Architectal and Engineering Students Work Together
Solving Real-World Problems at CalPoly Precast Studio

At Cal Poly, the Precast Studio takes on a distinctive and modern approach to precast concrete. Now in it’s third year, the program has branched out from being a strictly architectural studio to including engineering students and faculty. It all began when Doug Moordian, executive director of Precast/Prestressed Concrete Manufacturers of Calinforia and Bob Knonoske, vice president and general manager of Coreslab met with Axel Prichard-Schmitzberger, associate professor in Architecture at Cal Poly Pomona just over three years ago. After that initial meeting, the Schmitzberger worked with the industry to develop a studio that fit the pedagogical needs of the Cal Poly.

PCMAC Steps In

The members of PCMAC saw supporting a precast studio would fit perfectly with their mission of education about precast topics and establishing long-lasting relationships. “The members at PCMAC think education is important. In the end, we want the students to be comfortable specifying and designing with precast,” says Moorodian. “Part of our job as an industry is to bring to the students attention what can be done with the product, and what shouldn’t be done. So we are not looking at one project or one studio, we want to create a long term relationship.”

The first studio used a multi-modal transit station that dealt with issues faced by the commuter university. “The students worked in teams of 2 and designed their version of a metro link station, that was a multi-modal station,” says Schmitzberger.

The next year Schmitzberger followed up on a call of the university president to demolish one of the iconic buildings on campus. “It gave us the chance to focus on again on the issues of a commuter college in an environmentally sensitive area, and perhaps provide faculty and student housing on campus,” says Schmitzberger. “Again, the students worked in teams of 2, and then joined larger teams. Then we selected three for a scholarship at the end of the year.”

Civil Engineering Department

During the third year, the studio added an engineering component to the studio. Mikhail Gershfeld, SE of the Civil Engineering department was brought on to co-teach the course. “This year, with the joint agenda of engineering, we could look at current events. We realized there is a niche for precast concrete as tsunami relief facilities. We have chosen the coasts of California, Oregon, and Washington which are impact zones for tsunami,” says Schmitzberger. The students are designing tsunami facilities that will have dual uses of recreation facilities.

The bond between the local industry and the studio has been tight during all three programs. “We’ve had break out sections with some of the engineers who have sat down with our students and gone through fundamental thinking of precast. There has been a very close, tight collaboration between the industry and us,” says Schmitzberger. “We have also allowed the industry to have input on how we write our syllabus so we can understand their concerns and interest much better.”

When the studio first started, Bob Knosoke not only opened up the Coreslab Plant for tours, but also assigned each team of students a Coreslab engineer. Because the studio is a dual program this year, the precast engineers are in more of a consulting role.

Students like Program

Student reaction to the studio has been very favorable – especially with the new twist of adding engineering students. “For the students it is quite the challenge, but they are responding with huge interest,” says Schmitzberger “This year I had to reject some students to take part in the students because we wanted to limit the studio. They are hard working, they are very interested, they adapt very quickly to the knowledge and now with the engineering students they are fantastic. The engineering students came in with some reservation about working with architecture students. And now they are such a great dynamic in the studio and tight collaboration, and friendships going on between the architects and engineers.”

On a personal level, Schmitzberger says that his relationship with precast concrete has changed for the better. “I worked before with precast in Europe and the United States,” he says “My relationship with precast has changed because I’ve been exposed to the history of precast, and even the making of it.”

For now, the first dual architecture/engineering studio at Cal Poly can be rated a success. So much so that Schmitzberger and Gershfeld are making plans for the next studio. And, there is hope that their work will help spread the idea of a precast studio to other universities. “Material based studios are also a good area for academic research as well,” says Schmitzberger. “I hope that we can continue this collaboration and secure funding from different industries.”