Architecture juniors Ladane Rongere, Natacha Schnider, Melissa Shi, along with landscape architecture senior Matt Parker developed this potential design, titled TRI-UNITY, for the Learn By Doing commons project. | Courtesy Photo

Suha Saya
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While in the works of fostering an interdisciplinary environment for students, Cal Poly is seeking student opinion.

The “Learn By Doing” commons — an idea proposed by Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong — would be a place for students of all majors in the six academic colleges to collaborate through hands-on interdisciplinary learning experiences, city and regional planning professor Vincente Del Rio said.

Though plans for the building are simply at the conceptual stage, Del Rio believes it would benefit Cal Poly students.

“Nobody really knows what exactly it’s going to be, and that’s actually really cool because it gives us a chance to find out what the Cal Poly community would like to see,” he said.

Conceptual work on the commons began early winter quarter, when more than 40 teams of landscape architecture students participated in a workshop to create designs and program ideas for the structure. Four of the best design and program ideas were then chosen by a guest panel, and are now being presented to the Cal Poly community via an opinion survey.

The survey — also accessible through the College of Architecture and Environmental Design — consists of two parts. The first asks the Cal Poly community for potential ideas on the Learn By Doing commons, and the second identifies the work of such landscape architecture students by having the community give feedback on which design and program idea they prefer.

“We’re just trying to get as much input as we can,” Del Rio said. “Before we hand any sort of report to President Armstrong on what would best for Cal Poly, we want people at Cal Poly to let us know what truly would be best for them.”

Del Rio said work done in the commons would be different than that emphasized by Cal Poly’s current “Learn By Doing” philosophy.

“Right now, there are limited opportunities to do ‘Learn By Doing’ in interdisciplinary ways, but this emphasizes that collaboration on a different level,” he said.

Though student designs are simply a foundation for future architects to base their real designs, that student involvement is driving the project, city and regional planning department head Hemalata Dandekar said.

“The thinking behind the survey and doing a few workshops with students is so they can see the product in hard copy,” she said. “It’s simply to engage students and to get a conversation on campus and to see if students really do find this kind of engagement exciting and useful.”

Sections of buildings will also be designed in a way to bring students to a close proximity to each other, Provost Kathleen Enz Finken said.

“We really want to foster opportunities for faculty, students and staff to come together, work together on projects — even to just have conversations — that might lead to new innovative ideas to help address issues of the world,” she said. “Problems of the world are really big — like issues of water, food, energy and global warming — and in the real world, collaboration across disciplines will find solutions to these problems.”

To achieve the Learn By Doing commons, the project will need significant donor support, Finken said.

“We always, of course, have some from state funding, but to have this done in a timely fashion, it needs to have student support and donor support,” she said. “So we’re talking with people who are interested in these topics, whether they’re individuals and corporations. It’s an ongoing effort to raise the money for these kinds of projects.”

Possible sites for the project include the upper end of campus near the facilities area — the corporation building, the old police building — and between the University Union and Warren J. Baker Center for Science and Mathematics.

However, Christine Theodoropoulos, dean of the College of Architecture and Environmental Design, said the location hasn’t been confirmed.

“It’s not a fixed decision by any means, but the hypothesis we’re working on is that we want it to be central; we want it to be fully integrated into students’ learning,” she said. “With the survey, we’ll put the idea of the commons out there and get input from the 19,000 other students at Cal Poly who have different Learn By Doing needs and different perspectives.”

Students from the city and regional planning department will be setting up survey stands across campus to gain more student, staff and faculty opinion in the future.

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