Dissertation Defense at University of Michigan / by Benjamin Smith

Dissertation Abstract

"The Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc) was created with the premise that in providing freedom through self-study, it would be possible to produce both architects and architecture. Founded in 1972, after separating from the California State Polytechnic University, Pomona (Cal Poly) amidst feelings of bureaucratic and ideological oppression, SCI-Arc was self-described as a school “without walls.” From an academic context with roots in the profession, the interests of the faculty straddled social pragmatism as well as formal invention that balanced design techniques and aesthetic sensibilities. Ray Kappe, a Los Angeles-based architect and professor, proposed the formation of SCI-Arc and was the school’s first director. The style that emerged under Kappe’s directorship evoked fusion, which positioned the school with methods to develop ideas for developmental progress. Without offering tenure, SCI-Arc’s faculty, which varied consistently, created a flexible curriculum that became a tactic to promote personal directions for discourse, providing students, and the architects who taught there, a platform to respond to a postmodern architectural climate. SCI-Arc’s institutional culture adjusted over time, and it increasingly relied on the versatility of the institutional framework to forge its pedagogy. The trajectory of SCI-Arc from the early 1970s to the late 1980s revealed not only how an alternative approach to education impacted architectural production with an emerging Los Angeles architectural culture but also occurring more generally in the period, in a shift from the idealism of the 1960s to the neoliberalism of the 1990s."