Wednesday, September 12, 2012

SCIARC Thesis 2012

Every year after visiting the sci-arc thesis presentations there are inevitably discussions that follow.  Was it good? Was it bad? What direction is the school heading in? This year was no exception, however the questions were not as easy to answer.

In my opinion, the past couple of years at sci-arc were fairly predictable as far as what kind of work one should expect to see (at least with regard to the grad program).  The camps of each professor were clearly defined, and the formal techniques had become so perfected that they had slipped into the realm of caricatures of the projects that had preceded them.  But there was a force that was creeping slowly into the scene.  A force that now seems to have begun to push the school in a new direction. That force was the undergrads.

Led by a group of professors that had not yet developed a defined cult following, the undergraduates of the late 00's were able to explore outside of the constraints of what had begun to limit the progress of  those in the graduate program. This was a breath of fresh air, because for the first time in a while, the work coming out of the school was starting to seem different again.

I am happy to say that in 2012 many of the graduate students at sci-arc seem to have taken a cue from the happenings within undergraduate program.  It actually appears that there are new explorations taking place outside of the realm of software formal gymnastics.  I have a suspicion that the addition of the Robot Lab has a lot to do with the shift that we are seeing at the school. One of the most interesting projects this year (a re-interpretation of Eisenman's Diagram Diaries) took full advantage of this new resource by using the robots to slice and dice with a hotwire an insane amount of foam, as well as produce an overabundance of incredibly beautiful drawings.

Here is my interpretation of this year's thesis. Are they weird? Yes.  Is it architecture? MMMMaybe.  I will not say if it is good or bad, for that is a subjective point. In any case, it was incredibly clear that this year's thesis students actually performed an honest investigation into things strange and unknown. Where that is going for now is not completely clear, but there finally appears to be an unpredictable movement taking place which is fantastic to see.  However, as the school begins to change, and students begin to break free of the cyclical trends that have been dominating the sci-arc grad program for some time, there is a very important question that needs to be asked of both the students and the school as a whole.  Is sci-arc graduating students that are ready for the architecture profession?

Being a graduate of sci-arc myself, I know the pros and cons of what a sci-arc education means when it come to finding a job in architecture.  On one level, sci-arc students are at a great advantage to all other recent graduates. They are fresh out of an environment that pushes design to places that most schools don't tread on, and it is done more often than not through design execution of the highest standards of aesthetic excellence.  But does that make sci-arc students ready for  a job in architecture?  In many cases, recent sci-arc grads fall short when it comes to spatially rationalizing a building, beyond the external form and effect of a design proposal.

So where does this leave the sci-arc graduate? Are they architects?  Industrial designers?  Visual effects artists?  The answer is often unclear, and I think that is a bit of problem.  As is the case with many students upon graduating (and I will lump myself into this pool) there are often desires to step away from the profession of architecture and explore options in an alternative profession such as film, industrial design, photography, fine art, automobiles, etc.  The issue with this is quite simple.  Sci-arc is not a school specific to any of these professions.  It just kind of pretends to be one.  Would it be too crazy to propose that rather than fight to keep the moniker of "Architecture School", sci-arc just accept the fact that many of their students have ambitions outside of architecture, and adapt the school to foster these alternate trajectories.   Art Center does this quite well, and I think it is a model that sci-arc could take some cues from in the years to come.

In any case, the work from this year's thesis students hold a large amount of promise. Hopefully in the next few years (given a continuance in what just took place) students will be able to crystallize this new direction for the school and build upon the tradition of sci-arc being one of most captivating, on the fringe architecture/design schools around.

1 comment:

  1. Great post Edward.

    What I found great about a SCIARC education is that there were so many different and conflicting polemics.

    As a student there, it helped me understand that behind every polemic was a strong and unique personality. It showed me design as a very personal issue that is independent of other agendas such as sustainability, etc.

    One challenge I've found after graduating from a SCIARC environment is finding a direct and continued relevance for what was investigated in school, especially in an office environment. This is not a bad thing.

    In terms of preparation for a working environment, there are different hurdles for a sciarc grad. But many of these obstacles - like learning to use autocad =P - are quickly picked up, I feel.

    How has your experience been?