Cassandra Garibay | Mustang News

Poly Canyon’s living laboratory has been the target of vandalism time and time again, so much so that it is often referred to as the “Architecture Graveyard.” However, the college of architecture and environmental design (CAED) has started to revive
the structures.

“The idea that we’ve been promoting in the college is ‘Why don’t we make these places more open and public versus something that’s more secluded,’” Administrative Associate Dean for Architecture Kevin Dong said.

Reviving the graveyard

In Spring 2017, a group of nine students took on the challenge of remodeling the Modular House for their senior project, referred to as the Modular House Revival. The Modular House is one of the more isolated structures in Poly Canyon, shaded by trees and overlooking two small creeks. Yet its unique structural design and street sign paneling has made the house one of the “more iconic” structures, according
to Dong.

The project took place during a ten-week period and involved design, demolition and reconstruction. Due to time constraints, the project was split into two phases.

“I think that’s important to kind of get the ball rolling, because if we can get our senior project there and influence another group to come in and do the second phase, maybe it will keep going and people will want to revive more and more projects, or even just build new projects out there,” project leader and architectural engineering graduate student Ryan Lefebvre said.

Caretakers of the canyon

The Modular House and other houses in the canyon, were once inhabited by caretakers who prevented vandalism and maintained the trails. However, when the last of the caretakers left, the modular house fell victim to tagging and litter.

Many projects were boarded up as a result of vandalism. Unfortunately, this led to break-ins and more damage to the structures, especially to the Modular House.

Now, the college is taking a different approach.

“We are hoping, we’re speculating, that if things are more visible, then the [vandalism] activity maybe won’t occur,” Dong said. “Also the hope is, we could start to build up some civic pride, so to speak.”

The Modular observation platform

The Modular House is now what Lefebvre called an “observing platform for members of the Cal Poly community to enjoy,” with open space and a view of the creek running below the house.

In order to pay homage to the original structure, the steel frames were left intact, and the group installed guardrails constructed out of the signs that were formerly used as the side paneling of the house.

“People would go up there and notice the street signs and it almost became the street sign house and so that was one of the big aspects that we wanted to keep,” architectural engineering graduate student Chris Martinez said.

By doing so, the group was also able to save money on materials.

Since the project was on a tight deadline and the group had to fund themselves, the group members initially focused on specific aspects of the project, according to Lefebvre. However, they all came together to put their work
into action.

“When we started doing the hands-on stuff we really needed everyone on board for the manpower. But there were so many phases to this project in such a short timeline that we really had to delegate each piece smartly,” Lefebvre said.

Throughout the process, the group faced  many unexpected challenges involving structural faults. Martinez took it as a lesson learned.

“If you go in with this mindset of, ‘Oh I already know what to do, how it’s going to be done,’ then you’re going to be extremely upset,” Martinez said.

Despite the challenges, they were able to repurpose a degraded structure into a building block that could become one of the icons of Poly Canyon.

“I hope that people actually begin to look at it not as a graveyard but as something that people have worked on,” Martinez said. “This is people’s whole year, or even longer, [that] were devoted to making a project up there.”

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