Connor Gravelle (website)
Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc)
2B Undergraduate studio
Faculty: Heather Flood (website)


SCI-Fa (The Southern California Institute of Fashion) is an exploration in programmatic and formal ambiguity of space. This formal method of production applies a logic of transformational conics in order to eschew primitive geometries to the ends of producing simultaneities of space which can be explicated in terms of program, supposing an entirely unconventional architecture at once both outwardly experiential and esoteric to the disciplinary prerogatives of medium of Architecture.

As briefed, SCI-Fa longs to be a sweatshop of production value. Given the diverse site and nearby orgy of socioeconomic demographics, it seems to be of particular interest that an educational institution would allot spaces overwhelmingly geared towards production, nearly altogether forgoing more traditional roles of education. It is clear that the prerogative of the institution is not situated within the momentary incidents of academia, but rather centered on the necessitated production of fashion materials and the like. The facility is effectively established on the grounds of its own labor. What becomes ironic about such institutions, generally speaking, seems to be their often reclusive nature, as if to boast solely within granted circles their accomplishments of material and craft. Why shouldn’t such a factory be in your face? What withholds an institution like SCI-Fa to the state of secondary or tertiary status within a vibrant ecology such as Downtown Los Angeles?

Thus, the institution’s interactions with the public sphere, both theatrical and revealing in nature, are of the utmost importance for demonstrative value in its architecture. Its architecture should read: this is not a place of observation, rather a directly confrontational experiment of empirical phenomenology. Inherent to this declaration is the unique structure of power invested elsewhere in the building’s spaces. Of noteworthiness is the second largest allocation of area, divided between the building’s facilities and the institution’s administration. A hierarchical relationship is established wherein a metaphorically panoptic distribution of importance oversees the highly controlled spaces of traditional “education”. The powerhouse of production overtakes this positioning, as if to engage a mutated beast, the purpose of which borders between the refinements procured by a disciplined body of pupils below an overseeing administrative caste and the let-wild machinery of industrial production.

How might this architecture, and in particular its programmatic distributions and spatial accordances, enable a loosely defined pedagogy to foster in a method conducive to the interaction between this subculture and a larger context (namely Los Angeles). In so doing, spaces otherwise perceived as afterthoughts or prerequisites might take prominence in facilitating such interactions. The institution’s shop or auditorium might be recast as crucial political arenas throughout which a diagrammatic goal of integration and discourse carries itself out, both captive and parasitic to the institutional framework from which it has spawned.

The strange thing about these polemic intuitions, once realized in architecture as built things, seems to be their resistance towards syndication within their perspective environments. It sometimes comes to be that the integration of the institution is perceived as counterintuitive to its core radicalism, which, quite paradoxically, it seeks to interject into a larger context. Thus, it is as if a cognitive membrane of glass exists to separate an institution from its surroundings. Those outside are expected to look in, while those within are vehemently disciplined from looking out. Whatever the purpose of an institution might be, it might appear that this disconnection has severed critically unexploited links which could promote alternative definitions in rebuttal to these otherwise complacent notions so intrinsic to an “avant-garde” practice.

The result of these tendencies manifests itself in several convoluted circumstances: truly innovative approaches to the practice are rendered temporarily null in their eras. Appreciation is acquired as a kind of post-rationalization by the larger community. The radical collective rarely becomes acknowledged by the greater society until it is either extinct or festering on its deathbed. What might occur if leading thinkers in avant-garde practices were to engage society? Architecture itself may offer us a method by which to shift the performances of both such practices and their prospective members of society to the ends that their brief scraping by one another would produce magnificent intersections of constituency and intention. The spatial division between those pushing forward the intensification of culture and their constituencies as manifest by architecture can be reduced not only to a negligible level but perhaps can even be promoted and appropriated.

Unfortunately, architecture to this point has remained rather unhelpful in this regard. Bauhaus became a household name only long after its dissipation, The Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies evades the common New Yorker to this day, and SCI-Arc remains unbeknownst even to those living beside it, to name a few situations inherent to the discipline of architecture. These circumstances must implode, rendering in their wake the complete disruption of previously held ideals about the agency and impotence of the avant-garde.



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