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Program History

Program History

Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo (Cal Poly) was founded in 1903 as a vocational high school that emphasized a hands-on approach to learning. By 1927, the school listed "Engineering" as one of its five major divisions. As Cal Poly evolved into a two-year technical college, it offered instruction in agriculture and industrial fields, including aeronautics, electrical engineering, architectural drafting, civil engineering, mechanical drafting, printing, and mechanical engineering. A third year was added in 1936, and a fourth in 1940. The first graduate-level programs were added after World War II. Women students returned to campus in 1956 after being absent since 1929. In 1961, the college became part of the newly formed California State Colleges system, now designated as the California State University (CSU). With 23 campuses that grant Bachelor’s degrees and numerous terminal Master’s degrees, the CSU prioritizes teaching over research. In 1972, Cal Poly was renamed California Polytechnic State University.

Architectural Engineering (ARCE) is deeply rooted in Cal Poly’s history. The original polytechnic school which opened in 1902 in San Luis Obispo included coursework related to the building trades, including beginning courses in reinforced concrete and engineering mechanics. By 1930, architectural drawing had expanded to multiple courses; advanced design was introduced and strength of materials was expanded. At the same time the term "Cal Poly" came into popular use marking the beginning of a familiar nomenclature.

The Depression years were difficult, but in 1933, President Julian McPhee set a tone that would have profound impact on the future when he established an education philosophy still known today as "Learn by Doing." Collegiate status was granted to the Polytechnic School in 1940 and an Architectural Drafting Department was established the next year. The end of World War II saw the next upturn. In 1946, fifty five students, mostly veterans and all men, embarked upon the newly formed 4-year degree in Architectural Engineering. Those students probably still remember the rocky start: Larry Ellis was the only instructor and students under the leadership of Lew Litzie protested to President McPhee. As a consequence, Ralph Priestly arrived from Chicago in Winter quarter 1947. His goal was simple: national recognition.

In rapid succession, others arrived including William Ricker, Hans Mager and, notably for the future of the department and the college, George Hasslein. In 1950 the first class of fourteen graduated and the very next year Priestly became Dean of Engineering and Hasslein was appointed Department Head of Architectural Engineering. The 1950’s were crucial to the development of what would eventually become a leading architectural engineering department.

In 1963 the Architectural Engineering Department moved into its new facility (Engineering West). Courses in soil mechanics were now able to be expanded and new testing laboratories for soil samples and building materials found a place.

In 1964, Poly Canyon became available to students for projects. The image to the left shows students in the "Bridge House". Also during the 1960’s digital computers arrived and the department evolved accordingly.   In 1964 the department was renamed the Department of Architecture and Architectural Engineering, and offered a Bachelor of Architecture Degree along with the Bachelor of Science. Through the continued efforts of George Hasslein and the faculty to create a more meaningful institution, the Architectural Engineering Department created in the Division of Engineering in 1947 became the School of Architecture in 1967. The School would have three programs of study: Architecture, Architectural Engineering, and City and Regional Planning.

Today the ARCE department graduates on average 50-60 undergraduate students a year with a total enrollment of 340 students. The department has 13 full time faculty members and started a graduate program in 2007. The first graduate class has 10 students who will start to graduate in June 2008. Throughout this evolution the department has been committed to “Learn by Doing” and has seen that commitment repaid time and again by the performance of its graduates.


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