Design it, build it, camp in it...for two nights at Poly Canyon.

That's the process students undergo when they participate in Design Village, an annual competition that's taken place in the nine-acre canyon at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo for more than 40 years. 

"The big idea is that students get to design a space they ultimately stay in overnight, for two nights," says Kevin Dong, associate dean of administration at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo's College of Architecture & Environmental Design.

The 2018 competition was held over Earth Day weekend in April this year. Twenty 20 teams from Cal Poly and 30 teams from other schools around the state built a curious collection of structures that speckled the hillside during the two-day campout.

Student teams design to a central theme determined each year by the Design Village Committee; this year's was "Balance." At the start of the weekend competition, teams must hike all their supplies and building materials up the one-plus-mile hill to Poly Canyon and install their structures. Once structures are built, students enjoy bonding time with classmates, spending both nights inside their self-made shelters. At the end of the weekend students dismantle the structures and pack out all materials.

​​​Down in the Canyon

Poly Canyon is a unique "learn by doing" laboratory located on Cal Poly San Luis Obispo's campus. Beyond the annual Design Village competition, It houses over 20 experimental structures designed and constructed by multi-disciplinary student teams. Revitalizing and continuing the student canyon experience is a goal of the College of Architecture and Environmental Design (CAED). 

The student-run Canyon Days Committee organizes university-wide work days in which students and alumni complete small building projects and landscaping. Kevin Dong, associate dean of administration at the CAED, encourages those interested in supporting the campus' canyon experiences to consider making a donation to CAED Poly Canyon.

Dong participated in Design Village himself while attending Fresno City College in 1983. "I remember it being a great experience," he says, recalling that camping overnight inside his structure was a little cold between 2 and 5 a.m.

"It's a good learning experience," he adds, noting that during the process, students practice design from inception to finished product and get true hands-on learning. Along with that comes adapting to real-life challenges, such as building on a slope or improvising when an essential material or tool is forgotten. 

Cal Poly first-year architecture and architectural engineering students take part in the competition as part of the Design and Visual Communication 1.3 course, Dong says. Students from other schools may be able to earn credit for independent study or simply volunteer with a club for a memorable learning experience. One year, students from as far as Germany participated in the event, says Dong.

"Once a year, Design Village is held as a celebration and experimentation in building."