“Actually, the box isn’t magic, so don’t be disappointed you didn’t get ahold of Merlin the Magician,” Eric Owen Moss said at the start of a recent interview. Moss, director of the Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc), was referring to the school’s new digital fabrication lab.
Dubbed the Magic Box, the two-story, prefabricated steel structure will be constructed at the south end of the SCI-Arc building. But Moss didn’t want to focus on the laboratory itself, which was designed by several architects affiliated with SCI-Arc (including Moss’s own firm). Instead, he said, “the game is, what’s inside is magic. It’s not so much the object, but what the object contains.”
The Magic Box will house state-of-the-art tools for digital prototyping and fabrication, including CNC machines and 3D printers. Together with a remade Analog Fabrication Shop and the existing Robotics Lab, the Magic Box will be a key component of the school’s new RAD (Robot House, Analog Shop, and Digital Fabrication Lab) Center.
According to Moss, the Center is designed to teach students how to interrogate the technologies and materials they encounter. “SCI-Arc is not interested in producing people who can just go into an office and use digital tools,” he explained. “We’re interesting in producing students who have a critical and intellectual perspective on this.”
As an example of the kind of creative discovery he expects will take place inside the Magic Box, Moss cited the school’s Robot House, the 1,000-square-foot laboratory comprising a five-robot workroom and a Simulation Lab. “Robots are usually used in [a chronological sequence], but we don’t use them that way,” Moss said. “The robots evolve: as the program changes, the robots start to do something else.”
He also pointed to the history of CATIA, visualization software originally marketed to aerospace engineers but now in widespread use among architects. “A lot of these [digital] tools have been made by other characters that may have different motives,” Moss explained. “We want to make sure that the imaginative motive is introduced as part of the [architect’s] education.”
In the end, Moss said, the new workspace at SCI-Arc is named the Magic Box to reflect the optimistic spirit in which it is being introduced. That storyline will begin next spring, when construction on the Magic Box starts. The 4,000-square-foot space is expected to be ready for students at the opening of the 2014-15 school year.