In September, students, faculty, and leadership at the Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc) convened online to share in the school’s biannual Vertical Studio Lottery presentations. At the start of each semester, mixed groups of students from all of SCI-Arc’s undergraduate, graduate, and postgraduate programs are given the opportunity to enroll in specialized design studios that range from the practical to the theoretical to the political.

Through vertical studios, students have the ability to work with visiting architects, as well as SCI-Arc faculty navigating real-world design projects, and explore a broad spectrum of topics including building methodology, technology, the environment, social impact, and personal interests. SCI-Arc’s fall 2020 studios are led by distinguished faculty, department chairs, and leading architects engaged in work both in Los Angeles and around the globe.

The 2020 fall semester Vertical Studio Lottery presentations, which took place via YouTube Live, featured 10-minute introductions for 15 individual vertical studios delivered by leading faculty. When the presentations finished, students ranked their desired studio in order of preference. An algorithm then placed each student into their respective studios according to ballot rankings and GPA, with equal priority given to students in each program.

As coordinator of the Design of Cities program, Thom Mayne’s postgraduate vertical studio “Combinatory Campus” has students employ research and critical analysis to examine opportunities that emerge from challenging traditional organizational systems within city planning and building typologies towards determining a city’s new urban context. Design Faculty and DID coordinator Mira Henry’s “Underground” frames a series of architectural interventions in and around the South Central Los Angeles neighborhood surrounding Crenshaw Boulevard, delving into the history of an analogous LA Metro construction project evoking Harriet Tubman’s Underground Railroad as well as “the legacy of Black life” associated with the area. Gordon Kipping, SCI-Arc alum (MArch ‘95) and new visiting faculty, presented “The Architecture of Activism,” which focuses on the how the performance of architecture can produce constructed objects and spaces to address the current confluence of planetary upheavals of climate change, a global public health crisis, and epidemic of racial injustice.

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