Nestled on California’s central coast, Cal Poly’s new residential community for 1,475 first-year university students consists of seven three-to five-story residence hall buildings and an adjacent four-level parking structure. The new complex connects students both to each other and to the adjacent residential community. A deep connection to place comes from a partnership with the local Northern Chumash tribe, yak titʸu titʸu yak tiłhini, to provide direction for creating unique experiential graphics for each of the residence halls.
The design team worked closely with representatives of the yak titʸu titʸu yak tiłhini in two visioning sessions to determine the direction of the artwork. They settled on telling stories centered around the surrounding landscape of seven yak titʸu titʸu yak tiłhini villages along the Central Coast, focusing on their deep-rooted ties to the land by celebrating local flora and fauna. The group also developed landscape story identifiers to define each of the seven residence halls and represent each village by name: elewexe, nipumūʔ, tiłhini, tsʰɨtqawɨ, tšɨłkukunɨtš, tsɨpxatu and tsɨtkawayu.
Interior murals are painted on bare concrete walls to tell each building’s primary landscape story as well as several secondary stories that add depth to each place. For example, for Building tsɨtkawayu, the main story is “rabbit’s den,” with sub-stories of wild flowers and California poppies, Tule elk and pronghorn antelope, red-tailed hawks and golden eagles, condors, and raptors and northern harriers.
Within each building, every floor has its own mural along the main interior circulation path. To tie together all of the murals in a building, the design team created patterns for each residence hall based on yak titʸu titʸu yak tiłhini basket patterns and integrated them as supporting elements within each mural. The environmental graphics for each residence rely on three colors, distinct for each building and chosen based on landscape colors that the yak titʸu titʸu yak tiłhini associate with each village. Students from the university’s art department collaborated with the muralist painter and used stencils to hand-paint the murals on the concrete.
As a result of the working relationship with the yak titʸu titʸu yak tiłhini, local plant species were also integrated into the landscape design, according to their recommendations. This was accompanied by localized signage that annotates and describes its tribal significance to incoming students. Before the work commenced, the yak titʸu titʸu yak tiłhini gathered with the team for final review and approval of the graphics.
The goal is for students to discover and build connections not only to their own residence hall, but also to the yak titʸu titʸu yak tiłhini people who have lived and will live in this area for many generations, ultimately increasing students’ respect for the land and its ecosystems, for each other, and for the cultural heritage of the place they live.
"A superb example of the blending what ethnocentric research and thoughtful design could be."
"We applaud this collaboration with the local Northern Chumash tribes to find authentic placemaking narratives and engaging color and bold graphics."
Crystal Adams (art director), Rafael Barontoni (designer)
Valerio Dewalt Train (architect); KTU+A (landscape architect); Webcor Builders (general contractor); DCI Engineers (structural engineer); Watry Design (architect and structural designer, parking structure); Guttman Blaevoet (energy model, peer review); Royal Electric Company, Sacramento Engineers (electrical); Boneso Brothers, Axiom Engineering (mechanical, plumbing); Tri-Signal Integration (low voltage, security, audio-visual)