The 9-acre Experimental Structures Facililty has earned a new nickname over the years, which architectural engineering professor Ed Saliklis is truly saddened by. He refuses to even call it by it's nickname: The Cal Poly Graveyard. The structures have fallen victim to vandals and neglect over the years, largely due to the fact that there is no longer a student caretaker looking over and protecting the land.
“This (vandalism) is completely bewildering to me,” Saliklis said. “Students created something lasting, that has lasted for generations, and now someone is actively going out there to destroy that very thing. They obviously are doing it to make an impression, but the impression is terribly destructive.” If you call someone an idiot, they feel like an idiot, right?” Saliklis said. “It’s meant to be a laboratory, and that’s why that wording is very, very important, that it’s prototyping ideas.” Due to the fact that there is no longer a student presence out there, keeping the vandals away has become impossible.
Every year, competitors design and build "shelters" where they must inhabit their structures throughout the entirety of the weekend of Cal Poly's own Open House. The Design Village is an architectural competition hosted by Cal Poly in the experimental structures lab behind the campus. Design Village is held each spring during Cal Poly’s Open House in Poly Canyon. Community College, High School, and other students participate.
Most years, Cal Poly publishes a “theme” and rules for the competition. In most cases, the structures are removed following the three-day competition, but some have remained. The 20 permanent structures were built—and in some cases, renovated— by teams of architecture and design seniors from 1963 to 2009. Every year there are student-led tours here during orientation, called WOW week, short for Week of Welcome.
The facility has been operating since the 1960s, when George Hasslein, the first dean of CAED, made a deal with the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences dean for use of the land. Any structure that remains today at one point pushed the limits of what architects thought was possible at the time. At one point, student caretakers lived in the facility’s buildings from its launch up until around 2010, when the underground electricity system was deemed unsafe. The caretakers main job was to keep vandals away, but now, with no supervision in the area, people who might not damage the buildings in the public eye can smash them without suffering consequences.
Enter the Cal Poly Campus from California Blvd or Grand Ave. Then, get onto Perimeter Road, the road that circles the campus. When you get to Village Drive, turn left and you can park in the H-4 staff parking lot on your left on weekends for free, no permit required. If you’re visiting on a weekday, stop by the Cal Poly parking office at the main entrance on Grant Ave, since you’ll need a parking permit and parking instructions.
Once you park, start walking North (toward the mountains) on Village Drive, and you’ll see a partially paved road/trail blocked with a fence. This is the trailhead. If you walk into the luxurious Poly Canyon Village dorms, you’ve gone to far, but stop for lunch or coffee before you turn around, since this is one of the nicest university dorm villages you’ll ever see.
Personal Experience: If possible, do this hike in late autumn or early spring. It can get pretty hot out here for one and second, in the summer the fields are dry and dead. We went in the summer when all was dry because it was in conjunction with our annual road trip. I really wish I could have seen fields of green for as far as the eye can see, but regardless it was still a really neat adventure.
I would recommend this trip to almost anyone so long as you can handle the 2-3-mile roundtrip hike (depending on how much you explore). These structures are stunning and so unique. They look like designs of the future, despite being created as early as the 1960's!
The Cantilever Deck
The Cantilever Deck explores using cable to anchor a long projecting deck. Political science junior Erik Markowski has fond memories of the deck, it was one of the first structures he visited with his WOW group, where they managed to get a good group photo. The beefy anchors on the ground are indicative of the amount of tension in the cables suspending the deck, Saliklis said.
Anza Borrego Desert
Cuyamaca State Park