Cal Poly architecture students are helping redesign Paradise, California after the November 2018 Camp Fire burned most of Butte County, killing 86 people and destroying 13,900 homes.
Two architecture studio classes, taught by professors Stacey White and Kent Macdonald, are reimagining Paradise throughout their two-quarter course where students will redesign the buildings and many aspects of the overall community.
Architecture junior Zoey Fox said the hardest part of the project is that the students are not only physically redesigning the city, but are also trying to rebuild a broken community.
“It’s very intimidating because in architecture, we are taught to create a place for people, and it serves people, but it’s interactive with their life,” Fox said. “We are trying to recreate something that they already had and create something new and move them toward the future.”
Fox said the best way for students to capture the community’s needs is to frequently visit and talk to the residents.
The students first traveled to Paradise in January to meet with the people of Paradise and Chico. They will return there Friday, Feb. 22 to present the community with 36 projects and five concept plans, according to White. From there, the community will vote and narrow 36 projects down to 20 and five concept plans down to one. Students will then partner up and move 20 projects through until the completion date, June 7.
White said traveling to Paradise was extremely eye-opening and that she was able to see the challenge once she was put in the residents’ situation.
“The thing that was a big takeaway is how resilient the residents are and that they have suffered a huge trauma with 2,700 people evacuated, and they can’t go home still,” White said. “They are working hard every day to figure out what their town should be and how it should be built, and that was impressive. We went and it had only been six weeks since the fire, and the wildflowers were blooming and growing through, so nature was resilient and that was pretty inspiring.”
Fox said while the students are focused on building and redesigning the community, the project is more than that.
“These people have nothing, and the thing about our project is we aren’t there to give them a building that they are going to build — it is to give them hope and to show our appreciation and our care as architecture students,” Fox said. “It’s the way we can help.”
The students in these studios select projects to work on that they think will be a positive investment in the Paradise community, based on a month of research they did on urban planning, disaster recovery and economic development.
White’s students are currently focusing on designing their own buildings, while Macdonald’s are working on putting together a downtown area and surrounding buildings to fit the town’s needs.
Architecture junior Foster Westover said he and his classmates are thinking about what will draw people back to that area while creating this community.
“We are going to create a bunch of different programming that would make people want to return to Paradise that lived there before and maybe even draw in new people who didn’t live in Paradise before and be like, ‘Wow this is great, let’s move there,’” Westover said.
Westover said this project is more realistic than other architecture projects he has done at Cal Poly.
“It’s really real,” Westover said. “[With] a lot of projects I have worked on before, a professor will choose a site in Los Angeles, San Francisco or San Luis Obispo, and everybody will design a building that will go on that same site, but then in this project, we have one giant site and each of us are choosing different places within that site to put buildings. Each of us is working together to create this community of buildings.”
White said this project is about giving students the tools to create amazing work they never thought was possible.
“What I love about this studio is watching these students become the architects they were meant to be,” White said. “They come in never having designed a building this big, never having done anything close to this complicated and they generate amazing work by the end and they shock themselves, and I love that.”