ARCE and CM Students Win National Timber Strong Competition

News for Friday, Dec. 13, 2019

Cal Poly Architectural Engineering and Construction Management Students Win National Timber Strong Competition

SAN LUIS OBISPO – Six Cal Poly architectural engineering (ARCE) and construction management students won the inaugural iteration of the national Timber Strong Competition. It was held in Anaheim on November 12 as part of the National Council of Structural Engineers Association (NCSEA) annual conference.  

Cal Poly’s team consisted of five ARCE students, Dolores Herrera, fourth year; team captain Lilliann Lai, fourth year; John Leone, fourth year; Anna Luehrs, fourth year; Audrey Luu, second year; and one student from the construction management program, Jonathan Lin, third year. 

The rules prescribed that at least one student be an underclassman – freshman or sophomore – and at least one be from a different discipline. ARCE Faculty Member Kevin Dong served as the team’s faculty advisor.  

The competition required the design and construction of a two-story timber structure. Students produce design drawings, a technical report, a poster and a structure that is constructed on site in a 90-minute timed event. The structure features a cantilevered beam on which a 150 pound weight is hung and its deflection is measured, and students must calculate the carbon footprint of the structure. After construction, students are graded on a 10-minute presentation in which all six team members must participate.

The Cal Poly ARCE team won by making some unique design and construction decisions. They used balloon framing for their construction rather than the more standard platform construction used by all of the other competitors. Their structure featured a curved roof and an architectural protuberance on the front wall that added to the aesthetic quality of the building. 

“The competition established an invaluable bridge between learned classroom concepts and hands-on practice for engineering and construction management students,” said team captain Lilliann Lai. “Without a doubt, our team has grown exponentially in terms of structural design and analysis confidence, handyman and handywoman prowess, and timber-construction literacy. The opportunity to create problems, especially unintentionally, and learn to problem-solve them in the moment proved to be one of the most appreciated experiences throughout the process of designing and building.” 

Twelve teams were originally scheduled to compete with only half of those actually competing. Coming in second and third after Cal Poly were UCLA and the University of Kentucky. The others programs were from Sacramento State, University of Minnesota, and University of Southern Florida. The winners were announced at the NCSEA opening reception and were honored by NCSEA President Jon Schmidt. 

The overall competition is sponsored by the American Wood Council, the American Plywood Association, and Simpson Strong-Tie. Cal Poly’s team was supported through generous donations provided by C.W. Howe Partners Inc. in Culver City and Lionakis in Sacramento. 

“This is a great competition,” said Allen Estes, head of Cal Poly’s Architectural Engineering Department. “It requires academic knowledge, creativity, constructability and presentation skills — and it is fun, besides. I thank the industry firms that created and supported this competition and the two firms who generously sponsored our team.”

About Cal Poly’s Architectural Engineering Program

For nearly 75 years, the Cal Poly architectural engineering (ARCE) program has embodied the university’s Learn by Doing credo. Focusing heavily on structural engineering with an emphasis in seismic design, the ARCE curriculum is a unique blend of theory and practice. The program is highly interdisciplinary, integrating architecture studios and construction management courses, thus providing students with a thorough understanding of the broader design/construction process. The acclaimed four-year Bachelor of Science degree is ABET accredited, and graduates typically become licensed as structural engineers. With the ARCE program’s in-classroom innovation, connection to industry, and high-job-placement rate, graduates are among the most sought after in the country and have gone on to shape our built environment. To learn more, visit

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Cal Poly Students Assemble at Timber Competition

Cal Poly Students Assemble at Timber Competition — Cal Poly students assemble their competition structure using balloon framing, a building technique where both floors are created as one piece and then they are tilted up for faster assembly. 

Photo credit: Allen Estes

Cal Poly Students Finished at Timber Competition

Cal Poly Students Finished at Timber Competition — Cal Poly architectural engineering (ARCE) and construction management (CM) students savor the completion of their competition final structure that features a curved roof and an architectural protuberance on the left that added to the aesthetic quality of the front of the building. On the first floor, left to right, are students Dolores Herrera, fourth year ARCE; Jonathan Lin, third year CM; John Leone, fourth year ARCE; and Anna Luehrs, fourth year ARCE. On the second floor (L-R) are team captain Lilliann Lai, fourth year ARCE; and Audrey Luu, second year ARCE. 

Photo credit: Allen Estes



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