Located up in the hills of Cal Poly’s Poly Canyon in San Luis Obispo, California, is the resting place of around twenty structures made by architecture and engineering students throughout the decades. Dubbed “Architecture Graveyard,” or “Cal Poly Graveyard,” the eclectic mix of weathered architecture projects is worth the 3 mile round-trip hike to reach it. Just… be careful of mountain lions. 

History of Architecture Graveyard

Architecture Graveyard’s actual name is “The Experimental Structures Facility,” and has been the site of Cal Poly student architecture projects since the 1960s. The 9 acre area began hosting these student projects in 1964 when the first dean of the College of Architecture and Environmental Design, George Hasslein, wanted to create a space to show off student projects. 

The area hosted student projects and housed student caretakers who safeguarded and maintained the structures for almost 5 decades. Unfortunately, in 2009- 2010, the electrical system in the area was deemed unsafe and the students had to be vacated. Since then, the structures have fallen victim to the elements and vandalism– hence the name “Architecture Graveyard.” 

To many, including architectural engineering professor Ed Saliklis, the nickname is an unwelcome reminder of the lack of care that has befallen the once pristine structures. And it’s true, the vandalism and carelessness by some visitors to the structures is at times appalling. So, if you visit this amazing spot PLEASE don’t contribute to the vandalism and let people enjoy it for years to come. Still, most of the structures are very much intact and worth the visit!

Design Village Competition 

Today, aside from being a great place to explore, Cal Poly’s Architecture program hosts the annual “Design Village” competition on Poly Canyon. At the site of Architecture Graveyard, students from local high schools and colleges compete with built structures made according to a set theme. They then sleep inside their temporary structures for the three-day competition. 

Some Notable Structures on the Site
The Cantilever Deck

Cal Poly architecture students Rowan Hernandez, Kim Throndson, John Morrena, and Lee Benson built the Cantilever deck built in 1989-1990. The wonder of this structure is that the deck hovers above ground supported by cables and sail-like rods. This structure is meant to demonstrate the power of a cantilever system. 

Blade Structure

The blade structure, known over the years as “the petal structure”, “the Cal Poly memorial”, “earth forms”, “the concrete flower”, and “a sculptural study in pre-stressed concrete,” is Architecture Graveyard’s oldest structure. Architecture students Steve Gilmore, Mark Haselton, Dan McMann, and Ken Minor built he Blade Structure in 1963. The students made the structure in order to to test newly discovered post-tensioning methods. It survived a couple decades before it collapsed. Luckily, Cal Poly rebuilt the structure in 2003.

Poly Pavilion

Built in 1985, the Poly Pavilion is an impressive shallow dome-like structure made out of concrete. The structure maintains its position through bolted and welded joints and an arching action support system. Architecture students Alfredo Alcaraz, Armando Paez, Blanca Guerra, Bob Green, Brad Bishop, Brett Beeman, Chi Pham, Cindy Smith, Dave Hernandez, Frank Maskiewicz, Jim Low, Joe Michale, John Smith, Ken Brehmer, Ken Schumann, Ku Divita, Pete Chavez, Randal Brunson,Ricardo Arevalo, and Stan Smith designed and built the structure.

The Greenhouse

The Greenhouse is unfinished, but is a very cool, ambitious structure. Built between 1983-1989 and operational from 2006-2008, the Greenhouse was meant to have several innovative features. It was meant to have an automatic watering system and venting system, and a sun-generated heating system. The structure was designed by student Mark Jenefsky.

Modular House

Built between 1963-1973, this experimental structure was built with steel frame and wood infill. Later, in order to prevent water leakage, old road signs were added to the outside of the house, which gives it its distinct look. The modular house was built by students Paul Thoryk, John Edmiston, Glen Jackson, Tom Bylund, James Jones, Richard Pata, Lorin Smith, Jerry Tucker, and Dennis Turner. It was the last structure to house a caretaker on Poly Canyon.

Geodesic Dome

Architecture students constructed the Geodesic Dome in 1957 before Poly Canyon became home to architecture projects. It originally sat at the campus entrance but was moved to find a home on Poly Canyon. The Geodesic Dome is actually the first of its kind on the West Coast. For several years this project was the largest dome west of the Mississippi at 50 feet in diameter and 25 feet tall. It was built by students Richard Neill, William Roth, Donald Mills, Samuel Peterson, and Don Trunklage

How to get there

To get to the trailhead that leads to Poly Canyon and Architecture Graveyard, go to the Cal Poly Campus via California blvd or Grand Ave. Turn left at village drive. On weekends, you can park in the H-4 staff parking lot to the left for free, no permit required. If you’re going on a weekday you can obtain a parking permit from Cal Poly’s parking office at the main entrance on Grant Ave.

After you park, walk North on Village Drive towards the mountains until you reach the trailhead. The hike is about a mile there. 

*Tip: San Luis Obispo can get dry and buggy during hotter months. Ideally, you’ll want to take this hike in late spring or early fall. After a spring rain is particularly beautiful as all of the hills will turn green

Mountain lions are common in the area

Don’t worry too much about mountain lions and other creatures, just be sure to watch after your dogs and children. Mountain lions do not see people as prey so even if a lion is nearby, you likely won’t even see it at all. 

However, mountain lions are common in the area. If you do see a mountain lion don’t panic. They are not normally aggressive and will likely just be scared of you. If a mountain lion behaves aggressively remember to stand your ground- running will activate their prey drive. Make yourself as big as possible and yell or even throw things towards it if you can (around it not at it unless necessary). However, do not crouch, always stay larger than the mountain lion. 

Don’t miss this incredible hidden gem in San Luis Obispo

If you’re visiting San Luis Obispo or Cal Poly, be sure to visit  Architecture Graveyard. Despite its name, this beautiful site on Poly Canyon is very much alive. Wonder at the rolling hills and the little pieces of architectural history scattered throughout the 9 acre site.


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