Drowning In Culture on SCI-Arc

posted by on 2009.09.16, under architecture

There is a great critique of the recent work of local Los Angeles architectural institution SCI-Arc (the Southern California Institute of Architecture, my alma mater) over at Drowning in Culture. Its a critique I didn’t bother to write, though I had considered it Sunday night, as I felt that my heaping more negativity on the place wasn’t going to do anyone any good. Luckily, over at DIC they are a bit more thoughtful and well-spoken than I and make some excellent points about the direction of work at SCI-Arc as well as contextualizing the situation they have gotten into a bit. They also don’t really pull any punches or shy away from placing blame either.

Over the past few years the work has been exceptionally questionable in both its mission and educational scope, leaving behind any kind of critical discourse in favor of the droll world of affect and computational representation…

When architecture reaches this level of mindless digital twiddling it is no longer playing any productive role in the development of modern society and is leaving itself to be exploited purely as a slave to capital…

There isn’t much hope for the school so as long as it’s director, Eric Owen Moss is still at the helm. Moss has made a mockery of the long-touted revolutionary philosophy once present at the school by first alienating it’s more competent instructors to the point where all but the most dedicated faculty left for other institutions, and then by appointing a succession of supplicants who appear unwilling to make provocative decisions with regard to its curriculum.

While I was again disappointed by the Graduate level thesis presentations, I also attended the undergrad level thesis earlier this year, and at the time was actually impressed with the fact that those students were proposing viable buildings and delivering plans, sections, and models actually descriptive of the architectural features of the project at hand. The work was well crafted to boot. The trend toward digital/computational form and embellishment was still there, but it was starting to be applied towards the creation of spaces that had a semblance of use, structure, and service reminiscent of the requirements of building. I am not sure what is generating this schism between the two programs (where their end products used to be indistinguishable from each other) but perhaps those mentoring the graduates should take note of their peers ability to develop more holistic proposals, moving beyond the merely digital and bringing it back towards the physical realities of building.


Some years ago, a group of SCI-Arc students asked me to give an unauthorized class on how to design a house. Friends of theirs in the real world had recently discovered they could not design a functional floor plan, lay out the appliances in a kitchen, know how to relate a house to the ground – or a dozen other things their clients expected of them.

They had also discovered that photos of waves of cardboard and portfolios composed of computer gymnastics did not easily translate into getting hired to design a house – or much of anything. else. So after I had helped one recent graduate work with one of my clients, he had recommended they ask me to deliver my how to design a house 101 to them. And I did off and on for a couple years until I left that part of my life behind.

Brady Westwater ( September 17, 2009 at 11:34 pm )