Howard Weisenthal

Photo of Howard Weisenthal

Position Professor Emeritus

Areas of Expertise


In the late 1950’s, long before there was the South Beach Diet, the pastels of Miami Vice or the soothing flavors of SoBe Iced Tea the southern 15 blocks of Miami Beach were a collection of somewhat rundown Art Deco hotels and low rise apartments occupied by fixed income retirees. It was not the destination for hip international young trendsetters as it is today. South Beach was a forgotten casual tropical paradise, rich with varied flora, surrounded by water on 3 sides with miles of unspoiled beaches bathed with warm breezes, and it was my home.

The summer days of my youth were care free, spent exploring on my bike, beachcombing, fishing, sneaking into hotel pools to cool off, watching buildings under construction or visiting with relatives as they sat in the shaded courtyard of their apartment building or on the patio overlooking the beach and the ocean beyond. It was during those relaxed days I first learned to work with nature and observe my environment. I watched for the changing tides, understood the afternoon thunderstorms and I knew how to find the best banana, avocado and mango trees.

My interests in visual spatial areas and building activities developed early, possibly sparked by the unique structures and way of life of my hometown. Even as early as the age of 9 I sought out and secured a summer job in an architect’s office where I sharpened pencils, cleaned pens and helped organize the materials sample room. Later, as a high school student my summer apprenticeships either in architecture offices or on construction sites continued. The work was simple: "run these prints," "change this drawing" or "get up to the top floor and see how many yards of concrete got placed this morning." Even though my responsibilities were minimal, I was there watching, listening and working in the world I one day hoped to join.

In college at The University of Florida, I majored in Architecture. Now, as I look back, I understand that it was my youthful appreciation for the environment and experiences in the profession that were reflected in my undergraduate design projects. These influences still provide direction to my design and teaching. The important books of the era, On Walden Pond, Design With Nature, Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance also reinforced my values related to the importance of craft and in making and designing simple things that work in a larger context. As a graduate student, I further explored the concepts of climatic responsiveness as I designed a planning model for future development in South Beach and individual buildings that would fit into that model.

In graduate school my thesis advisor suggested that I had the potential to develop a career in teaching. The idea interested me, but I had my heart set on being a licensed architect and after graduation I successfully pursued that goal. After several years of working in offices and designing buildings of various scales and functions, I gradually became convinced that my passion and expertise in design might be suited for an academic environment and the idea of teaching design at a university resurfaced and became my next goal. Since 1976, I have been fortunate to have worked in the Architecture Departments at LSU and, beginning in 1983, here at Cal Poly.

Brief histories such as this tend to simplify the sequence of life and imply personal goals were easily attained, but as in most life histories, many obstacles have been overcome and my past and current positions have been attained through perseverance and dedication. I know from first-hand experience that the profession of architecture and architectural education are challenging tasks, and that even for the truly talented or gifted, success requires more than a casual involvement. So, if you find yourself in my studio I will expect you to draw upon your singular history and experiences for inspiration and to be fully and continually engaged in your education.

Teaching Philosophy and Studio Activities

I believe that teaching any level of design is unique because there are no predetermined "correct" solutions to assigned problems. But, teaching in second year offers an additional challenge in that the projects are of a scale that allows students to bring most of the required lessons with them to studio when they walk in the door. They just don’t know it. They may not trust their instincts or value their own life experiences, and their true creativity is often buried in an attempt to be “successful” in class. They have not discovered that design is really a journey to find themselves and to understand how they see the world.

So my job, as I see it, is to provide an environment where the students in my studio are encouraged to develop the means to address design questions from their unique personal point of view using their own vocabulary and value system. Of course there are new skills, information and theories that are presented in studio or support courses containing critical information to be digested and incorporated into design solutions. The year-level and project objectives must also be met and I do ask that students follow a design method that derives a concept from an analysis of the project. But in the end, I fully support and promote the development of design concepts along highly individual and divergent approaches to each project. In that light, my two most common critiques are  "How does your concept reflect an understanding of the project?" and "How have you developed your design concept?"

In second year, I believe that students are just beginning to learn the complexities and nuances of design and as with the attainment of any other skill, practice and repetition are key elements. So, most quarters begin with short projects or design exercises which allow for exploration, the development of quick design alternatives and skill growth. Longer more inclusive projects are reserved for the last 5 or 6 weeks. I also believe that second year students should focus on what they are designing, with less focus on how they are presenting their solutions. Young design students often appear overly concerned about producing a complex graphic image or finely built model instead of focusing on solving design issues. So, I support the use of simple graphic tools and modeling materials. These permit a direct flow from head to hand and do not stand in the way of redesign because of expense or technical difficulty. From my perspective, in second year, models and drawings are tools of the designer and are best used to inform design decisions. They are not the final product of a design class. They, of course, must be communicative and reach an appropriate skill level, but I overlook craft issues in favor of design explorations.

In summary, as noted in my brief biography, my current position as a Professor in the Department of Architecture was attained through years of focused dedication both as a student and professional.  In turn, I expect students to also be 100% involved in their education and the pursuit of architecture as their profession. This does not necessarily translate to receiving high grades but rather involves assisting in developing a studio that is an enjoyable creative environment, working on a personal lifestyle that supports and fosters a commitment to design and maximizing individual talents and skills.


Educational Experience:

M Arch, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida
B Arch, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida 

Teaching Experience:

Professor, Dept. of Architecture, Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo
Assistant Professor, Dept. of Architecture, Louisiana State University 

Professional Experience 

Varied office and design experience including educational, commercial, research and residential projects


Registered Architect, State of Florida 


Selected Publications and Recent Research:

  • Current research includes the history of ornament in architecture and adaptive reuse potentials and typologies for additions to historic structures. Additional interests focus on the use of sketching in design and drawing as a means of discovery. 

Selected Activities:

  • Curator for mini exhibits for the building 21 display cases.Recent exhibits include " 3 Decades of Student Presentations","Keep a Sketchbook", "Drawings by F L Wright and Julia Morgan",
  • "Architectural Watercolors from the 1920'and 30's"
Keep a Sketchbook presentation to 2nd year design students as part of a lecture series.
  • Vice Chair / Member - San Luis Obispo Bicycle Advisory Committee. 


Updated 03.08.16

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