Best of 2000: Best Place To Contemplate Human Capacity For Ugliness

City Operations Building
1222 First Avenue, Downtown

There is a tendency in modern buildings to look as though the concept models upon which they are based were constructed from Legos, a childlike blockiness and friendliness that lacks any air of substance and gravitas -- fun buildings, play buildings. That the new courthouse downtown should have such a look brings a smile to the face, but that smile quickly fades at the sight of what stands, or squats, behind the jail: the City Operations Building. Former city planner Mike Stepner once told a Reader reporter that the building -- a gray, slit-windowed square atop a tan solidified-lava-esque pedastal, as if the place had been vomited from hell itself -- was the original inspiration for the Orchids & Onions Architecture Awards here in San Diego. Something had to be said. The founders of the awards likened it to architecture inspired by Hitler's bunker. The place has a totalitarian, unapproachable air to it, an unattractive quality for a government building in a nation that is supposed to be a democracy. One begins to sympathize with government workers (a curious feeling), to wonder at the envy they must feel for the criminals next door, squirreled away in their cheerful confines.

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