On April 19th and 20th, fifth year SCI-Arc undergraduates presented their final thesis projects to panels of faculty and guest juries comprised of some of the top architects, critics, and theorists in the field – including Undergraduate Program Chair Tom Wiscombe, Undergraduate Thesis Coordinator Jenny Wu, and Special Thesis Advisor and former SCI-Arc Director Neil M. Denari. This year’s thesis advisors were Kristy Balliet, Marcelo Spina, and Peter Testa.
The culmination of five years of architectural training, inquiry, and execution, SCI-Arc’s B.Arch Thesis asks students to take disciplinary positions in architecture and to express those positions through a building design. Additionally, students are charged with enacting their own speculative visions in the form of a final project that is at once part research studio, part design brief contemplating diverse conceptual, material, and aesthetic propositions while challenging graduates to question not only what kind of architects they want to be, but also the future of architecture at large.
“Architecture today is interdisciplinary,” said Undergraduate Program Chair Tom Wiscombe. “While architecture must exist on its own terms as an expertise, we know that the most important works of architecture are always connected to realms of philosophy, art, film, and other threads of cultural practice. Our greatest hope for our undergraduate students here at SCI-Arc is that they can bridge creativity with critical thinking. To do that, we teach depth in architecture and breadth in the liberal arts. I think this makes our students' work powerful and connected to the world.
Some noteworthy thesis projects include Ann Gutierrez’s Building of Character, advised by Kristy Balliet, which contemplates the relationship between architecture and theatricality, and in particular the role that characters play in the development of a narrative. Deploying this frame of thinking for the production of a building, the logic of character is understood through the many historical challenges that a particular site has endured. Ultimately with this proposal, the existing building, which has a rich history of multi-faceted usage, will become a design center and art gallery with many separate identities within its enclosure of currently partial walls. The building is read through its elevations as a series of structures with many profiles, while the building’s plan and interior define one continuous space. This reimagines the way that architecture expresses identity, allowing for multiple readings, whose many interpretations produce a unique narrative.
On the other hand, Marianna Girgenti and Saul Kim’s thesis project, Cross-Contamination, explores the contamination of “layers” in architecture and how this affects the boundary between two territories. Their project, supervised by Undergraduate Thesis Coordinator Jenny Wu, challenges the typology of the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City by bringing the territory of the host country inside the building. This forces the two territories to coexist within the same building, negotiating the spaces that belong to each country. The boundary of each territory is defined by layers that interact with one another to create spaces that belong to both and neither, the ambiguity of which is experienced by standing on the ground of one country while being bound by the walls of another.
Sammi Liang’s Illegible Whole presents the possibility of an architecture strategy for the Obama Presidential Center that reflects a legacy of its namesake, while integrating knowledge and transparency for a library and revitalizing the public space. The project, advised by Marcelo Spina, exploits multiple interlocked, interpenetrated opaque and translucent volumes and surfaces cohering together into one whole, and investigates a spatial continuity between rooms, the sensation of the room’s spatial closure maintained while still sensing other spaces.
American Ground, proposed by Tony Avila and advised by Peter Testa, considers the upheaval of a conventional building to ground relationships, an idea connected to the notion that the only means by which architecture can be political is through its relationship to the ground. In this project, the relationship becomes ambiguous as multiple readings of continuity and separation emerge. Avila chose the U.S. Embassy project in Mexico City as an opportunity to explore this idea. The implementation of a ground-object framed by site and building offers the opportunity for the collective to manifest within the interstitial spaces.
“SCI-Arc will always advocate for the power of architecture and the power of design, as well as the idea that these are a human right rather than a luxury; a necessity to society,” said SCI-Arc Director Hernan Diaz Alonso. “Thesis in becoming such a public event is an attempt to explore how we can expand the relationship between architecture and the rest of the world.”
The Bachelor of Architecture (B.Arch) program at SCI-Arc is a five-year curriculum geared towards preparing individuals to enter the architecture profession with an appetite for innovation, technical proficiency, and presence of vision, encouraging them to consider the role architects play in contemporary society. Consistently ranked among the top ten NAAB-accredited professional architecture programs in the US, SCI-Arc’s B.Arch program asks students to focus on the development of theoretical and technological expertise while learning critical thinking skills and practical methods of applied knowledge, propelling graduates to become licensed architects, establish their own studios, join world-renowned practices, or follow a variety of related career paths. The collaboration was made possible with the assistance of Monica Ramirez of the Empresa Renovacion Urbana (ERU) and the Bronx Creative District.