Cal Poly’s ‘Architecture Graveyard’ gets first permanent structure in 15 years

An observation deck was added to Cal Poly’s Architecture Graveyard in June — making it the first permanent addition in 15 years.

While the site in Poly Canyon is known for abandoned structures, one of the goals of the new project is to help revive the area and change its image.

Two 2019 Cal Poly construction management graduates, Tony Pellegrini and Harrison Woods, built the Poly Canyon Observation Deck for their senior project.

Pellegrini said the project serves two main purposes: rest and revitalization.

“At the top of the hill, it’ll give hikers and bikers a place to sit down and enjoy the view, rest,” Pellegrini said. “The bigger picture is to revitalize the movement of kids building up there, whether it be renovating or building something from the ground up.”

The deck’s design was done in 2017 by then Cal Poly students Sitora Vaxidova, Emir Kuljancic and Jordan Morofski. It is made out of redwood lumber and took two months to construct, with an opening ceremony June 14.

Pellegrini describes the hills behind Cal Poly’s campus, officially called Poly Canyon, as a “problem solving arena.”

“We knew the value of getting out there and want to encourage the next generation of students to take on projects [in the Canyon],” Pelligrini said. “When you’re a student, you know enough about building to get by, but getting out there and having to push through and problem solve, puts that to the test.”

How Architecture Graveyard started

It wasn’t always a graveyard.

Architecture students started building in Poly Canyon in 1963. The first dean of Cal Poly’s College of Architecture and Environmental Design designated the 9-acre area for building to “show off Cal Poly student projects and provide a location for large scale experimental structures,” according to the Cal Poly website.

The outdoor space currently houses more than 20 student-built structures.

The nickname “Architecture Graveyard” grew popular in the community when student caretakers, who used to live on site, moved out about eight years ago because budget cuts and infrastructure issues.

Kevin Dong, Cal Poly’s administrative associate dean for architecture, said once the student caretakers left, structures were not as well maintained and many were vandalized.

Some architecture students and faculty members are now encouraging the community to refer to the site as Poly Canyon, in an attempt to move away from an image of disuse. Dong said the college has been trying reignite student interest in the Canyon, particularly in the past five years.

Some attempts to revitalize Poly Canyon include spreading awareness of the structures to freshmen students and alumni, as well as starting The Canyon Days Committee in 2014. The student volunteer group helps repair structures, remove vandalism and maintain landscaping in the canyon once or twice a year.

“People thought nothing was happening out there and buildings were left out to die,” Dong said. “When students see activities that go on in the canyon and the more it’s used, it will inspire people to build out there.”

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