History of the College: Six Decades of Success

From Post-War Origins to 21st Century Leader

The College of Architecture and Environmental Design (CAED) was created at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo in 1946-47 to help meet the growing state of California’s post war needs to prepare more of its best and brightest to enter the built environment professions.  It has retained its original commitment to a hands-on learning education rooted in synthesizing the art and the craft of the built environment professions.

For more than 60 years, from its first class of 8 to its current population of over 1,700 students, the CAED programs and our 16,000 alumni have been a major, positive influence shaping the planning, design and construction professions.   Students have opportunities to study abroad, and our graduates are increasingly working in firms and on projects on all continents.

Cal Poly is the only predominantly technical university within the 23-campus California State University system, and enjoys a national reputation. U.S. News & World Report has consistently rated Cal Poly the best public, largely undergraduate university in the West.

Our Defining Elements

As a fully professional college within a highly regarded polytechnic university, the CAED maintains a commitment to project based learning and the studio format as a central feature of all five majors.  All five also embrace an educational progression through increasingly complex individual and team based work, and active engagement with practitioners and real communities.  Skills, knowledge, and perspectives gained through seminars, lectures, tutorials, field trips, and specialized instructional laboratories are fully integrated.

Additionally, as part of a rich tradition and graduation requirement for Cal Poly, all five majors feature a culminating senior project requirement, undertaken in a variety of forms ranging from individual or group independent study, to rigorous theses organized under these matched to faculty with special expertise in the thesis subjects.

Our location in California, the largest and most diverse state, allows us to expose our students to a wide array of issues, trends, models, and innovators. California serves us well as a springboard for international perspectives and a window into emerging trends and technologies, as much of the current global practice in our professions is undertaken by firms active in California and the western US.   

There are many ways in which we strive to bring the world to our students, and immerse our students in the world.  In partnership with local agencies, and supporters throughout California and the West, CAED faculty and students have a long established record of undertaking real community based projects as part of their studio learning, from as close as our own neighborhood to as far away as Montana, Tanzania, and Honduras.  A strong tradition of students entering regional and national competitions is embedded in all majors, yielding a long list of honors and awards.  Dozens of visiting lecturers and practitioner faculty, international faculty exchanges, and a handsomely endowed Hearst Lecture series bring creative and dynamic outsiders to the campus every quarter to augment our excellent full-time faculty.

Off-campus programs in California and around the world, extended field trips, and special student tours also contribute to our investment in supporting a connection between Cal Poly and the world.

The high educational benefit of the programs is dependent on a low student-to-professor ratio, high quality technological and support, and well-equipped instructional spaces, for which the college is continually making investments.

Our Unique Features

The programs also benefit from some unique facilities that augment classroom learning including:

  1. Poly Canyon: 12-acre outdoor experimental construction laboratory.
  2. Neel Resource Center: Our resource center for printed and digital resources, and a special building materials section.
  3. Photo Lab: Darkroom, digital, and video production support with a full-time professional staff and assistants, and photographic presentation facility.
  4. Specialized computing facilities; computer rendering and graphics laboratory; materials testing laboratories; and construction methods laboratory.
  5. Support Shop: Indoor and outdoor space with equipment, tools, and supplies for student projects using wood, metals, plastics, concrete, and polymers.
  6. Solar Decathlon: National award winning 1,000 s.f. experimental solar home designed and constructed by a multi-disciplinary team of faculty and students. 

Serving the Next Generations

Admission to the programs is highly competitive and student GPAs and test scores are comparable to those in the top University of California schools and leading national private and public universities.  

The University and the CAED have an ongoing commitment to diversity of people and perspectives in order to build a strong and effective learning environment and prepare students for a wide range of professional practice opportunities.  The faculty represents an effective mix of significant professional practice and research experience. They are dedicated to preparing future leaders who take responsibility for improving the built environment.  

Back to top

Related Content


Giving to the CAED

More on CAED support

CAED Diversity Equity & Inclusion

Learn more about the CAED's Diversity Strategic Plan and Overview.

Read more

Connections Magazine 2021

Read about our award-winning LA Metro studio, Summer Career Workshop, and the DesignIntelligence survey.

Connections Spring 2021