The Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc) in Los Angeles, California, is an independent, nonprofit school offering undergraduate and graduate degrees in architecture. It offers community design and outreach programs, and free public access to frequent exhibitions and lectures by leading thinkers in architecture. Founded in 1972, SCI-Arc is widely regarded as one of the most avant-garde U.S. architecture schools, with a reputation for pushing the boundaries of academic study. SCI-Arc's approximately 500 students and 80 faculty members - some of whom are practicing architects - work together to explore and test the limits of architecture. The school is based in the quarter-mile long former Santa Fe Freight Depot in the Arts District in downtown Los Angeles.
Approximately half of SCI-Arc’s students are enrolled in its undergraduate program and half in its graduate programs. It offers a five-year professional Bachelor Degree in Architecture (B.Arch); a three-year professional Master of Architecture (M.Arch 1) program, open to applicants who hold a bachelor’s degree or equivalent in any field of study ; and a two-year professional Master of Architecture (M.Arch 2) program, open to applicants with a minimum of a four-year degree in Architecture, or its equivalent abroad. Additionally, the school offers Master in Design Research (MDesR) degrees in urban studies (Future Initiatives) and emerging systems, technologies and media (ESTm). During summer, the school offers a 5-week foundation program, Making + Meaning, which introduces architecture to those considering entering the field or about to enroll in a degree program, as well as hosts a 4-week Design Immersion Days (DID) program devoted to introducing high school students to architecture and design.
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. 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 has been director since 2002. 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.
Downtown LA Campus
The school has been based in three locations - the first an industrial building in Santa Monica and the second an industrial building in Marina del Rey. In 2000, it moved to its current home, the 1907 Santa Fe Freight Depot designed by Harrison Albright on the eastern edge of Downtown Los Angeles. When SCI-Arc arrived, the building was a stripped-down concrete shell. Today the building is on the National Register of Historic Places and the school has become an anchor for the city's Arts District. The school conducts design projects that engage with the most under-served members of the community. To these ends, SCI-Arc has been awarded a $400,000 grant by ArtPlace to develop two on-campus public performance/lecture spaces, as well as development for a third public venue in the surrounding arts district.
SCI-Arc attracts students from nearby and throughout the world in pursuit of the unique education the school offers. Most students have already completed some college level work; some already hold professional architectural degrees. SCI-Arc is serious about educating and challenging its students—but does it so in an unconventional atmosphere. It is not uncommon to see a student using his or her skateboard to get from one end of the building to the other, or to be working on a model with his or her dog napping nearby. Students actively engage in preparing the SCI-Arc Gallery exhibitions, help fellow graduating students in setting up their models for thesis presentations, and contribute to workshops that result in projects throughout the school, such as the graduation pavilion and other unique structures. Students have access to their SCI-Arc studio spaces 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
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 five-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 two one-year postgraduate programs in City Design, Planning and Policy (Future Initiatives) and Emerging Systems, Technologies & Media (ESTm). Successful candidates in the post-graduate programs receive a SCI-Arc Master of Design Research Degree (MDesR) in the respective fields.
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 Sir Peter Cook, Greg Lynn, and Pritzker Prize recipient Thom Mayne. A celebration of academic achievement, SCI-Arc's thesis reviews are regarded as a major forum for the discussion of insights and innovative concepts among theoreticians and practicing architects.
The 2013 Best Architecture & Design Schools rankings from Design Intelligence, conducted by the Greenway Group and Design Intelligence, rank SCI-Arc #1 graduate and undergraduate program in Western U.S. The school is also listed first in undergraduate and graduate programs as ranked by firms. General rankings place SCI-Arc at #2 in undergraduate and #6 in graduate programs overall.
Making + Meaning
Making + Meaning is a five-week summer program at the Southern California Institute of Architecture that introduces the principles of architecture in a hands-on exploration of spatial experimentation, design methodologies and the creative process.
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 rich creative portfolio crystallizing their explorations.[clarification needed]
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 live for simultaneous viewing on the internet.
SCI-Arc Robot House
Accelerating SCI-Arc's pace, already at the leading edge of digital design and rapid prototyping, the new SCI-Arc 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 SCI-Arc 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 will support feedback and exchanges between matter, data and form.
Projects will 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.