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Cal Poly architecture students ‘reimagine’ Paradise after Camp Fire destroyed community

Posted at 5:51 PM, Feb 13, 2019
and last updated 2019-02-13 21:56:58-05

Months after a massive wildfire destroyed the Northern California town of Paradise, two classes of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo architecture students are envisioning a future for the community.

“Going up there and seeing everything up close was very eye-opening,” said Foster Westover, a third-year Cal Poly architecture student.

After his class visited the scorched town of Paradise, Westover returned to Cal Poly motivated to help rebuild the town.

“We are thinking of them, we care about what’s happened to them,” Westover said.

Neighborhoods were leveled, schools and critical infrastructure were torn apart when the Camp Fire raged in November.

The devastation teaches these aspiring architects to use their hearts and minds for this assignment.

“Watching students come up with what could be possible in this place is inspiring,” said Stacey White, architecture professor.

Where the Camp Fire burned over 123,000 acres and claimed more than 85 lives, the architecture students are drawing up the blueprint for a new paradise.

“There wasn’t really a centralized area for commerce, it was spread out, so what we’re trying to do in rebuilding this downtown area is build a centralized area for retail and housing where people can gather together,” Westover said.

White’s classes tend to focus on city planning for underserved communities. But Paradise, which is still a disaster area, is a different experience.

“There’s a balance between predicting the future and paying reverence to the past and the students are struggling with that,” White said.

These challenges force students to not only consider the logistics of their designs but the real-life implications, even if their work never leaves the classroom.

“The work we do here in our studio gets turned over to the city and they use it to leverage investment from private entities,” White said. “So while our work may not necessarily get built, it inspires people to come in and build there.”

“I think we’re just providing hope to the people of Paradise,” Westover said.

Students will work to reimagine Paradise through the remainder of the school year before the plans are turned over to Paradise city leaders.