Inside SCI-Arc

Previous Vertical studios

LA Sky-High
Instructors(s): Raimund Abraham

"I shall tell you what I dreamt last night," he says to Marco. "In the midst of a flat and yellow land, dotted with meteorites and erratic boulders, I saw from a distance the spires of a city rise, slender pinnacles, made in such a way that the moon and her journey can rest now on one, now on another, or sway from the cables of the cranes." — Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities

This studio examined the interface between gravity and architecture in the city on an imaginary new plane like a wolkenkukuksheim—according to Aristophanes, "a city built by birds into the sky."

Bahia Balandra
Instructors(s): Eric Owen Moss; John Enright

Students developed proposals for an urban-scaled vacation resort that was planned for an area north of La Paz, Mexico, located on the Balandra Bay in the Sea of Cortes. Visiting critics included faculty from the Stanford University Humanities Lab and the Iberoamerica University in Mexico City, and professional structural engineers from Ove Arup, who also provided engineering reports for each of the final designs.

Students traveled to the site and researched the area in terms of physical, biological, and environmental conditions. They also investigated large-scale infrastructural typologies including marinas, piers, canals, tunnels, and bridges, and catalogued state-of-the-art sustainable systems such as desalination facilities, water reclamation projects, solar electric power, water purification, waste management, and power generation systems. This research formed a basis for the more specific investigations of the final schemes, which presented solutions that addressed larger environmental issues specific to the site and region. The projects were presented to the developer in Mexico City and one of them is likely be developed for future construction.

Fleshology, "Becoming Animal:" The Horrific and the Grotesque
Instructors(s): Hernan Diaz Alonso

Flesh/organs are the two components that were scrutinized in this studio. By means of tall structures and adjoining parts, the studio reveals design procedures as dynamic relationships. If skyscrapers are primarily intervened by means of their typological strength, we grow them by means of their topological intensity. Assuming what is at stake is tall buildings' vertical vertigo, we concentrate on their interior, not in the manner of structure, core or repetitive stacks. Instead we develop active nesting techniques where the inner body is not a sequential vertical proliferation but rather a discontinuous organic growth; at the same time, this inner mass stretches in and out of the outer flesh. Flesh differs from surface for its layered nature; it cannot be detached from the inner organs, it is just one more coat, it is deeply attached, it stretches and compresses for the sake of smoothness, porosity and voluptuousness.

Riverfront Housing and Mixed-Use Development
Instructors(s): Sam Hall Kaplan; Ray Kappe

The Los Angeles River has the unique potential of being both an engaging public amenity and a catalyst for complementary development. What is needed is a vision that addresses this challenge to mark it as the eastern gateway to downtown and an anchor for contiguous, nascent neighborhoods. Such an opportunity exists east of SCI-Arc across Santa Fe, on a site bounded by the First Street and Sixth Street bridges and the river.

The studio demonstrated an exciting use of the river for market-rate housing, loft-work, student housing, and affordable housing, that also includes commercial use, offices and riverfront restaurants and entertainment. Interested citizens, council members, river advocates, developers and present landowners interacted with the studio. Urban concerns, environmental response, sun access, energy consumption, green architecture and building systems were discussed in the development of viable architectural solutions to entice developers and the city to seriously consider the efficacy of student proposals.

Green Soapy Branes
Instructors(s): Sulan Kolatan

The studio focused on form-finding through minimal surface geometry and soap bubble experimentation with the intent to design architectural and urban membranes that go beyond the current "green" standards. Topics included advanced geometry, material and structural engineering, digital fabrication and emerging expertise in ecology and biomedia.

The studio addressed and explored the architectural potential of minimal surface topology. Students were asked to obsessively pursue these relations between form and perform by recognizing potential for performance in form, first, and refining form by adapting to performance, second. Unlike the modernist dictum "form follows function," the relation outlined here is neither linear, nor is it singular, idealized or optimized. Instead, we prefer to understand relatedness in terms of ranges of productivity linked to families of form.

Swarm Stadia
Instructors(s): Hernan Diaz Alonso, Benjamin Bratton
Guest: Peter Frankfurt (Imaginary Forces)

Swarm Stadia is a combination of the typology of stadiums, as the architectural imprint, and the study of mass behaviors of insects, as the method of cell duplication. The study of grouping mechanisms of particular species allows the class to define specific techniques (scripting, real flow, particle system, mutations) that become perfomative elements in the design processes.

This laboratory developed an investigation of the processes of mutation, growth and movement patterns of insects. With a focus on biogenetics, the course constantly shifted from micro behaviors to macro conditions as a work method. Therefore students problematized the parameters that define insect species understanding their constituent cells all the way up to their morphology and mass.

The class not only focused on the understanding of the methods of aggregation and accumulation but also on the topological and aesthetic properties of insects. The assignment was to (A) design a stadium for the LA MLS team, (B) a stadium for the LA NFL team, or (C) a dual purpose stadium for a shared-brand team, soccer and NFL.

Shelter as Product
Instructors(s): Stephanie Smith

Today we have the technical and industrial capabilities necessary to create shelter using the mass production processes previously used to create consumer products. Arguably, the 21st century global economy must evolve its approach to physical infrastructure from "one-off" to mass production in order to accommodate global shifts in population as work forces migrate; aid relief efforts caused by famine and natural disasters (increasing due to climate change); serve the huge market for second homes and recreational dwellings as the first world grows wealthier; and adjust to increasing urban densification. Can human shelter be freed from its connection to place, to specificity, to singularity? If so, what are the implications on dwelling experiences and lifestyle patterns, socio-political and market systems, and urban migration and flow? The task of this studio was to design a dwelling "product," a 150 sq. ft. temporary or permanent living unit for one to two people. The studio used as a test site the former Dome Village in downtown Los Angeles, a small, urban community of eighteen fiberglass domes housing thirty-five people, built in 1993. Students explored issues of advanced materials, systems and manufacturing processes; minimum dwelling; form and aesthetics (from the exotic to the generic); product branding, marketing and positioning; sustainable practices; social and economic strategies and impacts.

New Cultures ... Specters of the Spectrum
Instructors(s): Jean Michel Crettaz

New Cultures was an architectural design essay based on the investigation of current, yet unassimilated, initially invisible energies of cultural and scientific progress subsequently informing speculative concepts and scenarios of new Western life forms and architectures. The studio agenda invited speculative visions for new cultures. The program evolved from an interest in socio-cultural and political text—and sub-textures informing new generative processes of architectural design. The topic "new cultures" initiates a critical discourse on contemporary Western cultures and technological progress subsequently defining the foundation of the design program and life form: specters of the spectrum.

Tangled Structure/Fiber Space
Instructors(s): Peter Testa

This studio was based on the idea of tangled structures—massively distributed networks made up of relatively weak cross-linked fibrous elements that are the basic building blocks of structures in nature. There are also many precedents for this idea within architecture, from gothic interweaving to arabesques; textile techniques from two- to three-dimensional weaving; Fine Arts from Pollack to Eliasson; Mathematics from topology to tangle theory; and science from topological enzymology to tissue engineering. A key characteristic of this structural morphology is that patterning, form, and organization are an informal or emergent effect.

Studio projects explored in depth the aesthetics and performative parameters of tangled and patterned surface structures as an alternative to modern assembled structures. Design research was conducted into the material basis for this idea in the context of advanced engineering and contemporary construction methods.

SCIFI: South China
Instructors(s): Paul Nakazawa

In China, the southern part of the country has been considered crude and unsophisticated. Wildly independent and unselfconscious of their northern counterparts, the southern Chinese are notoriously inventive and entrepreneurial. This is evident in south Chinese cities. Pearl River Delta cities like Guangzhou, Zhuhai, and Zhongshan exemplify the extreme accomplishments and surprising failures of efforts to create a contemporary city. Unlike the American or European city, its infrastructure, patterns of growth, and architecture do not fit previous paradigms. Instead, they represent the blueprint for the 21st century city. The studio studied urban growth in South China and made design proposals for "failed" cities.

Water, Infrastructure, Geopolitics: Urban Systems Management, Resource Flow, and the Networked City-State
Instructors(s): Juan Azulay; Ed Keller; Moji Baratloo

Contemporary urban design has to deal with an ever more complex network of landscapes. Water as a resource is of global concern. Control of water, protocols for its use, and an evaluation of the overall influence of water infrastructure on urban morphology are key factors for socio-political formations over the coming decades. The impact of these factors on urban use patterns, as well as developing architectural, urban and political morphologies has not been adequately studied. This studio undertook a groundbreaking study of current urban, technological and political paradigm shifts and proposed new urban morphologies based on a range of networks coming into being in this decade.

Tall Buildings in Flat Spreads
Instructors(s): Robert Mangurian; Mary-Ann Ray

The studio tackled real situations within a place and culture where much of the world's construction is taking place. One of these situations, related to city making in new urban Asia, was the required production of density (to partially face the reality of limited energy in the future/present). This requirement resulted in the mandate of the tall building (stand tall, and sometimes wiggle, slide, squirm, and hide). Add this requirement to social and spatial aspects of urban life in China that have always been present, and what occurs is a new alchemy begging for new architectures. The standard studio within schools of Architecture seems to avoid this project—projects are usually clever lumps, fields of stuff, smaller widgets fitting into the cracks, and other rather interesting programs and forms. Some programs don't seem to be addressed. One is suburban housing and another is high rise construction— office, hotel, housing, and... In Beijing today, there are probably 250 high rise buildings in various states of construction. Multiply this by a hundred large Chinese cities. Our estimates could be low. In our city, Los Angeles, we have not built a tall building for about twenty years.

Conservation/Development in Hawaii
Instructors(s): Nels Hefty

The studio examined conservation development opportunities presented by an ahupuaa in Hawaii. The ahupuaa is a Hawaiian form of land division extending from the mountain to the ocean. In Western terms, it may be viewed as an intact 10,000 acre watershed. Hawaii was chosen for the study site because it is the most remote place on earth; has the largest number of distinct ecosystems of any place of similar size; has a unique sociological background in that it was settled by ocean voyaging Polynesians 800 to 2,000 years ago; has a unique background of land use laws (the laws of the Kingdom of Hawaii are expressly included by the state constitution as part of the legal system); all the while being part of the United States.

Students examined the characteristics of the site and the geopolitical aspects of Hawaii. Each student was asked to develop a proposed project that was responsive to the economic, sociological, and environmental constraints of the site. Students were required to address the concerns of the land owner, the land use dictates of the County of Hawaii, and the customs and practices of native Hawaiians.