3 Lessons I Learned from an Architecture Graveyard

An architecture graveyard can teach you and I a few important lessons about life. Though I grew up running around graveyards and casket rooms in my father’s mortuary, most normal people I know prefer not to visit any kind of graveyard. So it was only until last week when my daughter Ellie and I visited Cal Poly’s “architecture graveyard” while on a tour of the campus. Ellie was recently accepted into the SLO School of Architecture and we’d heard much about the famous “architecture graveyard,” also known as the Design Village. Although we didn’t come across any tombstones, I soon discovered there were several things an architecture graveyard could teach me about life. Read on…

First, it might be a bit helpful to explain what this graveyard is all about. The SLO Architecture Graveyard is the final resting place of many final senior projects designed by architecture students. The place is filled with all sorts of architectural designs, environmental sculptures and experimental structures. It’s a veritable playground of creativity, innovation, design and experimentation, which is one of several reasons why we enjoyed it so much. As the Design Village, it is also used for annual competitions in experimental structures hosted by Cal Poly.

After oohing and aahing at the uniqueness of each structure, Ellie and I walked back down the beautiful Poly Canyon road surrounded by large oak and sycamore trees. I couldn’t help, but consider what these structures might have to teach me about life. Here’s three things I learned (questions I considered) from this architecture graveyard.

1) Have I considered basic design principles for my life? “How might I best design my life?” is a question few people actually consider on a regular basis. Would it be safe to say more time is spent memorizing our favorite Starbucks drink?? The architectural structures we visited, though some were quite funky, reflected initiative, creativity, and thoughtful design. God gives us a lot of freedom to design a life that reflects meaning, purpose and ingenuity. These timeless design principles, authored by the Divine Architect, are found in His word if we only took more time to listen and learn.

2) What am I building that will last? Great thought and planning went into developing these structures. Many of them were quite complex, built with wood, stone, cement, steel and cable rigging. Who know how many countless hours of hard labor went into these structures? Unlike a regular graveyard, the only thing missing here was the “dash” we see between the dates on tombstones. You and I are living that “dash” right now…what are we building with our lives? Living? Designing? Will it be built to last?

3) What am I passing onto the next generation? As Ellie and I walked from structure to structure, many of them had dedication plates fixed to them with the student’s names and the construction completion date. A tombstone of sorts. Some of the structures were built back in the 1970’s. Set among rolling hills and groves of oak trees, the structures were silent witnesses to the passing of time. Made a long time ago, now simply sitting there for our enjoyment, wonder and awe, we would all do well to consider a few final questions…

  • What are we building now that can be passed onto the next generation? Who am I mentoring? Who am I influencing for a greater good?
  • How can I better invest in the relationships I deeply cherish? My relationship with God? My marriage? My children? Friends and extended family?
  • How do I deal with the inevitable conflicts, obstacles, setbacks and failures that come with life?
  • How can I simply make this world a more beautiful place?
  • What is at stake if I don’t spend a bit more time asking myself these questions?

Question: Which one of these three questions impacts you the most? Why?

I’d love your thoughts and comments.


Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive, snarky or off-topic.

  • Colleen

    Thanks for the thought-provoking article, Joey!  You’ve given me some good food for thought!  I’m glad to hear that you and Ellie had such a great and inspiring time at Cal Poly SLO!  I’m delighted to hear that she’ll be going there next year.  I can’t wait to visit her in one of my favorite  places.  

    • http://www.joeyo.org Joey O’Connor

       Colleen, you were so sweet to call Ellie and congratulate her. Thanks for all you did to encourage Ellie. She had a great time meeting Kiersten. Ellie and I had blast up at SLO…the first of many fun SLO times ahead!

      You’ll have to go on a road trip with us!

  • Fran Cantor

    Hello Joey,  I enjoyed your article it was very informative and being with your Daughter at Cal Poly.    It was nice to see the Structures Design and thought & imagination that went into it.  How creative for the Students Ideas.    Joey,when you said you want to leave example for the next Generation!!!   May I say you are by the Life you are living shows the examples and by your Spirituality that opens your Heart to everyone.   This is how I see myself going thru conflicts,Obstacles, and especially Failures.  Its with showing ones Love and to Live in the present with God being at your side .    I feel you are living this kind of Life by what I read and see your project you are doing.    I really feel our  Purpose in our life is How we live it.  By having an open “HEART”     Have you ever seen “OPRAH” on the own show.  call Life Class.   See it some time.   About Life & Spirit.!!!   Sorry to say soooo much but you are doing all the right things.  Purpose!!!    Frannie  +

    • http://www.joeyo.org Joey O’Connor

       Fran, you are “oh, so kind.” Most of what I share I’ve learned from others and anything that comes from me, is usually from something I’m learning along the way, questions I’m asking myself or things I’m wrestling with…

      The older I get, the more grace I realize I need from God. A healthy dose of wisdom thrown in would be good to!

      Thanks for your thoughts and comments!

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