California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo (Cal Poly) was concerned about the large number of students who left after their freshmen year and did not complete their education. They decided to build a new dorm exclusively for freshmen that would root the students in the campus.
Prominently located adjacent to the Grand Avenue entrance of the Cal Poly San Luis Obispo campus, the complex consists of seven three to five-story residence hall buildings for up to 1,475 students. Valerio Dewalt Train designed the Cal Poly Student Housing South complex to encourage socialization among first-year college students, forming lasting bonds that will help them succeed in the rest of their time at university.
With views opening to the ring of the Seven Sisters hilltops that wrap the campus, student study spaces provide quiet places outside of the dorm-style rooms. Living rooms dedicated to communities of 50 students each are linked inward to vertical circulation to encourage interaction among students. The living room spaces open outward to outdoor courtyards and circulation routes. A mailroom, a recreation center, offices, an admissions welcome center, and a food market wrap a structured student parking deck. Most of the buildings have a generously sized central staircase to foster spontaneous connections.
Varied outdoor spaces among the residential buildings encourage outdoor life, opening to a large lawn with an amphitheater and a courtyard with volleyball and basketball courts. The community is richly programmed with natural features, gardens, contemplative spaces, and bike paths, offering every student the opportunity to be engaged. Mustang Way leads through the center of the community toward the heart of the central campus.
To break up the visual mass of the building, the design team clustered windows together and offset the façade horizontally across the long elevations. L-shaped sunshades shield windows from the top and from one side, mitigating solar heat gain and adding variety and texture to the facades. Monumental architectonic forms contain the living rooms and study spaces, which extend all the way through the buildings and feature expansive glazing to bring in natural light.
To give students an even deeper sense of rootedness in the local landscape, the university partnered with the local tribe - yak titʸu titʸu yak tiłhini - to provide direction for creating environmental wall art for each of the residence halls. The artwork tell the stories of the landscape of seven Northern Chumash villages along the Central Coast, including flora and fauna.
Photography: Bruce Damonte