Making + Meaning at SCI-Arc


Friends, compatriots, I have been THROUGH the belly of the beast, and have lived to tell the tale!

Honestly, there was woefully little info on Archinect about Making + Meaning (SCI-Arc's summer program), so I thought I'd start a Post to talk a little bit about this program, for the sake of future inquiries.

Here are some random impressions and comments...

1. Making + Meaning is INTENSE. Do NOT think that their claim of 9 am- 6 pm on the website is all the time commitment this program requires. Though some people magically managed to get out at 8 PM or 10 PM every night, I would say most people stayed into the wee hours every single night.

For me, I entertained dreams of seeing LA on Sundays and traveling around California. Nope. Every Sunday I was back at school, putting in at least 5 more hours. Do not expect to see friends or family, consider yourself lucky if you do, especially the 1st week.


Basically, Making + Meaning is a ramp-up to the start of the M.Arch 1 year. Half of the people were already admitted into the M.Arch or B.Arch, the others weren't. It is boot camp in 3-D design and thinking, in using physical models to articulate your ideas, to get used to the archi-babble everyone is so fond of.

HOWEVER! It is NOT a program which tries to show you 'what it's like to be a real-live architect.' Buildings are NOT discussed. Rather, space, cavities, negative space, surfaces, volume, etc. ARE discussed. I have HEARD that Harvard and Columbia's programs are a little more geared towards looking at buildings and analyzing them and stuff. I guess this is what people are referring to when they say Sci-Arc is more 'theoretical.' No one's discussing concrete or anything.

M + M is more geared towards 'So, you know you wanna go into architecture, this is a taste of what the EDUCATION ITSELF will be like over the next few years.' and ' We will now start to OPEN UP YOUR BRAIN and start cultivating a new way of thinking and seeing spaces, which will lead directly into the continuation of your architecture studies.'

This program is ALSO amazing for ...
- making a portoflio, since we did soooo many projects and the course was so fast-paced.
- learning to work in a woodshop, using bandsaws and drills and stuff
- cultivating independence both in design and in your life ('if you want to break the rules of the assignment, go for it, but be prepared to back it up', and 'if you want something done, go out and do it!')
- you will get a pretty accurate reading of what stress is like in the real M.Arch (i have heard the hours are similar)... be prepared for the occasional break-down/freak-out
- weird mind-bending moments of 'OOOH, so THAT is what space is about!'

Not so amazing for...
- We were NOT taught Photoshop or other computer skills (though the TAs and other students showed each other how to do small things like batching).
- not good for a laid-back approach to architecture... this gets really intense. no social life, except within the studio. ( I heard that UCLA's Jump Start is part time, that could be more some people's style.)

3. Am I glad I did it?

For me, the program was very, very hard. I wasn't expecting the time commitment, I was a little bitter that I wasn't getting a big "LA experience." I wanted to quit in the middle (a few others actually did.) But I finished it and now, looking back, I'm glad I did. I learnt so much about the nature of space... and now, just the idea of a room being square-shaped seems absurd to me. My mind has definitely 'opened up.'

I'll also say that you put so much time into the projects, and sometimes the critiques in the end don't seem to acknowledge all your work... like the reviewers will say 2 sentences, not 'get' your work at all, and then move on. BUT... the point is that so much of the process is going on INSIDE of you, THROUGH the making of these different projects. Their review can guide and inform you, but the real learning is self-directed, in many ways. Plus, you learn from their review of others' work.

For me personally, I was always a little BEHIND the learning curve. As in, I would make a whole project, and only during the review would 'get' what they had intended for me to do all along. But then I would take that knowledge and try to apply it to the next project, and so on. This was definitely a weird feeling, since it was almost like failing every test and only 'getting' it AFTER you'd received the D or the F on the assignment. BUT, now I get that the point isn't necessarily to 'get' it in advance so you can Ace that test. The point is to try to get it AT ALL, to become ATTUNED to the qualities that the instructors are trying to highlight.

Ok, I guess that's all that's on my mind for now. Maybe some others will put in their 2 cents?

Sep 3, 09 1:03 am
tranz kafka
I learnt so much about the nature of space... and now, just the idea of a room being square-shaped seems absurd to me. My mind has definitely 'opened up.'

Child, you seem to be wash'd.

Sep 3, 09 1:23 am

squares are for squares.

Sep 3, 09 6:07 am

QUOTE/ and now, just the idea of a room being square-shaped seems absurd to me

Your mind is definitely not opened up

Sep 3, 09 6:44 am

cfso- if you couldn't tell what i'd intended, let me rephrase as: "rather, the idea that a room has to be EXCLUSIVELY square-shaped seems absurd."

Sep 3, 09 4:05 pm

I agree with you all the way S.B.

I was surprised I made it through, but actually left wanting more as twisted as it may seem. It was tough but it conditioned me for the demands of architecture school.

I had never been through a project reviews before so this really pulled me out of my shell as far as speaking infront of professionals go. Ya I need to work on that haha.

I can't wait to apply to SCI ARC. I am not sure yet when that will be but I know now that It's totally perfect for me.

Sep 3, 09 5:19 pm

at the end of your m.arch the word "space" will make you want to barf

Sep 3, 09 6:34 pm

That's funny!

Sep 3, 09 6:38 pm

sbeth: don't believe the hype...its good to be open minded but a lot of those sciarc professors who are on the reviews are pretty retarded and are nothing more than paper architects. take everything they say with a grain of salt. the education there is good and beneficial but only if you approach it critically and not fall into the formalist trappings that is pervasive in the program. an interesting space doesn't = good architecture

Sep 3, 09 8:44 pm
Cherith Cutestory

then what does make good architecture?

Sep 3, 09 9:28 pm

using a negation to make a statement with certainty is easy, lazy and boring. it is not critical thinking--its being a critic in the pejorative sense.

'doesn't =' is a non-statement. a negation should be followed by a statement.

(for an example look at the preceding four sentences of this post)

I second randy's challange: deviant-what is good architecture?

Sep 3, 09 9:54 pm

to be perfectly honest--defining 'good architecture' in a sentence containing an '=' is pretty absurd. my frustration stems less from your inability to support your criticism (or really even your post) with a creative contribution but in how lame cfso and degree zero were in ignoring SBeth's (two pages / single spaced) thoughtful, honest attempt at filling what she saw as an information gap-to attack one sentence where she loses some of the tightness found elsewhere and ventures into the realm of dreaming schoolgirl.

picking on someone who put themselves out there with relative humility, admitting to being 'behind the curve' read: 'architectural novice', is a drag. but i'm sure it feels pretty smart and initiated.

Sep 3, 09 10:10 pm

let me clarify, interesting space doesn't necassarily equate to good architecture. and i was in no way trying to burst sbeth's bubble. just trying to be honest and helpful being that i have completed the same exact program that she is currently beginning.

of course interesting spaces can of course be deemed architecture, given that it functions properly, etc. you get my point...personally i could give a rats ass how room/space looks if it doesn't function and work for the user. if it works, then cool...i move onto the formal aesthetics of the space. does that suffice as an answer to your question randy and black. if not then sorry, as i my intention is not to hijack or flame this thread. but seriously, brutal honesty is what a lot of incoming/starting arch students need to hear. it's way too easy to take what you hear from your instructors as given truths in the beginning. i know firsthand, i was the same exact way.

Sep 3, 09 11:30 pm

Thanks for this post. There definitely is a lack of info on M+M, and I've never really considered it, for this reason. After reading your experience, I'm quite interested in what Sci-Arc might have to offer. While I don't know if I would want to do an entire degree in a program that seems to be so narrow-minded and fixed in their approach to design, I would be extremely interested in sampling this style, through something such as a summer program.

Sep 3, 09 11:37 pm

did someone say narrow-minded earlier? fixed? what was your impression of columbia's approach to design?

Sep 3, 09 11:43 pm
Distant Unicorn

F*CK, to answer your question "what does make good architecture?"

Alabaster stained with the tears of slaves. It js LEED Platnium certified.

Sep 4, 09 12:17 am
Cherith Cutestory

SCI_Arc is really only as narrow-minded as you make it.

Sep 4, 09 12:30 am
tranz kafka

$2100 is a lot of money for M&M.

Sep 4, 09 1:42 am

$3000 + board / living / an expensive supplies list / five weeks without income. its probably closer to $5000.

Sep 4, 09 1:58 am

i believe that i remember gsapp's intro costing around the same. i have a friend who did both gsapp's intro and m+m. evaluating the cost v. the 'for' is entirely subjective. how much is deciding architecture isn't for you worth? or the SCI_Arc is not for you? or is?

i know people who say that $100k is a lot for a master's. gsapp and SCI_Arc both cost nearly or over twice that. i've heard that $100k is a lot of money for an architecture degree, or that architecture isn't a real field.

your posts are more like thought-diarrhea than substantive contributions. and here i thought, if anywhere, nyc was a great place for mental imodium.

Sep 4, 09 2:08 am

Blackbook, who are you talking to? It seems as though you are opposed to unclear or non-thought-provoking posts, yet some of what you are writing hardly seems to constitute a "substantive contribution". Maybe my brain just hasn't woken up yet, but your last sentence makes absolutely no sense to me; please feel free to clarify.

I would, however, agree, that it is much closer to $5000. GSAPP's Intro to Arch is more, at $2700 for 5 weeks + living costs and opportunity costs, such as lost income. This is why I opted out of a summer program at the last minute this year. I'd still like to do one before applying to M.Archs if I can get the money together.

Sep 4, 09 10:44 am

omg. I just thought of the best t-shirt for this course.

making and meaning: putting the pretension back in concrete.

I bet it's been done...

Sep 4, 09 11:35 am

cam--wasn't talking to you. we did speak before the summer and i'm sorry to hear that you didn't make it to intro--i remember you were invested in the idea. i think summer programs can be a great way to get a peek at studio culture if you don't have an arch background-or in your case a glimpse of the school.

Sep 4, 09 11:48 am

I love how people just bashed the OP for making the "box is a thing of the past" sort of comment.

I agree with the OP the box is a thing of the past. The box started to appear around 100 years ago and people have been screwing around with it ever since. The only truth about the box currently is that it is economical. One could say that there are still SO many ways to play around with the box blah blah. I would say that there are also so many ways to play around with LEGO that haven't been played with before. So, why did people stop playing with lego after the age of 12?

Currently, because of the digital paradigm, you see people moving beyond the box. I think there are great potentials in exploring minimal surfaces for example; how form can inform program/space and vice versa in some feedback loop.

The only firm that should continue to play around with boxes is OMA because they are the best at it.

Some of my fav architects uses a lot of boxes...shigeru ban, OMA, tadao ando etc. However, I wonder what they could do if they more easily embraced form...I can only imagine the incredible shit they could come up with.

Sep 6, 09 3:12 pm

The bottom line is that the BOX is no longer any sort of progressive form..the more we stick to it the more we destroying our own profession and lagging behind other design industries.

One could argue that as technology advances, there will always be ways to articulate or decorate the putting a nano skin on it or something. But basis for this sort of intervention is the same; we are still playing with shit boxes.

Sep 6, 09 3:15 pm

Correction: The box has been here FOREVER.

Sep 6, 09 3:16 pm

Hey all, I'm glad my post sparked off some interesting conversations...

BLACKBOOK- thanks for defending me, I appreciate it.

TO THE OTHER FLAMERS OUT THERE- honestly, get a life. I didn't write this for you, I wrote it for the poor guy in a year who'll have no idea which summer program to attend, and in a year this thread will help him/her decide which program is worth their while.

I guess you all just came out of the womb living and breathing conceptual architecture... if I decide to be open about a part of the 'unlearning' process EVERY architecture student seems to have to go through, who are you to attack me at that point?

Anyways, thanks for being so snarky and making Archinect and architecture in general just that much more pleasant to be apart of.

1DEVIANTC- thanks for your advice about taking critique with a grain of salt. Don't worry, I did... I was only devastated half the time :p I might not fully know what SCI-arc's approach is, but it is certainly much more novel and interesting than my previous theoretical outlook, which is to say... none at all! I am sure that the more I am exposed to critical thought, the more I'll learn.

TO EVERYONE REGARDING SCI-ARC: listen, this was JUST the summer program... despite having survived 5 intense weeks, I don't presume to have any idea about the direction the rest of the M.Arch will proceed in. It's all shrouded in mystery. (As M+M itself was... I don't get what's the bfd about being so secretive all the time)

ABOUT THE $$$$ : Yes, it was a lot, but for some it was worth it to see if they wanted to invest even more in further education. ALSO, I believe some of the other programs are part-time. Believe me, we were working our BUTTS off... The main teacher and TAs were there from 9 AM-6 PM and often even later, and the other teachers were accessible and spent at least 4-5 hours a day, 5 days a week, on-site.

So, I can't claim to know if we got every single penny's worth, but i certainly didn't feel taken advantage of or anything. (though I think being charged for parking in an almost-vacant lot was pretty lame; I guess they had to pay security.)

Sep 7, 09 12:51 am
Cherith Cutestory


Having graduated from SCI_Arc I would say that the various degree programs, including M+M, are not necessary "shrouded in mystery" but tend to change to some degree on a yearly basis. There are various components that lead to this -
- advances in technology (as SCI_Arc is fairly digital driven)
- changes with faculty (as almost 100% are young, working professionals in addition to teaching)
- desire to make sure the school remains one of the more progressive schools of architecture...

Which is all to say that I think the school intentionally doesn't get too specific and detailed about the programs so that A: they don't feel obligated and locked into a particular direction and B: students don't come into the school locked into a particular way of thinking. This is especially true at SCI-Arc that incoming students are pretty open, at least for the first year, to whatever gets thrown at them. 2nd year and later is the time for critical evaluation.

One last thing that bugged me on your original post was the 'HOWEVER! It is NOT a program which tries to show you 'what it's like to be a real-live architect' comment. There are many facets to being an architect not all of which are related to the technical aspects that I think you were alluding to. Great architecture isn't just great because it's technically excellent (although that can be a large contributing factor) but because of various "fuzzy" aspects about it. I think what you will find if you continue at SCI-Arc (or various other design oriented schools) is that they eschew focus of the technical aspects in favor of the more emotive aspects of design. I would argue that both are equally important to learn so use your summer break to supplement your academic education with a professional internship.

Sep 7, 09 1:20 am
Cherith Cutestory

and I would get used to the idea that parking in LA usually comes with a cost, either in the form of payment to a guard/meter/parking pass OR to the LAPD/impound lot.

Oh the money I spent on parking tickets and towing fees. Thanks LA!

Sep 7, 09 1:23 am
tranz kafka
Sep 7, 09 3:27 am

.._....___ - I don't think you understood what I was trying to say. Though I understand that terms like 'technical' and 'theoretical' get thrown around a lot without proper defintion.

One of the other M+M'ers had done GSD's Career Discovery, and she told me about some of her experiences there. I remember one of her projects (i believe), was to get into a group and design a building of some sort. I also saw some of the work coming out of Columbia, and I think in their summer program they evaluate already-standing buildings.

SCI-Arc does not say 'look at that building, what do you think about it?' SCI-Arc (in the studio, at least) says, 'Forget that you want to build buildings at all. This isn't about that. This is about learning good design skills.'

So, of course I think that is invaluable. However, it's a very different method than GSD and Columbia, and that's one of the points I've been trying to make.

I agree with you, that SCI-Arc's summer program isn't focused on technicalities (if by that you mean learning about building materials or something. Though in many ways it IS extremely related to model-making materials, since we had to deal with wood, power tools, plaster, foam, etc.) SCI-Arc's emphasis on good design suffuses all of M+M, and of course DOES contribute to one's understanding of architecture and WILL make one a better architect.

Sep 8, 09 1:25 pm
Cherith Cutestory

Well the distinction is made right in the names of the programs-

Career Discovery vs. Making and Meaning.

Sep 8, 09 1:54 pm
El Tejon

Hey, I know this is kind of an old thread, but I am interested in hearing more about SCI-Arc's Making + Meaning program. I've applied, as a 19 year-old structural engineering student with no formal training in architecture school. In engineering school, we have been given some studio experience, and I have also taken a visual arts studio course which demanded about 12 hours of work a day. Am I too young or unprepared to attend? Or, do I need to have a background in architecture to actually do well? 

I've been accepted to Columbia's Intro. to Arch. program too, but I am most interested in building a solid portfolio to get into an M.Arch program after graduation. It sounds like SCI-Arc will definitely do that for me, but I am just wondering if I'm all wrong for it. Any guidance at all would be much appreciated!

Jan 27, 13 4:51 pm

Hey, I wanted to know if it would make sense to go for a summer course if you already have a B.Arch degree.

Apr 28, 13 10:21 am

Why is it "Making + Meaning" instead of "Making and Meaning?"

Why is it the trendy thing to do to name your firm with a "plus" instead of an "ampersand?"

Architects and design-types can be so douchey sometimes when it comes to frivolities like this.

BTW, good morning.

Apr 28, 13 2:17 pm

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