Director Hernan Diaz Alonso
SCI-Arc in Los Angeles, California, is an independent, non-profit school offering undergraduate, graduate and postgraduate degrees in architecture. Founded in 1972, SCI-Arc was initially regarded as – both institutionally and artistically – more avant-garde than traditional architecture schools based in the United States. The school consists of approximately 500 students and 80 faculty members, some of whom are practicing architects. It is based in the quarter-mile long (0.40 km) former Santa Fe Freight Depot in the Arts District in downtown Los Angeles, and offers a variety of community events such as outreach programs, free exhibitions, and public lectures.
SCI-Arc offers undergraduate, B.Arch, and graduate degree programs, M.Arch 1 and M.Arch 2 accredited by the National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB). SCI-Arc is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC).
SCI-Arc EDGE, the Center for Advanced Studies in Architecture offers four postgraduate degree programs: M.S. Architectural Technologies, M.A. Fiction and Entertainment, M.S. Design of Cities, and M.S. Theory and Pedagogy.
In addition to its undergraduate and graduate programs, SCI-Arc offers two summer programs: a four-week program for high school students, Design Immersion Days; and a four-week intensive, introductory program that explores design through experimental architecture, Making+Meaning.
SCI-Arc was founded in 1972 in Santa Monica by a group of faculty and students from Department of Architecture at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, who wanted to approach the subject from a more experimental perspective than traditional schools offered. Originally called the New School, SCI-Arc was based on the concept of a “college without walls” and it remains one of the few independent architecture schools in the world. Initially, instead of academic hierarchies the School favored a horizontal relationship between professors and students, who took responsibility for their own course of study. Ray Kappe, who had founded the Pomona department, became the new school’s first director, served in that position until 1987, and was awarded the AIA/ACSA Topaz Medal for excellence in architecture education in 1990.
Kappe was succeeded as director by Michael Rotondi, one of SCI-Arc’s founding students. Neil Denari became director in 1997; Eric Owen Moss served as director from 2002–2015; Hernan Diaz Alonso was appointed Director and Chief Executive Officer effective Sept 1, 2015. Diaz Alonso has been a faculty member at SCI-Arc since 2001. He is known for championing the school’s push toward a digital future and, prior to his appointment as Director, has served as the school’s Graduate Programs Chair since 2010. Although SCI-Arc was once unaccredited and its finances unstable—Moss joked, “We used to be considered one step ahead of the IRS, one step ahead of creditors”—the school is now fully accredited, and its finances improved to the point that SCI-Arc was able to pay $23.1 million to buy its campus building in 2011. “The main thing is to figure out a way for SCI-Arc to keep growing without losing its character and pedigree,” Diaz Alonso said in an interview following his appointment as Director.
Downtown Los Angeles campus
North End of SCI-Arc from Santa Fe Ave
Normal scene during SCI-Arc’s finals weeks
SCI-Arc offers undergraduate and graduate degree programs accredited by the National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB) and the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC), including a five-year Bachelor of Architecture (B.Arch) program, a 3-year Master of Architecture (M.Arch 1) open to applicants who hold a bachelor’s degree or equivalent in any field of study, and a 2-year Master of Architecture (M.Arch 2) open to applicants with a prior undergraduate degree in architecture.
In the fall and spring terms, design studios, seminars and workshops led by SCI-Arc faculty and visiting instructors offer students a multitude of choices and perspectives. During the summer term, some courses are also open to upper-level students from other architecture programs and to the public. Summer at SCI-Arc features two intro to architecture programs open to the public: Design Immersion Days, a four-week intense design and architecture workshop for high school students, and MAKING+MEANING, a four-week foundation program in architecture that introduces the principles of architecture in a hands-on exploration of spatial experimentation, design methodologies and the creative process.
In addition to its undergraduate and graduate programs, SCI-Arc offers four one-year postgraduate programs in fields including architectural technologies, entertainment and fiction, design of cities, and theory and pedagogy.
SCI-Arc’s undergraduate and graduate programs culminate in two public events in which students present their thesis projects to renowned critics from around the world, including Peter Cook, Greg Lynn, and Pritzker Prize recipient Thom Mayne. “SCI-Arc has long been one of this country’s best experimental labs in which designers speculate about the future of the human-made environment, and its thesis projects are its calling cards.”
General rankings place SCI-Arc at #12 in undergraduate and #27 in graduate programs overall.
Making + Meaning
Student working on his M+M project (summer 2009)
During this intensive program, students survey and challenge the discipline’s boundaries by drawing, making and constructing. Methodologies range from material experimentation to compositional strategies; from imagination to inhabitation.
Making + Meaning students meet leading thinkers in architecture, engage in open dialogue, delve into the city of Los Angeles’ wealth of experimental architecture and produce a portfolio of work crystallizing their explorations in the program.
The program derives its strength from the diverse backgrounds of its students. From those gauging their interest and curiosity in architecture, to those beginning an architectural degree, Making + Meaning is a platform for individual learning in a collective environment; an introduction to the discipline of architecture and a welcome to SCI-Arc’s culture and community.
SCI-Arc’s public programs invite the community into the school to foster debate and understanding of architecture’s capacity to transform the world. A recent program and exhibition, “LA in Wien/Wien in LA,” investigated the architecture of Los Angeles and Vienna and their respective influences on one another in over the last century. It brought together six esteemed international architects—Hitoshi Abe, Peter Cook, Eric Owen Moss, Thom Mayne, Peter Noever, and Wolf Prix of Coop Himmelb(l)au—to share their perspectives and experiences in a discussion led by Anthony Vidler. The full scope of SCI-Arc public programs includes lectures, exhibitions, faculty talks and other opportunities for interaction between the school and the community.
Each semester’s lecture series produces an eclectic selection of speakers from multiple disciplines, including architects, artists, film-makers, engineers, theoreticians, and performers. Speakers are selected by a forum of students, faculty, alumni, and administrators and the lectures are free and open to the public. Lectures are followed by a dinner in honor of the speaker, allowing students and faculty to interact more personally with the invited speaker. SCI-Arc lectures are broadcast for live viewing on the internet.
SCI-Arc Robot House
SCI-Arc’s Robot House, initiated by faculty members Peter Testa and Devyn Weiser, builds upon the school’s strengths to create a next generation platform for experimentation and speculation on the future of architecture.
Situated conceptually and physically between studio and shop, academy and industry, the lab focuses on multi-robot cooperation and collaboration using six state-of-the-art Staübli robotic systems. The Robot House offers a new design interface extending beyond a production facility. It creates unprecedented emulation, simulation and animation environments in which computational geometry, material agency and fabrication logistics merge. The introduction of video, vision and sensing technologies with the lab’s robotic systems support feedback and exchanges between matter, data and form.
Projects explore additive free-form fabrication tied to advanced composite materials. The robots themselves, relatively small in size and dexterity, support a reconfigurable 3D workspace with a wide range of applications including on-site construction.