Lauren Zahner

Five years of hard work culminated in one weekend for Cal Poly architecture students during Coalesce, the third annual exhibition of fifth-year design-studio work held in the University Union.

Friday’s reception started the event with free food, wine and live jazz. Students, parents and practitioners walked around looking at the 180 projects that filled Chumash Auditorium and the surrounding area of the UU. It was one of the biggest exhibitions of its kind between Los Angeles and San Francisco.

“I think that one reason to have an exhibition is to educate people about architecture. The second is probably more important, that is, to be able to show the diversity that happens in architecture and the different paths students take,” architecture professor Barry Williams said. “Some of the students are very pragmatic and some are very theoretical; they try out new concepts in architecture. All those have a level of value that is important to architecture.”

The name of the exhibition, “Coalesce,” was submitted in a contest and voted on by a student committee. Caela Beene, an architecture senior and committee member, said the name “Coalesce” captures the way not only the projects have come together, but also the students.

“We voted on which (name) captured the spirit of this class,” Beene said.

Projects ranged from a design for a school in China to a cow-print chair. Tiny city blocks and miniature buildings with ant-size plastic people loitering endlessly around the edges sat side by side, creating rows of senior thesis projects. Williams said the projects are good lessons in problem solving.

“Fifth-year projects are pretty unique because students find a site, come up with a thesis about something that needs to be done with either that site or the use and they go about trying to prove it,” Williams said.

Work on the projects started fall quarter with research for the thesis. By winter quarter, students began designing and working on the practicality of their projects. Spring quarter was devoted to production and developing the thesis. During the month leading up to the exhibition, Beene said, they spent 10 to 12 hours in the lab each day.

“I think we’re afraid to sit down and count – to add up the hours because it will just make us more depressed,” Beene said. Williams said the time would add up to days and months.

“There could literally be a thousand hours on some of these projects,” he said.

On top of the individual projects, students ran the exhibition. Architecture professor Jonathan Reich told the guests that the student committee started planning for the event in January.

“I have to admit that many of us have learned as much or more from our students than they learned from us,” Reich said.

Williams said the show works against some of the things that give Cal Poly students a bad reputation.

“People have to see this and kind of understand the worth of education,” he said. “Most of the students are really industrious, hardworking people.”

Professional architects from all over the state were invited to the event. Ray Ladd, associate director of advancement for the College of Architecture and Environmental Design, said some of the practitioners were probably there scouting out young talent.

“Our program is rated by Western practitioners as best in the nation,” Ladd said, citing a recent poll.

Besides education, Beene said the biggest thing she got out of her experience was camaraderie as she said her class became like a family. The exhibition was one of their last times together as a class, which made the event bittersweet.

“It’s overwhelming to see what your classmates have done and it just gives you a sense of accomplishment,” Beene said. “We can get some sleep now.”

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