Student Highlight: Jose Garcia, M.Arch 2

Designed to build upon knowledge gained in an undergraduate architecture degree or its equivalent abroad, SCI-Arc’s M.Arch 2 is a two-year, five-term, NAAB- (National Architectural Accrediting Board) accredited Master of Architecture program that introduces students to advanced critical perspectives on contemporary architectural issues. It operates as a laboratory, examining the complex and shifting relationships between architecture and cultural, political, economic, and social change while exposing students to the latest in architectural technologies and fabrication methods.

“We already know how to make good buildings that are comfortable, functional, and compliant with building codes and environmental standards,” says Jose Carlos Garcia, a current M.Arch 2 student. “SCI-Arc is the perfect ground to explore something outside of the real world and be able to fully investigate all of the possibilities.”

Originally from Durango, Mexico, Garcia moved with his family to Chicago when he was a teenager. He completed high school there and then obtained his Bachelor of Science in Architecture degree from the University of Illinois at Chicago. As part of a school program before his graduation in 2013, Garcia began working as a project designer with the local firm Juan Gabriel Moreno Architects (JGMA).

“When I started working, I realized there were many things that I needed to learn about the world and professional practice,” Garcia says. He worked with JGMA for three years on a variety of projects, even briefly serving as the marketing coordinator during a particularly slow period. In that role, Garcia gained valuable business development skills while responding to requests for proposals, managing social media accounts, and creating graphics that elevated the firm’s image. His efforts brought in several projects, establishing a trajectory for growth: JGMA has expanded from a staff of eight at that time to 25 currently.

Choosing the right graduate school environment

Marketing was not Garcia’s calling. All along he had planned to pursue advanced studies, and he continued to reflect on the qualities he desired in a graduate school. “I’ve never been a CAD monkey. I didn’t want to work in a corporate environment, either,” he maintains. “I wanted to go to a school where design is the essence—the belief that we can do things differently.”

Garcia limited his search to schools on either coast, initially focusing on East Coast Ivy League institutions. However, when he visited a few in person, he felt that their curriculums were more centered on theory and research rather than design. “There was lot of talking and not a lot of doing,” he says. “I wanted to go to a school with important people doing important things in the architectural community.”

During his first ever trip to Los Angeles, Garcia visited SCI-Arc and was immediately impressed with its facilities—including the fabrication shop, Magic Box, Robot House, printing center, and supply store. He also found students and faculty to be friendly and welcoming. “I felt like, ‘This is a place where I will enjoy myself a lot,’ ” he recalls.

“I remember distinctly the first time I spoke with Jose. He came to my office to learn about the M.Arch 2 pedagogical mission while he was deciding where he wanted to pursue his higher education as an architect,” says SCI-Arc Graduate Programs Chair Elena Manferdini. “He came across as a highly motivated individual, both cultured and talented; as such, he was offered several opportunities to study in the most prestigious schools in the country. I knew that he would choose SCI-Arc because of his interests in contemporary architectural design and cutting-edge technology, as well as his ambition to be involved with academia. Our M.Arch 2 program offers a dynamic platform for open-ended experimentation, promoting the invention of projects able to create new architectural knowledge.

Preparing for practice and a future in academia

The first two semesters of the M.Arch 2 program involve core studies and lectures, and in their third semester, students choose from a variety of vertical studios and elective seminars. Students then undergo a semester of thesis prep, and at the outset of their final year, they identify their thesis statements and begin thoroughly researching them. The program culminates in public presentations and exhibitions of thesis work.

Currently in his third semester, Garcia is engaged in a vertical studio led by SCI-Arc Director/CEO Hernan Diaz Alonso. In his short time at the school, Garcia has built a robust yet sophisticated portfolio, enhanced by skills he honed during a second-semester course on portfolio design, which explores methods to organize work, select images, and generate language to represent projects. The two initial semesters also develop proficiencies in software, enabling students to identify the most appropriate tool for the task at hand and fluidly interface between different types.

SCI-Arc offers an Introduction to Digital Design (IDD) program—a mandatory week-and-a-half deep dive on software for incoming M.Arch 2 students. IDD is led by current M.Arch 2 students, and Garcia recently participated as an instructor. The experience underscored his desire to pursue a teaching position after graduation while simultaneously practicing with a firm. Garcia recognizes that he has a special talent in breaking down information in a clear and concise manner: “I’m a good teacher, and I’m patient with students,” he notes. “IDD was a good experience in being able to share what I know and be completely honest.”

The deadline to apply for the fall 2018 semester of the M.Arch 2 program is January 15, 2018. Click here to learn more and submit an application.