In November, SCI-Arc Director Hernan Diaz Alonso announced the launch of SCI-Arc EDGE, Center for Advanced Studies in Architecture. Beginning in fall 2016, the new center is intended to serve as a platform for multiple postgraduate programs. Diaz Alonso sat down to talk about SCI-Arc EDGE, the philosophy behind it, and the fields of study it will offer.
What is SCI-Arc Edge, Center for Advanced Studies in Architecture?
SCI-Arc EDGE is a platform for architectural speculation. It’s where new kinds of architectural knowledge will be developed and where new kinds of architectural careers will be launched. We want SCI-Arc EDGE to set in motion the next round of architectural innovation.
What are the programs of study in SCI-Arc Edge?
SCI-Arc EDGE is launching with four programs of study. The first is a Master of Science in Architectural Technologies, which will be led by Marcelo Spina. It’s going to be driven by a consideration of technology’s relationship to architecture. It’s going to be both conceptual and technical. It will involve hands on experience with cutting edge technologies, but also cutting edge speculation about the meaning and aesthetics of technology in contemporary architectural production. There’s going to be a commitment to new applications, but it’s not about accepting technologies as given, but to speculate about the ways in which even known technologies can be used to produce new architectural effects.
The second program is a Master of Arts in Fiction and Entertainment and will be led by Liam Young. As we all know, the world has become a very strange place, and I think much of this strangeness comes from the absolutely explosive growth of media in the past twenty years. Today, there is an endless multiplication of fictions and entertainments constituting cultural production. This program is going to expand the horizon of what the architect’s job might be in the coming years and study in great detail exactly how culture is being manufactured today. Why shouldn’t an architect design the next Hollywood blockbuster or must-own video game? Or design the next social media campaign? Or the next Presidential debate? Without a doubt, this program is going to interface with LA’s long-standing media industries, so this program is a natural fit for SCI-Arc and Los Angeles in general.
The third program is a Master of Science in the Design of Cities and will be led by Peter Trummer. As we know, the majority of the world’s population now lives in cities. This trend is only going to accelerate. How are we to understand the design of cities when urbanization is now a planetary phenomenon? I think the problem with most urban design programs today is that they get lost in the complexities of market forces, governmental policies, and ecological anxieties and never actually get around to designing anything. I think what is completely underestimated is the power of the architectural imagination and how it might influence all of these complex forces of urbanization. I think this will be a very important new kind of urban design program that is going to allow architects to reengage the ambition to design cities.
The fourth program is a Master of Science in Design Theory and Pedagogy and will be led by David Ruy. I think in architecture schools today, there is a missing program. You can find professional degree programs that train practitioners, and then there are more advanced PhD programs that train scholars. What’s missing is a program where the next generation of studio instructors will be trained. Something that has been evolving throughout the second half of the twentieth century is a new kind of architect-theorist-educator hybrid and the design studio is where you generally find them. There is no program out there that specifically addresses this new kind of architectural career. I think this program is quite innovative in this respect and offers something that you won’t find anywhere else.
How will the graduates of SCI-ARC Edge be more competitive in the design field?
Most schools are curated and the experience of the student can be overly scripted and predetermined—like a garden. Gardens can be nice and pleasant to be in but the experience is predictable. In contrast, I would like to see SCI-Arc EDGE become more like a jungle. You may define a set of conditions or interests, but then you should be willing to accept that there’s a certain level of unpredictability in moving forward. For SCI-Arc EDGE, the principle of a jungle seems necessary because the goal is radical innovation. Coming through a platform like this can do two things. First, it will provide you with an ethic of being radically engaged in the ever-changing conditions of the now and give you the tools to shape it. Second, it will provide you with a conceptual apparatus for making course corrections as situations change in the future. SCI-Arc EDGE is itself being designed according to these principles. The platform is being set up in such a way where the programs will be able to adapt and evolve with the times, and thereby constantly remain relevant and keep the pulse of our contemporary forms of production. I’d like to see it become a rapid response laboratory for architecture that is permanently under construction. Big universities tend to get horribly bogged down with bureaucracies and unnecessary battles between various departments. SCI-Arc is not like this. SCI-Arc is an independent institution and is incredibly well equipped to be agile and innovative. When we see where we need to go, we go there quickly.
In addition to obtaining jobs at the cutting edge, I think SCI-Arc EDGE will also have a role to play in generating jobs that don’t even exist yet. Hopefully we create graduates that are better prepared for the workforce, and who can also work in territories where historically graduates from a school of architecture would not go. There is a pragmatism here that I want to emphasize. The idea is to really expand the possibilities of job offers for an architect, and we are going to be active in helping the graduates launch their careers. This is going to be a major aspect of SCI-Arc EDGE. You know that quote by William Gibson? “The future is already here—it’s just not evenly distributed yet.” I want SCI-Arc EDGE to be the first place where the future becomes real.