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The exterior wall panels are loaded into a container at Cal Poly

Five years after the Boles Fire tore through the Northern California city of Weed, an interdisciplinary team of Cal Poly students have finished an 18-month-long project to design workforce housing.

On Tuesday, July 16, a shipping container with 25 pre-constructed exterior wall panels will leave Cal Poly bound for Weed, where they will be connected together to create a 1,300-square-foot home that will be used as a model for future homes on a nearly 1-acre site destroyed in the 2014 blaze.

“This was about as real of a project as the students could experience,” said Cal Poly architecture faculty member Maggie Kirk, who collaborated with architectural engineering and construction management faculty to lead students in the design project. “They worked with a real site, a real client, building codes, materials, constructability and actually built part of it in the end. This is a quintessential Learn by Doing project and a phenomenal educational opportunity.”

cal poly architecture

Top row (L-R): construction management students Jeremiah Eseed, Brent Underwood, Brendan Mulholl. Bottom row (L-R): construction management students Luis Badillo, Matthew Sharman, Patrick Shami, construction management faculty member Greg Starzyk, construction management student Avery Spector, architecture faculty member Maggie Kirk, and construction management student John Espino.

Cal Poly was asked by Great Northern Services, a community-based nonprofit in Weed, to design workforce housing that could be built in panels at Cal Poly, shipped to the city of about 3,000 and erected on-site in collaboration with students from the College of the Siskiyous this fall. “The foundation is set and waiting,” Kirk said.

Thirty-six Cal Poly architectural engineering, architecture and construction management students began the project in 2017. They visited Weed, surveyed the subdivision at 780 S. Davis Ave., marked out parcels, and began sketching ideas. Teams of students each offered a design for a 6,150-square-foot lot.

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Students survey the lot in Weed, California.

Architecture student Tori Hertz, of Los Angeles, worked on the project during fall quarter, designing the floor plan, choosing materials, and drawing elevations and sections for the construction documents. She said the exposure to other disciplines, including construction management, prompted her to explore job possibilities that she might not have considered previously.

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The project site in Weed, California, is a nearly 40,000 square foot lot that was destroyed in the Boles Fire in 2014.

“This project was the perfect example of Cal Poly’s motto, Learn by Doing. Simply knowing that we were creating something that would eventually be built and inhabited made it so much more inspiring to do our best work,” Hertz said. “This project helped me grow and prepare for my future profession more so than any other project has in the past.”

The teams presented their proposals to Great Northern Services leaders, who chose a winning proposal but were so impressed by the student work that they combined two plans for the final house design, Kirk said.

A team of Cal Poly construction management students, led by faculty member Greg Starzyk, built the panels this spring. Three of the students — Jeremiah Eseed, Patrick Shami and John Espino — built the panels as a group senior project by creating detailed drawings of the wall panels, sourcing materials and working out planning issues.

cal poly architecture

Architecture students Bryan Lee, of San Francisco, and Franziska Beck, of Riedlingen, Germany, work on their design for the city of Weed.

During spring quarter, they spent every Friday fabricating the 25 panels, each weighing close to 500 pounds, Starzyk said.

About 8 a.m. Monday, July 15, the panels will be moved from their current location and staged in the parking area at South Poly View Drive and Cuesta Avenue (near the Construction Innovations Center, No. 186). The container will depart campus at about 9 a.m. Tuesday. The panels are expected to arrive in Weed on July 17.

“The students connected with the community of Weed and gave them the best of themselves throughout the process,” Kirk said. “In the end, they realized and no matter if their project was chosen or not, they won by helping the community of Weed.”

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A model of a home designed for a 6,150-square-foot parcel.

About Cal Poly’s College of Architecture and Environmental Design

With more than 1,900 students, Cal Poly’s acclaimed College of Architecture and Environmental Design (CAED) offers a unique blend of eight degree programs in five closely related departments: architectural engineering, architecture, city and regional planning, construction management, and landscape architecture. The college’s architecture program is the No. 1 ranked public architecture program in the nation, according to the latest DesignIntelligence survey. For more than 70 years, the CAED programs and 16,000 alumni have been a positive influence on the forces that shape the planning, design and construction worlds. Learn more at