Architecture alumni celebrate national recognition for CPP housing project

The Cal Poly Pomona Student Housing and Dining Commons has received the National Award of Merit in the Educational Facilities category from the Design-Build Institute of America. The project, designed by two CPP alumni, is now a nominee for the National Award of Excellence in the Educational Facilities category with the winner set to be announced on Oct. 29.

The creative minds behind the recently added residence halls, Secoya and Sicomoro, are James Sink (’99, architecture) and Jonathan Orr (’11, master’s in architecture). Together, the two work for architecture firm HMC Architects within its higher education studio and served as the two executive architects for CPP’s housing project, a project that was 10 years in the making.

“Something like the Cal Poly housing project is cool because you impact the academic side by giving students housing, but you also impact their social life,” Orr said. “There’s something interesting about every project … but personally I find higher education more complex and really interesting. The students we support are in a really interesting time of their lives that I look back on fondly. It’s really fun to build the environment they’re going to have those experiences in.”

The new residence halls, Sicomoro and Secoya, opened last spring to first-year students. (Courtesy of Lawrence Anderson Photography)

Sink attended CPP as an undergraduate and majored in architecture, while Orr studied mechanical engineering at the University of California, San Diego before coming to CPP to earn his master’s degree in architecture.

Sink and Orr have fond memories of their time at CPP, which inspired them to give back to a place where they learned and grew as individuals and professionals. Years after leaving campus, the two can still recall the professors who impacted them most.

“The really influential professors I had when I was at Cal Poly were George Proctor and Kip Dickson,” Orr said. “The grad program was a small, intimate program so they definitely took me under their wing a lot. They remained friends and mentors in the 10 years since. I distinctly remember Kip pushing me to reach out to HMC.”

The residential halls were designed with student comfort in mind. (courtesy of Lawrence Anderson Photography)

Sink echoed Orr in his praise for Kip Dickson. Sink remembers going to Dickson for a letter of recommendation to apply for graduate programs. Dickson questioned why Sink did not have Harvard University on his list of schools and he pushed Sink to take the chance.

“So, I did, and I got in and I went,” Sink said. “I wouldn’t have applied if it wasn’t for Kip. That was pretty influential on me.”

Before HMC, Sink worked on projects ranging from designing a Catholic church to an airport terminal but when he started working in higher education projects, Sink found it was the most creative outlet for himself.

“Housing told us that they needed 980 beds and a dining hall,” Sink said. “Everything else we built and constructed around that was based on our experience and based on what we knew would work well for student engagement.”

Early in the planning stages, the two toured residence and dining halls across the country and discussed with President Soraya Coley what the CPP landscape needed most.

“President Coley talked about Cal Poly transforming into a metropolitan destination,” Sink said. “She spoke about the campus really differently and we were really inspired by what she had to say. With that came a new way of thinking about the project in a far more dense way.”

The height of the residence halls changed to match President Coley’s vision. (Courtesy of Lawrence Anderson Photography)

Because of this, the design needed to be taller so more beds could be added. The building’s location was redirected to accommodate these changes.

“Doing that was a fantastic decision because it positioned housing next to the suites,” Sink said. “Rather than being remote, having it link up to the suites, close to the athletic fields and the BRIC made so much more sense than any other location.”

Orr added that they spent time thinking about CPP’s student life and envisioned what it could be. Both believe that the more first-years can connect with each other, the better. This is what shaped the lounges, study areas and other social aspects of the building.

In 2016, Sink and Orr held pizza nights in the old dorms to gather student feedback on what they should include in the dorms. The two were approached by a group of non-binary and transgender students who explained how they felt unsafe at CPP.

“They felt like they couldn’t take a shower without being harassed,” Sink said. “It was eye opening for us. So, we handed them a pen and they drew what a shower would look like for them.”

The students drew a shower with a changing area behind a closed door. Orr and Sink included 250 changing rooms exactly how the students drew it into the building.

“When we think about connectivity to the environment and sustainability, we also need to think about universal design,” Sink said. “That means designing for everyone inclusively. That night was transformational for us in how we do our work.”

Will Chaverin, a second-year business marketing student, moved into the residence halls last spring.
“The location of the new dorms are perfect,” Chaverin said. “The suites were right across the street, so we got to meet a lot of people.”

Chaverin’s old dorm in Alamitos Hall was unkempt and on the opposite side of campus, making it inconvenient for his schedule.

He appreciates the new dorms for their cleanliness and the privacy of the bathrooms that he shared with his roommate and two other students. He remembers the camaraderie fostered by the welcoming space.

“There were study rooms on every floor and some nights I would study and do homework, but other days I would just chill and watch movies and play video games in there,” Chaverin said.

While Sink and Orr appreciate their work was recognized and awarded, they are more excited hearing about how students have been impacted by their work.

“The awards are nice, but the bigger award, just having gone there and being an alumn, is the feeling like you’ve given back,” Orr said. “When you return to your college campus, you feel a lot of nostalgia and affection for that campus. Going back there and seeing that we made this huge impact, it’s rewarding to hear the positive feedback from the students.”

(Feature image courtesy of Lawrence Anderson Photography)

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