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SCI-Arc in Motion

Michael Rotondi, Director

After almost twenty years at its original site on Berkeley Street in Santa Monica, SCI-Arc will be moving this spring to new quarters on 5454 Beethoven Street. The former factory and offices of the Quotron data services will provide double the currently available square footage at the same cost, with the security of a long-term lease, among other benefits.

This move is symbolic, for the most part – what does it mean to go from a building that leaks to a building that doesn’t leak? In some ways it means that SCI-Arc is growing up, because institutions change the same way people change. This move is the equivalent of going from adolescence to young adulthood, a moment when you begin to get a focus on what your ambitions are for the rest of your life. It is also like moving from young adulthood to middle age when you move from the promise of youth to the limits of maturity. Although this involves a mixture of regret and nostalgia, these limits can be positive and you realize you don’t have to climb the Himalayas, or play basketball with the Lakers or swim the English Channel.

The new location is a step up and seems more substantial in many ways. This brings with it certain risks. On Berkeley Street, everything felt impermanent and things worked well in part because there was a high degree of uncertainty. Our energy has been devoted to putting up resistance to the tendency to make things more certain. Institutional structures are basically designed to make things predictable but often cause the heat-death of the institution. Although this future is unlikely with the type of people around here – SCI-Arc is filled with anarchists – the most interesting and disconcerting thing I’ve found in this process was the resistance that was put up to the move by people within the SCI-Arc community. In the end even anarchists don’t like change. But rather than judge the change as good or bad, we have to focus on what the changes are and learn to construct something new out of these ingredients. We may end up with something else, but can retain our original vitality.

We are not moving somewhere designed or that stands as an emblem of what has been accomplished at SCI-Arc in the last 20 years. The new tilt-up concrete building is almost non-denominational, but nevertheless it offers distinct possibilities. On Berkeley Street, the three different parts of the school were disconnected: graduate students didn’t see undergraduates who didn’t see advanced students, who were in another building. This situation is not unlike a normal campus where interaction between schools and departments takes effort. In the new building, everyone will be in one place and socially it will be a better place with a better mix. The layout is a fast track version of how a city grows accretionally. It will be hard to tell who decided what and things will remain open-ended. But more permanence and longevity will let us use the entire 85,000 square feet as a building site. We will be able to use the place literally as a laboratory for materials and methods of construction. We will be able to do light experiments by cutting into the roof. Students will be able to see how decisions materialize and test things very directly. So much can happen in the new building that couldn’t happen before and these possibilities will broaden our conceptual expectations.

Whatever happens in the next few years, the changes that are happening now and that are symbolized by the move reflect a process of renewal. The energy that has been here in the last five years will simply take on a different focus. We’re just trading a building that leaks for a building everyone gets lost in.

Back to Spring – 1992 Newsletter