Architecture, Higher Education, Interview, Q/A, Leadership, Los Angeles, California
Finding the right college for any high school student, let alone a program to pursue, is not an easy task. While students may be enthusiastic about specific professions, different institutions approach these professions with radically distinct teaching methods and emphases.
Among the accredited programs in the Western USA, SCI-Arc stands out for the quality of student work and the cutting-edge skills its graduates bring to the workplace. I wanted to investigate what makes this "school for architectural thinking" different. What would a student applying to SCI-Arc leave with? With such an active student body and faculty, what else does the school offer that we don't already know about? Archinect wanted to learn more about what makes this school's undergraduate program so successful and hopefully shed light and add some clarity to what makes this highly sought after.
I connected with Undergraduate Program Chair Tom Wiscombe and History/Theory Coordinator Marrikka Trotter to gain more insight. During the conversation, they both discussed SCI-Arc's approach to preparing undergraduates to enter the industry. They broke down what an undergraduate education needs and how it should change and spoke about dissecting the "hardened castles protecting deep systemic problems" of architectural pedagogy.
Besides its hyper-visual projects, a penchant for the digital realm, and polished student work, how does SCI-Arc currently approach architectural pedagogy? What do they hope for the future? Below they break down the program's goals and their own experiences in academia as former students, current instructors, and practitioners.
Marrikka Trotter: Too often, B.Arch programs produce graduates with an inflexible skill-set, inadvertently setting them up for a treadmill career that requires them to spend enormous effort and resources to continuously update or adapt their technical knowledge and abilities. If your skills are your primary value in the marketplace, you must do this to remain valuable and relevant. It can be exhausting and demoralizing; like Alice in Wonderland, you find yourself running fast just to stay in the same place. How does SCI-Arc seek to educate differently, with an eye toward longer-term career sustainability, growth, and even happiness?
Tom Wiscombe: Yes, architectural undergraduate education needs to be torn down and rethought. You are right; there is still the sense that we need to produce â€śpractice-readyâ€ť students and that we exist to somehow feed the market and keep those Revit seats occupied. Itâ€™s time to think about what the role is today for architectsâ€”we are not engineers, we are not decorators, and we are not just service providers. We are civic leaders. Architects today need to be able to address and convince huge groups of stakeholders, engineers, builders, users, and our peers that what we do matters and how the vision we are proposing creates a new reality larger than the project. They need to be able to present and defend their ideas in constantly changing forms of representation and rhetoric. Maybe, they need to fill the void in leadership we see so often in the urban realm and fight its creeping banality.
SCI-Arcâ€™s undergraduate program is really the opposite of a trade school- it is a civic space, and its students are citizens. We completely rebuilt our curriculum 5 years ago to re-focus it toward the humanities and away from applied learning, which is to say that we are preparing our students for the long game rather than short-term skill-building, which is always a millimeter away from obsolescence. I like that you connect this approach with happinessâ€¦ happiness is directly tied to having an overview, valuing ethics and ideas over whatâ€™s right there in front of us, and committing to a life of curiosity and intellectual engagement.
MT: I agree that the highest and best goal for an architectural education is a combination of creative wonder -- being open to and interested in the world and what it could be -- and hardcore commitment to a set of values and an area of expertise. Expertise is different from skills in the sense that itâ€™s a deep reservoir of knowledge that can be applied in any number of ways and with any number of different skills. Itâ€™s interesting that a humanities-based education, with its emphasis on critical thinking and imagination, is often seen as only appropriate for or