Sunday, December 7, 2008

More Thoughts on SCI-ARC

In response to my last post about sci-arc, a commentator asked a few questions that I thought I would answer in blog posts. Here is the first set of questions.
Do you think it was more isolating than a traditional school would have been? Did you come out too immersed in architecture or is that a good thing?
As I mentioned, I went to a big university for my undergraduate degree, so I had already had my traditional college experience. Really, though, it doesn't matter whether you go to grad school at a place like sci-arc, which just does one discipline, or a larger school. Either way, all your classes are going to be in your grad program. If you are serious about your education, you will spend all of you time at the architecture school anyway, so it won't matter whether there are other disciplines at the college.

I asked my husband this question, to get his opinion, too. He's not an architect, but, like me, he went to a big university for undergraduate and a small, single discipline school for his graduate degree. He smiled a little when I read him the question; the idea that a grad student gets to spend much (if any) time outside of his or her program was amusing to him.

Undergrad is fun. Yes, you are there to learn. But if you're an American, chances are its also the first time you've lived on your own, so it's also a time to explore who you are, have some fun, meet new people, etc. Grad school is a job. There are fun things about it, but it should be much more rigorous. If you are taking it seriously, you get up every morning about the same time, you go to the studio/lab/library/research office/etc and you work until it's time to go home that night. And in my case, that frequently meant taking a break for dinner and then going back to the studio to work some more.

I should point out that there is an undergrad program at sci-arc. I knew very few students in that program who fit the traditional mold of 17/18-year-old, fresh out of high school, never been on their own, etc. In fact, I can only think of own kid who was there at the same time as me who was a typical freshman, straight out of high school; he had, I believe, gone to boarding school and had been living on his own for a while. He was also the most mature, pulled together person his age I knew (and that includes me at his age. I was a more typical college freshman). I would, though, steer a high school senior away from sci-arc for their first college experience. In that case, a year or two at a traditional college before transferring would be a good idea, in my opinion.

Okay, onto the next part: was I too immersed in architecture? It was very immersive, but I think all architecture grad schools are. Actually, I would say that sci-arc has more going on that's not architecture than a lot of schools.

Architecture is a big tent. (I was trying to get at this in my last post on the subject, but I think I wasn't direct enough.) Most of us, when we think of an architect, picture a person who works for or owns a firm, who designs buildings and works with contractors to get them built. Obviously, this is what most of us want to do and that's what we do. But that's not the only thing that you can do with an architecture degree. Sci-arc is famous for the high number of graduates that don't end up in that traditional mold, but find a related path to take. For example, look at the HEDGE design collective. In addition to traditional architecture, the collective includes a florist, landscape architecture, graphic design and a clothing designer. And probably about half of its members teach at sci-arc (or did when I was there).

All of this is just to say that, yes, I was very immersed in architecture during grad school, but that may not be as confining as you think.


  1. Thanks for answering my questions. I understand how time constraints may make other departments at a school irrelevant. I guess even though most schools like to point out that their programs are "interdisciplinary", that doesn't mean inter-departmental. Maybe my best bet is to look for diversity within the department? I thought at a bigger school I could take, for example, structural engineering courses or an anthropology course rather than just structures for architects or architectural theory touching on anthropology. Maybe that is just impossible given the time constraints.

    I do admire Sci-arc's philosophy of immersing even undergrads in fundamentals rather than providing a shopping experience where students pick and choose for breadth and no substance.

  2. You'd need to ask an advisor at one of the larger schools about whether they'd allow you to take non-major classes. My guess would be, though, that they'll say yes, but that those classes would need to be on top of your core classes. At that point, you'd have to weigh whether you would have the time/energy.

    Another option it to look for dual-degree grad programs. They usually take an extra year or so to complete. I know there are dual-degree programs in structural engineering out there, you'd just have to hunt around. There are also programs with MBA, lighting design, landscape, urban studies, just about any related field you can think of. Good luck and let me know what you decide.

    PS: I'll try to answer your other question (about blobs) in another post.


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