off. At least, if you’ve created a public restroom where its functional necessities are met while achieving great design.  For at last night’s awards ceremony of the annual “Orchids & Onions” awards, OB’s newly-built comfort station won an Orchid in the Architecture and Landscape Architecture category just for those reasons.

Shinpei Takeda, the artist of the comfort station, is a local San Diego craftsman and once lived in OB, very near the current site of his designs and artwork.  Recipients of the award were local architect Kevin deFreitas and architect Sillman Wright. The euphemistically-termed “comfort station” is on the beach at the foot of Brighton Avenue.

The public restroom has been the subject of some controversy.  Since the original facility was torn down three years ago, all kinds of problems plagued the construction of its replacement, a building that was approved by the OB Planning Board more than two years ago.  The construction process itself – not the final product – has been criticized by this website for that long-drawn out process.  (Here is our timeline of the process in its initial stages.)

It was at the July 7, 2010 meeting of the OB Planning Board where the City staff, architect Defreitas and artist Takeda gave a PowerPoint presentation of the planned designs. And the Board voted unanimously to approve them. The conceptual design is presented, and the cost to build is stated to be $480,000. (See Dave Rice’s wonderful coverage of the presentation article here.)  Back then, we stated:

With a few minor tweaks, the plans are tentatively scheduled to be submitted to the coastal commission in the coming weeks. Approval there could take up to six months, and the goal is to have the new facilities up and running by summer 2011.

It turned out, our estimation was off – as everyone else was.

At that Planning Board meetings where the design was presented and then approved, the architect then stated that the artwork would include quotes from the OB Rag. Many of us here did not take it seriously, until it was completed and yes, there were quotes from OB Rag articles. Some of us to this day have great difficulty in ascertaining exactly where they are.  In fact, the OB Rag held a T-shirt contest for anyone able to find our quotes, and a web designer who works in OB won.

Planning Board meeting draws crowd interested in progress of the Brighton Ave. comfort station, Feb. 2, 2011.

Once the building was finalized, despite the uniqueness of the over-all design, the lack of doors on the bathroom stalls left many women in the chill in terms of appreciating it.  Bending quickly to this criticism, the City of San Diego has since installed doors in the women’s section but not in the men’s.

In addition, the restroom has been criticized by one individual in the community for using those quotes from the OB Rag in the artwork on the ceiling.  Artist Takeda has since come out and defended his piece, and has called for a public discussion of art and free expression.

Coincidentally, another restroom facility also won an Orchid in the category, this one in Oceanside at the Harbor Aquatic Center.

In Roger Showley’s report from last night at the U-T, he quoted Orchids & Onions jury member Greg Strangman – who is a founder and manager of a real estate development firm – as saying that:

one of the lessons of the Orchids this year was that “high design pays off” but does not necessarily require extra cash to make it happen.  “Good design doesn’t necessarily cost more,” he said.  He pointed to two modest Orchid winners, beach restrooms in Oceanside and Ocean Beach, where functional necessities were met while achieving great design. (our emphasis)

Last night’s San Diego Architectural Foundation annual Orchids & Onions Awards Ceremony was held  in the Sherwood Auditorium of the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego in La Jolla.  Besides the OB Comfort station, the other winners of  Orchids in the  Architecture and Landscape Architecture category were:

  • High Tech High K8: 1949 Discovery Falls Drive, Chula Vista; High Tech High Learning; Studio E Architects
  • Medical Education and Telemedicine Building: 9500 Gilman Drive, La Jolla; UC San Diego; Skidmore, Owings & Merrill
  • Harbor Aquatic Center restroom facility: 300 N. Coast Blvd., Oceanside; City of Oceanside; Safdie Rabines
  • Charles David Keeling Apartments: 9500 Gilman Drive, La Jolla; UC San Diego; Kieran Timberlake. This project also received an Orchid for landscape architecture by the firm Spurlock Poirier.

Showley notes a bit of irony in his report, as:

the Grand Orchid went to the restoration of 42-year-old murals beneath the San Diego-Coronado Bridge — a prize full of irony.

The artworks were created starting in 1970 in protest to a plan to install a CHP station rather than a park beneath the bridge. They are now considered one of the largest and most significant outdoor mural collections nationally and Caltrans, builder of the bridge and freeways leading to it, paid for the restoration.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Jon October 12, 2012 at 1:05 pm

That is awesome! Congratulations Shinpei, kevin and Sillman. and thank you.


Frank Gormlie October 12, 2012 at 3:07 pm

Now guys have something to gaze at while they’re at the urinals – the ceilings with the OB Rag quotes – and names of the folks that OB’s streets are named after.


micaela shafer porte October 12, 2012 at 4:13 pm

well, god bless ’em, let’s hope their “comfort station” plans for Law St. in Pacific Beach are as glorious (with doors, please) …
yes, parking lots and latrines, parking lots and latrines: signs of advanced civilizations (ask the Greeks or Romans)… and with our coming aging baby boomers, we should really think about public toilets on every block, just so we can get down to the store (walking, of course, none of us will be able to afford to drive cars, what with our benefits always being reduced)… meaningful, artistic public toilets, of course, and thank you so much city/international consortium designers, yur the best…


Seth October 16, 2012 at 12:19 am

Good for them. Wasn’t a perfect process, but the end result is great The design was always the star of the show here, and glad all parties finally got recognized for it. They took something ordinary, and made it extraordinary. A creative and not very extravagant design that represents the spirit of OB rather well. Credit also to the city employees who were willing to stick their necks out and go for that, in what is often a dysfunctional environment at the City of SD.


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