Southern California Institute of Architecture

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Established 1972
Type Private
Director Hernan Diaz Alonso
John Enright
Elena Manferdini
Tom Wiscombe
Students 500
Location Los Angeles, CA, USA
34°02′46″N 118°14′00″W / 34.045984°N 118.233431°W / 34.045984; -118.233431Coordinates: 34°02′46″N 118°14′00″W / 34.045984°N 118.233431°W / 34.045984; -118.233431
Campus Urban
SCI-Arc new logo

SCI-Arc in Los Angeles, California, is an independent, non-profit 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.[1] 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 (0.40 km) 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's 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.


Students of the new school (1972)

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.[2] 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.[3]

Kappe was succeeded as director by Michael Rotondi, one of SCI-Arc's founding students. Neil Denari became director in 1997; Eric Owen Moss served as director from 2002–2015;[4] Hernan Diaz Alonso was appointed Director and Chief Executive Officer effective Sept 1, 2015.[5] Diaz Alonso has been a faculty member at SCI-Arc since 2001. He is known for championing the school's push toward a digital future and, prior to his appointment as Director, has served as the school's Graduate Programs Chair since 2010.[5] 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.[2] "The main thing is to figure out a way for SCI-Arc to keep growing without losing its character and pedigree," Diaz Alonso said in an interview following his appointment as Director.[5]

Downtown Los Angeles campus[edit]

North End of SCI-Arc from Santa Fe Ave

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 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.[6] Across the street, "One Santa Fe," a 438-unit apartment complex designed by Michael Maltzan Architecture (MMA) opened in 2014.[7]

School culture[edit]

Normal scene during SCI-Arc's finals weeks

SCI-Arc attracts students from nearby and throughout the world in pursuit of the educational programs that 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.[8]

Academic programs[edit]

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 Peter Cook, Greg Lynn, and Pritzker Prize recipient Thom Mayne.[9] "SCI-Arc has long been one of this country’s best experimental labs in which designers speculate about the future of the human-made environment, and its thesis projects are its calling cards."[10]

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.[11]

Making + Meaning[edit]

Student working on his M+M project (summer 2009)

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 processes.

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 portfolio of work crystallizing their explorations in the program.

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.

Public programs[edit]

SCI-Arc's public lectures are free and open to the public

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.

Lecture series[edit]

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 for live viewing on the internet.

SCI-Arc Robot House[edit]

SCI-Arc's 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.[12]

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 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 support feedback and exchanges between matter, data and form.

Projects 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.


  1. ^ "Justin McGuirk, "The New LA School", October 2007". IconMagazine. [dead link]
  2. ^ a b Vincent, Roger (April 22, 2011). "L.A. architecture school SCI-Arc buys its unorthodox home". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved April 23, 2011. 
  3. ^ Volume5. 25 Years of SCI-Arc 1990–1997 19 Sep 2007.
  4. ^ Barrie-Anthony, Steven. Landscape of constant change. Los Angeles Times. July 7, 2005. Retrieved 15 January 2007.
  5. ^ a b c Gelt, Jessica (November 19, 2014). "SCI-Arc's newly announced director sees growth and a global presence". Los Angeles Times. ISSN 0458-3035. Retrieved 2015-09-28. 
  6. ^ Nielson, Christopher. "ArtPlace Announces 47 New Grants". Retrieved 14 June 2012. 
  7. ^ Hawthorne, Christopher (October 10, 2014). "Maltzan's One Santa Fe apartment complex plays with notion of density". Los Angeles Times. 
  8. ^ "Learn About SCI-Arc and What It Takes to Get In". Retrieved 2015-09-28. 
  9. ^ Nielson, Christopher. "2011 Thesis & Graduation Weekend". Retrieved 14 June 2012. 
  10. ^ "SCI-Arc Keeps Us Wondering". Retrieved 2015-09-28. 
  11. ^ Cramer, James P. "America's Top Architecture Schools 2013". Retrieved 13 November 2012. 
  12. ^ "SCI-Arc students take 3D printing to the robots". Retrieved 2015-09-28. 

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