Posts tagged with "SCI-Arc":

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Kanye West launches “Yeezy Architecture” studio after visit to SCI-Arc

Following another recent Twitter spree and a series of problematic, rambling public interviews, multidisciplinary artist and designer Kanye West has announced the creation of a new architecture arm called “Yeezy Home” that will seek to expand West’s creative output to include architectural and urban design.  In a late-night tweet, the Hidden Hills, California-based rapper solicited the talent of aspiring designers, calling for “architects and industrial designers who want to make the world better.”  https://twitter.com/kanyewest/status/993221454740185088?s=21 West’s cryptic tweet comes just over a week after the controversial creative visited the Southern California Institute of Architecture’s (SCI-Arc) Spring Show, a showcase of the school’s spring semester work. The visit prompted a tweet from Kanye highlighting the work of M.Arch I student Ashley Morgan Hastings and her desalination-focused project.  Following the visit, West tweeted out praise for the student: https://twitter.com/kanyewest/status/990734224670867456?s=21 West has a long history of associating himself and collaborating with architects and designers, including a 2012 collaboration with Dutch architects OMA for the design of the 7 Screen Pavilion project, a pyramid-shaped projection room used to screen West’s Cruel Summer film at the Cannes Film Festival.  Amid an earlier tweetstorm two weeks ago, West unveiled Axel Vervoordt-designed the interiors for the mausoleum-like Hidden Hills home shared with wife Kim Kardashian. The top-secret designs follow previous collaborations with New York City-based Family and London, England-based architect John Pawson.  After proclaiming his “obligation to show people new ideas” following West’s renewed support for Donald Trump in a recent song, Kanye’s latest foray into design seems to be more involved, however. CityLab reports that the rapper recently purchased a 300-acre property in Los Angeles that West intends on developing himself. In a wide-ranging interview with Charlemagne Tha God, West hints at his future plans, saying, “Yeah, we’re going to develop cities.”
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SCI-Arc show postulates a fictional energy future that doesn’t go far enough

In a recent installation at the Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc), Mark Foster Gage Architects attempts to bring the notion of parafictional art fantasy to the realm of architecture—with mixed results. Gage’s Geothermal Futures Lab considers the notion that, given the current regime of “fake news” and “post-truth” reality, architects might have renewed license to create new visions for the future rooted primarily in fantasy. In lectures and writings, Gage argues that architects from Vitruvius onward have always engaged in some form or another with parallel or alternate versions of reality through their works and that conditions are ripe today for this tendency to take hold once again. Furthermore, Gage posits that these efforts represent a facet of the Object-Oriented Ontology (OOO) school of thought and could potentially be used to fend off the ever-increasing erosion—or flattening—of a shared reality that occurs when the people who lead and represent the nation are fundamentally preoccupied with telling lies. In the exhibition text, Gage asks, “Might architecture’s power in this new world be conducted through an elasticity of the real that encourages citizens to develop doubt about their presented realities—and therefore perhaps become more resistant to ‘fake news’ and ‘alternative facts?’” For the installation, Gage seizes this opportunity as a justification for postulating a new energy-generation technology called “laser ablation geothermal resonance” that draws its power from sources deep below the surface of the earth in order to sustainably supply Los Angeles with over two-thirds of its daily energy needs. To convey the fundamentals of this fictional energy revolution, Gage fills the SCI-Arc gallery with a stage setting meant to approximate a control center for the power generator, installing lab equipment, a metal detector, a faceted gold-leaf-covered reactor, a pile of rocks, and a collection of high-powered lasers and imaginary technical drawings for display. Technically speaking, the student-produced machine drawings are exquisite in their effusive and cheeky detail. Drawn to convey exploded axonometric views of the reactor and other components, the starkly outlined assemblage drawings also incorporate recognizable pop cultural elements, with hidden My Little Pony and Mr. Potato Head figurines buried within the constructions. The reactor mock-up is impressive in its detailing as well; it features the fractal and agglomerated geometries Gage’s other academic work is known for, while spewing fog from its lower extremity. But overall, the exhibition—and Gage’s interpretation of what parafictional fantasy in the era of “fake news” can provide to the field of architecture—falls flat. It’s not the physical objects that result from Gage’s exploration that are in question, but rather the interpretations that underlie them. For one, it belies a fundamental misreading of the current political-cultural moment to describe the Trumpian notion of “fake news” as a symptom of the so-called “great flattening” of intellectual hierarchies OOO represents. Practically speaking, “fake news” is not so much a product of the erosion of objective truth as much as it is an acknowledgment of multiple, covalent, and oftentimes contradictory perspectives that have always existed. Like it or not, “fake news” represents not merely plurality, but a new era of simultaneity writ large. The president and his lackeys have not so much created a fantasy world for their devotees to occupy as elevated a parallel existence that has always been very real to its adherents. In a lecture supporting the exhibition, Gage cites the Black Lives Matter and #MeToo movements as emblematic of “flattening” as well, a comparison that also doesn’t really apply. If OOO ideology is rooted in the “removal of human as primary subject” from perceived reality, how can two movements entirely rooted in acknowledging and prioritizing the fundamental humanity and agency of two often-maligned social groups serve as a case study? The comparison is flawed and problematic, representing a misunderstanding of not just what drives these movements, but also of what we can learn from them as architects, as well. And lastly, like so many other recent attempts at projecting future scenarios, the project is not really “speculative” in the literal sense and represents merely an intensification of existing modes and technologies, raising the question: If architecture’s power right now lies in its ability to speculate, what does it mean to have so many of its fantasies seem so underwhelmingly conventional? Southern California Institute of Architecture January 26 through March 4
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How should we really rank architecture schools?

What are we to make of a recent survey that claims MIT, the Bartlett, and Delft University of Technology are the best architecture schools in the world?  This ranking, created by British-based Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) also names Stanford, New York University, and University of California, Santa Barbara, as its top schools for architecture and these institutions don’t even have standalone schools of architecture. This assessment has received a great deal of attention on social media, particularly from those associated with the top schools. But what are we to make of a listing that does not even mention SCI-Arc or the Architectural Association in London? It also lists the University of Melbourne and the University of New South Wales ahead of Cornell University, and Kyoto University just ahead of Princeton and the University of Michigan. I have nothing against the schools that came out on top, nor am I trying to be chauvinistic by emphasizing U.S. universities, but one has to wonder about a list that puts King Saud University in Saudi Arabia ahead of Rice University in Houston. But what criteria did the QS use in establishing the ranking? First, this firm, which calls itself a “higher education marketing company” and one of the “three most influential university rankings in the world,” looked only at universities. This means that while QS surveyed “2,122 institutions across the globe, offering courses in architecture or the built environment,” schools like Pratt Institute, Rhode Island School of Design, Cooper Union, or the Royal College of Art in London were not even considered for evaluation. QS asserts that its evaluation is based on four factors: academic reputation, employer reputation, citations per paper, and what it calls “H-Index citations.” An H-Index citation is a metric that attempts to “measure both the productivity and citation impact of the publications of a scientist or scholar.” It’s hard to learn more about the QS architecture ranking, and it seems rather sloppy and unscientific, but the firm also rates universities worldwide, and these rankings seem to line up fairly closely with its architecture list. Its top universities in the world are, in order, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford University, Harvard University, California Institute of Technology, University of Cambridge, University of Oxford, University College London, Imperial College London, University of Chicago, and the ETH Zurich. Interestingly, Yale University came in sixteenth in the QS world ranking of universities, but its architecture school ranked a lowly 100th in the world behind the University of Kebangsaan in Malaysia, Texas A&M University, and Monash University in Australia. This QS ranking seems tone deaf to the real qualities that make a great architecture school, even while admitting the value and importance of PhD-level scholarship and research. Architecture is a craft as much as a liberal art, and therefore requires its teaching institutions to transmit a particular set of real-world skills that have to be mastered by students. For this reason, a great lab with CNC milling and robotic machines is important to contemporary design education. The students’ ability to work with their hands, render a plan, and be able to create a working section is as important as learning the history and theory of the discipline. In addition, the realities of the marketplace mean that students need the mentoring of professional working architects who make up the bulk of most design schools. The students who come out of great design schools need the refined focus of building culture, and this has been true since the École des Beaux-Arts and its workshop intern practice that is unique to the field. Furthermore, today’s architecture graduates don’t always find employment in traditional architecture offices—let alone go on to pursue PhDs as the QS ranking would suggest. In the words of cultural critic Brian Holmes, “designers, architects, and other actors in the creative fields must be multidisciplinary, open to collaboration, and motivated to find and initiate these often-amorphous work arrangements.” You can only get these in a full-blown school of architecture, and this need not be a university. There are many problems with the QS evaluation that undermines its usefulness, but one, in particular, is its disregard for educational differences between undergraduate and graduate programs—not to mention overlooking the educational content in two- and four-year degree and non-degree programs. The DesignIntelligence ranking of schools in the United States may also have shortcomings, but at least it gets the finer points of undergrad and graduate education and considers them. It identifies Cornell as the best undergraduate program in the country and the Harvard Graduate School of Design as the best graduate program, and that assessment seems more in line with real-world architecture in 2018. Finally, it may make sense to consider architecture education in a national context, rather than a worldwide one, since the licensing protocols and building requirements are so different from nation to nation.  Sorry, MIT, but this QS ranking is so myopically concerned with academic citations as to be nearly worthless as a guide for what comprises quality architecture education in all its 21st-century variety and subtlety.
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Architects who democratize technology through speculation

Liam Young calls himself an “architectural storyteller.” He uses fiction and film to explore visions of the future that amplify trends and technologies already present, challenging viewers to confront a not-so-distant reality. Young, who often collaborates with science fiction writers, technologists, and urbanists, casts a wide net: In addition to his London-based think tank Tomorrow’s Thoughts Today (cofounded with urbanist Darryl Chen), he helps run Unknown Fields Division, a roving global research studio that scours little-explored parts of the world for hints of future technologies and alternative narratives, and helms SCI-Arc’s Master of Arts in Fiction and Entertainment program. AN asked Young about his practice, his recent films, and the power of storytelling.

The Architect’s Newspaper: Let’s start by talking about Tomorrow’s Storeys, the film you produced for the Documenta exhibition in Athens this year.

Liam Young: Basically, the setup is that the evolution of Airbnb and other smart city systems has created a condition where ownership as we know it has been totally rewritten and we now just lease a full area or volume. It’s an animated film where you drift through a building, eavesdropping on conversations that were written as part of a public futurist think tank. The Athens apartment blocks [in the film] are based on the dominant building form in Athens, this housing block that’s almost conceived like Corbusier’s Dom-Ino: a concrete frame with flat slabs that are infilled across time. The film imagines a fleet of builder bots that remake, demolish, and build partition spaces and volumes as they are required. So you no longer own a piece of property, you just own volume—but that volume might shift or reform itself at any time as needed. So cities are remade based on networking technology.

And what’s the premise of your film that’s premiering at the Seoul Biennale of Architecture and Urbanism?

It is an abstract, non-narrative sequence of vignettes, fragments, and moments of a future Seoul, a city in which all of the hopes and dreams, fears and wonders of emerging technologies have come true. Scenes of contemporary Seoul are overlaid with seamless visual effects depicting a world where the sky is filled with drones, cars are driverless, the street is draped in augmented reality, and everyone is connected to everything. It is narrated by the disembodied voice of the city’s operating system, who tells us its story and how it produces and manages the environments we will soon all occupy.

Right now, it seems like tech companies are really driving the development of smart cities like the ones you depict. But what role do—or should—architects play?

The issue is that, for the most part, these technologies have supplanted the traditional forces that define and shape cities. The [digital] network is now a more significant infrastructure for affecting change within a city than physical public space or traditional infrastructures like road networks and water grids. So the role of architects and urbanists is rapidly diminishing. We’re interested in exploring where new forms of agency for the architect might exist when so much of what defines cities is being outsourced to large-scale tech companies.

The role of the storyteller is certainly one that I’ve kind of fashioned myself around. However, I think it goes deeper. I’m looking at [technologies that] have evolved faster than our cultural capacity to understand what they mean or what they might do. In that sense, it’s really important to imagine the implications of these technologies before they’re actually implemented. We try to explore the role of the architect as a speculator, as someone who can prototype those implications in visual and spatial mediums.

Take something like driverless car technology. A number of architecture studios are asking, “What happens to a city when the driverless car comes into being?” The problem is that car companies have already spent billions and billions of dollars developing this technology. They’ve invested so much in it that this future is going to happen whether we want it or not. [Architects] should have been running these design studios, we should have been involved in the planning meetings of Ford and General Motors ten years ago, but we weren’t. For the most part we sat by idly waiting for it to happen. If we were in those rooms $15 billion ago, we actually might have been able to make a difference in the way that these car companies are thinking.

I think that’s one of the urgent projects of our current generation of designers: To tackle imminent tech, play it out in multiple scenarios that explore desired consequences as well as unintended consequences, then feed those stories back to a general public and to the tech companies that are developing them so that we can make more informed choices about the future we want to have.

What about the traditional role of architects, even in just advocating for housing or basic infrastructure?

I don’t think the necessity for architects, as we traditionally define ourselves, is going to cease to exist. There are still going to be architects designing houses and talking about space as service infrastructure, but the role of those architects is going to fundamentally change or it’s going to rapidly diminish. I’m not advocating for the total dissolution of traditional architecture; I can’t claim that every architect should be a storyteller, but some of us need to do that in more systematic ways than we currently do.

Your film Where the City Can’t See presented a way for people to use technology to fight back—become hackers. Smart city technology is usually very top-down: even when tech companies are supposedly giving you choices, those choices inevitably benefit their business model.

That’s essentially what we are focusing on at the moment: the way that technology generates new forms of subculture. These technologies become the most interesting when they’re no longer in the hands of the companies that developed them, but when they get democratized and people start inventing their own uses for things, and we start seeing the unintended consequences of these technologies. That’s when they become really exciting.

[Another] big part of our practice is talking about the consequences of smart technologies. In order for everyone in a first-world city like New York to be running around on the latest smartphone, a whole lot of kids in Africa are going down the bottom of a mine with a gun to their head to dig out rare-earth minerals needed to make that smartphone. It’s no longer sufficient to describe those contexts as being pre-technology or pre-urban, because they’re part of an urban system, they’re part of the supply chain that produces the smart city.

So the people on the other end of the fiber-optic cable, they don’t have the latest smartphone, they’re not hooked into Nest adjusting the thermostat in their homes or uploading their data to the cloud, but they’re a consequence of the system that generates all those things for us in New York. We’re trying to tell these different kinds of stories, which all are part of the smart city—just not the smart city where we choose to point the marketing lens.

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Frank Gehry to teach “The Future of Prison” course at SCI-Arc

This post is part of our years-long running Eavesdrop series (think page 6 for the architectural field). It’s your best source for gossip, insider stories, and more. Have an eavesdrop of your own? Send it to: eavesdrop[at]archpaper.com.

The Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc) announced last winter that architect Frank Gehry would be teaching one of the school’s elective vertical studios for the spring 2017 semester. According to an image promoting the studio on the university’s Instagram, the studio is titled “The Future of Prison” and “calls on emerging architects to break free of current conventions and re-imagine what we now refer to as ‘prison’ for a new era.”

Could Gehry and his students re-imagine the carceral system the way his firm did with tourist-driven arts destinations? Perhaps the class could propose new designs for the Metropolitan Detention Center in Downtown Los Angeles, the 757-bed jail located just one mile from the SCI-Arc campus. The jail is due to be replaced sometime between 2027 and 2030 under the auspices of the city’s new Civic Center Master Plan. If rebuilt elsewhere, planners would be wise to look to Gehry’s SCI-Arc studio for ideas and inspiration.

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Watch Slavoj Žižek and Graham Harman argue at SCI-Arc

Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc) hosted controversial philosopher Slavoj Žižek last week during the most recent installment of the university’s Duel + Duets speakers’ series. The event—moderated by Anna Neimark, SCI-Arc faculty and principal at architecture firm First Office —took the form of an extended debate between Žižek and Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at SCI-Arc, Graham Harman. In opening the debate, SCI-Arc director Hernan Diaz-Alonso lauded the speakers as necessary poles in philosophical discourse, saying, “these are two thinkers that are fearless: They don’t operate in gray zones. They have clear, strong opinions and they define different views. That’s something that we treasure (at SCI-Arc).” Debate strayed across the philosophical spectrum and included a full-throated explanation by Harman of the Object-Oriented Ontology (OOO) theory. Of course, Žižek issued an extended, hilarious rebuttal. Žižek, who controversially supported Donald Trump during the 2016 election, commented on the current political situation in the United States, calling Trump an “assemblage” of cultural and political currents. Despite the setting, the conversation stayed largely away from architectural matters except in the most abstract terms, including a reference to the architectural symbolism of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. Harman argued that at this unstable political moment, architects should make a turn toward formalism. Ultimately, the trio duked it out for nearly two hours, including an extended back-and-forth with the audience. SCI-Arc has posted a recording of the entire talk to its Facebook page.
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SCI-Arc and Woodbury University both launch new architectural scholarships

The Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc) and the Woodbury University School of Architecture in Los Angeles separately announced new scholarship opportunities for students this week. SCI-Arc’s latest new scholarship program—the third such new initiative launched in the last year by the university—is part of a new partnership with the country of Colombia aimed at benefitting students attending the university's new SCI-Arc Bogota program. SCI-Arc Bogota was launched last year in order to create a pipeline for Colombian and South American students seeking access to SCI-Arc’s undergraduate and graduate architectural programs. In a press release announcing the new scholarship, SCI-Arc Director Hernan Diaz Alonso said, “We are happy to continue expanding SCI-Arc’s relationship with diverse parts of the world,” making reference to the Bogota location as well as the recently-opened SCI-Arc Mexico outpost in Mexico City the school also debuted last year. The new initiative will be helmed by Juan Ricardo Rincon Gaviria, principal at Taller Paralelo Arquitectos in Bogota, a noted international firm. SCI-Arc Bogota’s educational program also includes a double-degree accreditation with the University of the Andes’ masters program and a full annual scholarship grant for Colombian students with the Foundation for the Future of Colombia (COLFUTURO).  COLFUTURO was founded in 1991 by public and private sector leaders in the country to “promote, guide, and finance graduate studies for Colombian professionals” attending international universities. The foundation benefits a selected student who is awarded up to $50,000 over two years in financing. SCI-Arc’s new scholarship aims to match this amount for the selected student. Applications for the foundation’s Loan-Scholarship program are due February 28; the winner of the scholarship will be announced in May 2017. Woodbury University also announced this week that initial contributions to the Norman R. Millar Scholarship Endowment fund had surpassed $30,000. The fund, which will benefit the school’s overall architectural scholarship programs, was started by the university after Millar’s death early last year. Starting in 1999 Millar served as dean of the university’s architecture school and is credited with helping increase its enrollment threefold over the course of his tenure. Millar also focused strongly on increasing diversity at the school and was instrumental in developing the Integrated Path to Architectural Licensure (IPAL) initiative through the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB). IPAL facilitates students’ ability to complete the requirements necessary for architectural licensure concurrently along with their degrees. In a press release announcing the scholarship fund’s endowment, Ingalill Wahlroos-Ritter, interim dean, Woodbury School of Architecture, lauded Millar’s contributions to the university, saying “Norman’s talent and experience as a practitioner and vision as an educator helped thousands of young people achieve success in the field of architecture. Hardly a day goes by that we don’t hear from a former student, colleague or fellow architect whose career was inspired by Norman’s leadership, and who wishes to honor his legacy by making a contribution to the scholarship endowment established in his memory.” Donations can be made to the Norman R. Millar Scholarship Endowment here.
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Slajov Žižek and others to speak at SCI-Arc during Spring semester

The Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc) has released a list of its featured public programs for the Spring 2017 semester that includes, among its events, a debate between controversial Slovenian philosopher Slajov Žižek and SCI-Arc Distinguished Professor of Philosophy Graham Harman. SCI-Arc’s lecture series will be complemented by two exhibitions that will occur throughout the semester. The Duck and the Document, curated by Sylvia Lavin, will showcase a collection of architectural ephemera that includes handrails and facade panels salvaged from canonical buildings from the 20th century. Drawing Conclusions, curated by Jeffrey Kipnis and designed by Andrew Zago, will explore the year of 1990 as a potential “apex” for hand drawing as a representational, technical, and conceptual tool for architects. The university's public program for the semester will include the following events: Didier Fiuza Faustino Lecture, 01/25/2017 Mat Olson Lecture, 02/01/2017 José Oubrerie: Chapel of the Mosquitos Library Gallery Exhibition Opening, 02/03/2017 José Oubrerie + Todd Gannon Duel + Duet, 02/06/2017   Graham Harman + Slajov Žižek Duel + Duet, 03/01/2017 Peter Cook Lecture, 03/08/2017 Neil M. Denari Lecture, 03/15/2017 Jeffrey Schnapp Lecture, 03/20/2017 Drawing Conclusions Symposium + Exhibition Closing Reception, 03/24/2017 Sylvia Lavin Lecture, 03/29/2017 Jake Matatyaou + Amalia Ulman Lecture, 04/03/2017 Giancarlo Mazzanti Lecture, 04/05/2017 The Duck and the Document SCI-Arc Gallery Exhibition Opening Reception, 04/14/2017 Spring Show Exhibition Opening Reception, 04/29/2017 Maxi Spina: Thick SCI-Arc Gallery Exhibition Opening Reception, 06/16/2017 For more information on SCI-Arc’s events, see the SCI-Arc website.
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SCI-Arc announces scholarship benefitting Los Angeles public schools students

The Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc) has announced a new, full-tuition scholarship for incoming undergraduate first-year students hailing from the Los Angeles Unified School District. The merit-based scholarship will be available starting with the class of 2017-2018 and can be extended to cover all five years of tuition at SCI-Arc so long as the student is able to remain within the top 10-percent of their class. In a press release publicizing the new award, SCI-Arc Director Hernan Diaz Alonso affirmed the institution’s relationship to Los Angeles, stating, “SCI-Arc is embedded in the fabric of Los Angeles. With this scholarship we are reaffirming our relationship to the city’s public education system.” Alonso added, "We are proud of our well-rounded and rigorous Undergraduate program. A Bachelor of Architecture from SCI-Arc provides a creative way to see the world not only in architectural terms, but in sociological, political, and economic terms as well.” The award represents the second new full-tuition scholarship offered by SCI-Arc in the last few weeks. The institution announced a new set of scholarships for its technology- and urbanism- focused SCI-Arc EDGE programs earlier this month. Those awards were announced in order to, as Chair of Postgraduate Programs at SCI-Arc David Ruy explained in a statement for that scholarship, showcase SCI-Arc’s “commitment to forward-thinking scholarship and research during what has now become clear as an uncertain moment in history.” The awards also come as institutions and local governments, responding to the uncertainty generated by Donald J. Trump’s unexpected election win, move to fortify and expand existing programs meant to help disadvantaged and minority students. Applications for the 2017-2018 school year are due by January 15, 2017. For more information, please visit SCI-Arc’s official website.
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SCI-Arc announces new series of full-ride scholarships

The recently-announced scholarships would cover the full cost of tuition at the Los Angeles—based university and will be awarded to applicants in each of the three-semester postgraduate degree programs encompassing SCI-Arc EDGE (see list below). The degrees will be available to domestic and international applications and be given based on merit. Announcing the new funding in a press release, Chair of Postgraduate Programs at SCI-Arc, David Ruy made the following statement, saying, “I’m extremely proud to announce these new scholarships. It represents SCI-Arc EDGE’s complete commitment to forward-thinking scholarship and research during what has now become clear as an uncertain moment in history.”    The SCI-Arc EDGE program is encompassed by four separate degree tracks that include:
  • SCI-Arc EDGE, Architectural Technologies (Master of Science in Architectural Technologies), a program that aims to establish a new technological discourse for architecture, an open-ended platform for practical training and theoretical research, and SCI-Arc’s international reputation for technological innovation in architectural design.
  • SCI-Arc EDGE, Fiction and Entertainment (Master of Arts in Fiction and Entertainment), a program that aims to pioneer new forms of fiction and entertainment creation by using Los Angeles as a critical laboratory.
  • SCI-Arc EDGE, Design of Cities (Master of Science in the Design of Cities), a program that seeks to apply architectural thinking to the design and production of cities and urban environments for the future.
  • SCI-Arc EDGE, Design Theory and Pedagogy, (Master of Science in Design Theory and Pedagogy), a program that requires a applicants to have attained a terminal degree in architecture for admission (B Arch, M Arch, or equivalent) prior to attending, and that aims to “development an intellectual framework that can sustain a life-long theoretical project in architecture.”
The deadline for SCI-Arc EDGE’s postgraduate degree programs is January 15, 2017. For more information, please visit SCI-Arc’s official website.
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Of prophets and professionals: a response to Peter Zellner

Though I share some of his concerns about the state of contemporary architectural education, I was taken aback by comments from my friend and colleague Peter Zellner in a recent editorial in this paper. In “Architectural Education Is Broken—Here’s How to Fix It,” Peter offers a five-point critique of contemporary education and a matching five-point prescription for a “post-studio and post-digital architectural education.” The criticism, gleaned from twenty-five-year-old comments by John Baldessari about the artist’s development of a “post-studio” course at CalArts nearly 50 years ago, takes aim at hierarchical master-disciple relationships between teachers and students, at the proliferation of academic styles that often result from them, and at the suppression of dissenting opinions such situations often entail. His prescription for change unfolds along a familiar, if vague, trajectory that valorizes shared knowledge, free experimentation, and egalitarian exchange among students and teachers. Some of Peter’s criticisms are justified, if a bit overblown. “Various forms of academic cult worship” indeed exist in architecture schools today, and this “pied-piperism,” to borrow a term from Eric Moss, has led many a promising student into unproductive territory. In my experience, though, most of those lost sheep eventually find their way home, and more often than not they return primed to parlay experience gained in foreign fields into significant contributions within the disciplinary fold. Peter’s complaints about the nefarious forces of digital technology, on the other hand, lack both specificity and substance. He merely states, rather than argues, his contention that digital tools foreclose creativity, and dismisses without comment not only the obvious achievements of several decades of innovative work at schools around the globe but also of his own students. Worse, the statement is not his own, but rather a quote from Peter Eisenman, which adds to an air of older generations kvetching about newfangled habits and, like his invocation of Baldessari, undermines his admonition against undue authority invested in the pronouncements of elder statesmen. However problematic, Peter’s criticisms are for the most part innocuous. I have more serious concerns about his proposals for change. His recipe for post-studio education rests on a specious, if common, elision of art and architecture and a ludicrous, if equally common, contention that architecture “can’t be taught.” Such arguments brush aside significant differences between art and architecture and perpetuate damaging mystifications about the nature of architectural practice and education. I agree with Peter’s assertion that architecture is an art form. But unlike painting, literature, music, and other modes of artistic production, it is also a profession with significant ethical and legal responsibilities, and a discipline with cultural ambitions to advance the public imagination. The latter aspect distinguishes the practice of architecture from the craft of building. The former distinguishes it from the production of fine art. Peter and I share a deep commitment to architecture understood as a cultural practice with professional responsibilities, as opposed to a design profession with cultural ambitions. Nonetheless, I take issue with his proposals, which, in spite of his criticism of a supposedly style-obsessed status quo, continue to portray architecture almost exclusively in aesthetic terms, pay only passing lip service to “technical knowledge,” overemphasize issues of style and individual expression, and disregard questions of professional competence. Any serious proposal about architectural education must take the full gamut of architecture’s professional and disciplinary responsibilities into account. More damaging is Peter’s proposition, also borrowed from Baldessari, that architecture cannot be taught. Apparently, the best we can do is to “set up a situation where [architecture] might happen.” This is a bizarre idea to be put forward by such an intelligent and effective teacher as Peter Zellner. Peter proposes that we can’t teach architecture because he conceives of architecture, as Baldassari apparently conceives of art, as a mystical quality, a transubstantiation of physical matter into some higher form of existence. This is the sort of stuff that routinely pours from the mouths of those academic shamans Peter rails against in his essay. It can be seductive, to be sure, but it is nonsense. Architecture doesn’t just happen. Architecture is made. Architecture can be made, and its methods taught, because “architecture” refers not to a specific object but rather to evidence that an object—usually but not always a building—has been produced in terms of a specific way of working. Just as literature cannot be reduced to books, architecture cannot be reduced to buildings. Neither can it be reduced to drawings, models, or digital animations. Architecture is method all the way down. The Oxford English Dictionary defines architecture not as a kind of building but rather as “the art or science of building.” Another Peter, the historian better known as Reyner Banham, put it better: “What distinguishes architecture is not what is done… but how it is done.” Understanding architecture as having to do with how  rather than what  makes it easier to see that architecture is, like all academic disciplines, a cultural construct. Its techniques and methods, its history and theory, the habits and conventions of those who practice it, can and routinely are taught and learned, as evidenced by the surfeit of students who quickly master the tactics of their teachers that Peter laments in his essay. Of course, those techniques, histories, habits, and conventions also can be developed, transformed, thrown out, and replaced as needed. Such activities rank among the most important work that takes place in architecture schools. Understanding architecture this way also makes it easier to see that the field’s value system, its internal methods for identifying what constitutes good and bad work, is always a work in progress. Architectural quality, like architecture itself, is determined not by the presence or absence of some quasi-spiritual attribute in an object but rather by consensus. Constituencies in support of any architectural work must be constructed long before the project can be built, and even if constructed buildings are not one’s aim, it is an ability to assemble such constituencies, and little else, that transforms individual interests into relevant contributions and, in some cases, canonical achievements. In other words, architecture’s aesthetic ambitions are deeply political. And the disciplinary politics of architectural education, as Peter intimates in his essay, can make for some pretty ugly situations. Luckily, contemporary architecture can and does support a wide range of coexisting genres and associated value systems. In the best schools, a handful of them vie for dominance, motivating proponents of each to hone their political as well as their aesthetic and technical chops as they make their respective cases and build their respective constituencies. In the worst ones, well-meaning but misguided faculty utter empty pronouncements like “you can’t teach architecture.” There are plenty of issues with contemporary architectural education today, and I commend Peter for having put some of them on the table. But at the top of any list of things to fix in architecture schools must surely be the abdication of so many faculty of their responsibility to teach it. Todd Gannon is the Cultural Studies Coordinator at SCI-Arc.
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Eleventh edition of SCI-Arc’s academic journal Offramp hits the internet

The Southern California Institute for Architecture (SCI-Arc) released the eleventh edition of its yearly academic journal Offramp this week. This time, the journal pursues the theme of “Ground” and lists SCI-Arc director and CEO Hernan Diaz Alonso as Editor-In-Chief. In a brief for the issue, Alonso puts forth the following provocation: “Issue #11 of Offramp aims to momentarily divert our critical gaze away from the architectural object in order to reflect upon its other: the ground. In a world increasingly resistant to dichotomies between human activity and the natural environment, how should architects conceive of sites, territories, topographies and other manifestations of ground?” The online-only, submissions-based hodgepodge of neo-postmodern eye candy is made up of ten articles supported by heady text and flashy imagery. The issue features an interview with Tom Wiscombe by Zachary Tate Porter, 2015-2016 Design Theory Fellow at SCI-Arc and founder of Office of Contingent Affairs, a thought-experiment of extruded sandwich-inspired buildings by Jennifer Bonner of MALL, a review of Jorge Otero-Pailos’s “Ethics of Dust” by Carolyn Strauss of Slow Research Lab, and a musing on color and background by Erin Besler and Ian Besler of Besler and Sons. The eleventh issue also hosts essays by Nora Wendl, Florencita Pita, Neyran Turan, Alexander Robinson, Stephen Nova, and Benjamin Flowers. Current and past issues of Offramp can be accessed here.