Poly Canyon’s Shell House turns 50 years old

Posted by David Middlecamp on February 4, 2014 

In this photo from 1980, a student named Bill Maston lived in Shell House in Poly Canyon.

TONY HERTZ — Telegram-Tribune

Poly Canyon, located on the Cal Poly campus, not only offers views of nature but also a chance to see the design laboratory of the university’s renowned architectural engineering department.

Shell House, for example, was built by six students in 1964, the year the department was granted 10 acres for student projects.

Shell House was designed to study earthquake-resistant building techniques. Strands of pre-tensioned steel were tightened to form the roof, and a thin coating of concrete was sprayed over them. The tension was then relaxed and the shell stood in place. The roof-line bends upward to a peak and the interior is compartmentalized like a seashell.

Another project, a geodesic dome that’s 50 feet in diameter, was based on work by famed architect R. Buckminster Fuller. It featured more than 10,000 nuts, bolts and washers holding together about one mile of one-inch pipe. It appears from photographs that it was first assembled on the campus and later moved to Poly Canyon.

Today, Cal Poly’s learn by doing philosophy is on display every spring during the university’s Open House, when architecture students share their latest imaginative projects. Free shuttle buses will ferry visitors back and forth to Design Village on April 12.

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