Cal Poly architecture students are reimagining Paradise

Feb 25, 2019

A group of architecture students from Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo has been working to reimagine Paradise, California. The students are creating plans to rebuild the city mostly destroyed by November’s Camp Fire, with input from residents. The students presented their concepts to the Paradise community at Chico State on February 22.

Cal Poly students visited Butte County earlier this year to find out what former residents loved about Paradise. Those conversations led third-year architecture student Ben Campbell to design an open air youth recreation center.

“They really enjoy their outdoors and the sense they [are] tied into their natural surroundings,” Campbell said. “Quite different than a lot of normal high schoolers you talk to, they really like doing outdoor activities...I’ve really been trying to play up the idea of the gym as being a social atmosphere and trying to cultivate a culture.”

Cal Poly third-year architecture student Ben Campbell gets last-minute advice on his rendering of a recreation center from fellow student Kaleena Kalimeck.
Credit Tyler Pratt/KCBX News

Campbell and his fellow students usually spend over 40 hours a week in this studio on campus. Their desks are littered with snacks, blueprints, tea and coffee, even guitars. Architecture student Pacific Austin has an ice pack and orange peels on her desk

“I’m designing a multi-use building. It’s going to be half rock climbing and bouldering gym, and half fire station,” Austin said.

She said she was inspired by a squash gym on top of a firehouse she saw in Washington, D.C.

“Combining different program elements like that could encourage new conversations between [different] groups,” Austin said.

The idea of congregation is present in many of the designs. Since the elderly died in disproportionate numbers in the Camp Fire, students have created multi-generational living arrangements, so seniors wouldn't be isolated. They’ve made larger roads for easier evacuation, should fire ever strike again, and the students are incorporating flame-resistant materials into courthouses and theatres.

And they are taking cost into consideration, but those big price tag conversations are far in the future. For now, students are just hoping to honor Paradise’s past, while trying to design its future.

Stacey White teaches the students in the studio at Cal Poly, and said a major theme of her class is designing with empathy.

Cal Poly faculty and lecturer Stacey White, who runs one of the school's architecture studios, stands in front of some of the documents about Paradise that cover the studio walls. She and her students have spent the past few months trying to better understand the community.
Credit Tyler Pratt/KCBX News

“Paradise is more than its recent infamy,” White said. “We talk about Paradise and we equate it with the Camp Fire, [but] that place is beautiful. The surrounding environment is amazing-- the access to nature, the access to water, the access to clean air is phenomenal. Helping them to have that town back is what we are focused on.”

At the community forum in Chico, students heard what residents like and don’t like about their projects. The students will now cull their 36 projects down to 20, then return to Chico in April with more detailed projects to receive further feedback.

The Cal Poly architecture students will present their final, free and open-sourced design concepts to the Paradise community in June.