No Master

A peer driven "Master's Degree" study program.

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    #5 A NEW new school? part 2

    Christine Pierron
    Apr 18, '13 6:11 PM EST


    The last post was an excerpted a history of SCI-arc as an example of how small and seemingly impossible movements can become very successful. No hubris here, no expectation that No Master would become such a great success. The example was offered up to demonstrate that the status quo does change and does so by increments and from outside the established practice.

    SCI-arc started with the intention to “narrow the gap between student and teacher.” Similarly, No Master’s concept is for a peer driven process, students must be not just students but must also take on the role of teacher. That’s not going to be easy, but it is an approach born not just from necessity, but out of an ideal that echoes the idealism of the SCI-arc origins.

    SCI-arc, at its start, was an example of the “college without walls” approach, moving education out of the university and into the city itself. No Master also looks to pull education out of the university. But rather than going into the common space of the city, No Master inhabits the common space of the Internet.

    SCI-arc originally used a flexible curriculum allowing students to select their own coursework and enlarged the scope to include the humanities and social sciences.

    No Master also will use a flexible curriculum that better aligns with our current education opportunities including MOOC’s, web sources, and modern opportunities for online interaction. No Master also acknowledges that learning is a life long act not a brief period in an architect’s early career.

    SCI-arc started with the exodus of the majority of staff and some students from an accredited architectural program. It started not as a school but just as a suggestion by the younger staff members that the group continue to meet as an independent program for studio space and discussions.

    No Master also starts first and foremost as a place for like-minded architects to work and study together. That it may grow into something greater is interesting to consider but not it’s initial primary function.

    (SCI-arc’s current director) “Eric Owen Moss suggested that perhaps it was not that the school’s initial format was unique or revolutionary, but that its openness and energy were what allowed unconventional ideas about what might constitute “architecture” to flourish in the space. “

    This insightful assessment is also applicable to No Master. The online approach, the peer review or the open structure, are not, in themselves, revolutionary or magic pills for opening up a new venue for learning and creativity. No Master can only provide a possible avenue to channel an energy and drive searching for a new educational approach. If that energy and drive does not already exist then no novel system or thinking will generate it.

    The medium is not the most important message.


    • FYI SCI-Arc was accredited with the first few years of its existence; about as quick as a scholl could get accredited. The same year as UCLA which was around a lot loner than SCI-Arc. The sociology of the school was that it attracted 'second chancers', that is, students who had experience in other fields than architecture who at SCI-Arc 'started over'. That was why there were so many ' new and unorthodox ideas' there.  Most didnt have money. The education was cheap, interesting, and open to community involvement.

      The energy that SCI-Arc had has alot to do with the mix of backgrounds.

      Apr 18, 13 8:17 pm

      SCI-ARC started as a result of an uprising. Glen Small was the most spirited and interesting professor. (the one with red pants in the foreground and Ray Kappe being interviewed by Life Magazine reporters after him.)

      Apr 18, 13 9:28 pm

      Thanks for the comment, Eric, and the info about SCI-arc being for the "second chancers" - what No Master should be as well.

      Orhan - great photo! Thank you for posting. I had learned that SCI-arc started as an uprising  coming out of Cal Poly Pomona, Ray Kappe was dismissed for his "unorthedox teaching practices." 

      I'd say that what No Master wants to tap into is the frustration/despair of many concerning the cost and accessibility of higher education. More and more it seems that students are sheep to be fleeced more than educated. If that doesn't warrant an uprising then ... I don't know, let the status quo continue.

      I don't know if this No Master concept will meet with any success, but I do know it is worth trying.

      Apr 18, 13 9:38 pm

      Another aspect of SCI-Arc and Glen Small's involvement is the beginning of 'green architecture' Small taught an alternative and intuitive structures class named NATURAL STRUCTURES an alternative to traditional math based statics. In the beginning Glen Small was the face of SCI-Arc, and his green architecture initiatives was the curriculum that made headlines.

      Very soon afterwards a more literary and academic approach (Eric Moss, Thom Mayne) created a dynamic within the school drawn along the lines of green vrs post-modern, with post modern approach defining the graduate program and the green for undergraduates.

      The influence of Frank Gehry cannot be underestimated. First local, then national and international press started to view Los Angeles architects as variants of some sort of Gehry school of rough, temp and cheap material in exciting constructivist derived forms. But it was only revolutionary as shapes, not concept. And as shapes, photogenic. This 'new school' would soon become the academic core of Sci-Arc, emphasizing formal properties and a recognizable personal architecture.

      If I were to give the new approach a name, I would call it FIRST PERSON ARCHITECTURE. Its philosophical / literary cousin is Existentialism.

      more later on that

      eric chavkin

      Apr 18, 13 11:40 pm

      Add to those are few names who had some lasting influence and point of view. They were Michael Black and Susan Nelson who ran what was called "Community Design Studio" a socialist bent design studio which looked directly urban design issues and had close alliances with community organizations and municipalities in the vicinity like the City of Santa Monica and Ocean Park Community Organization which was very influential and powerful with the involvement of famous figures like Tom Hayden who sometimes would visit the studio and critique student projects. Susan Nelson was also a strong figure who spearheaded the movement to create Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.

      Another very influential teacher was conceptual artist John Knight who often challenged Eric Moss and others on the spot and often put them in their place theoretically. As John was already showing his work in Documenta in Kassel Germany, most of the faculty had no idea what he did and what his work was about. I really didn't think they knew what Documenta was nor had any knowledge to understand conceptual art. The very same people now will proudly feel good when included Sylvia Lavin's paid advertising of  them. 

      One of the dark side of Sci Arc is that the school never embraced its critical units and always rewarded its no questions asked support section. Some damage from that insecurity is not corrected in following decades of its semi told history.

      Do I dislike Sci Arc? Just the opposite, I love the school and what it has given me via John Knights, Glen Small whose studio I have never taken but invited as a student jury to its finals, Michael Blacks RIP, Susan Nelsons RIP, Ray Kappe who has his signature on my diploma and even Eric Moss who supported that I should write, and other unsung greats and of course my great fellow students who had a big voice in decision making and affairs of the school. Of course Shelly Kappe who introduced us to modern architecture greats.

      Ahde Lahti who designed schools graphics and kee klamp syste\m where each student had their private cubicle.

      And Bill Simonian who was everybody's big brother.

      Apr 19, 13 12:42 am

      Yes yes Michael Black , Susan Nelson. John Knight brought a critical, conceptual, art influence to SCI-Arc. They and others offered other roads to travel, different directions to try.

      The purge of SCI-Arc multiplicity of ideas began with the ousting of the original core faculty. That, Ray Kappe said over dinner, was my greatest regret.

      But that was the past, so forget it! "No one owns the future" declared Eric Moss, at the SCI-Arc Alumni fest announcing the purchase of the property SCI-Arc now stands upon..

      A well known adage says the victors re-write the history. "No one owns the future" sadly sounds like like a paraphrase from Orwell's ANIMAL FARM.

      Apr 19, 13 1:21 am

      so your saying the change at sci-arc was like steve jobs being ousted from apple after which it turned to shit on a commercial stick and took a nosedive? 

      i got the feeling the current leadership saw the old guard as a group that was trying to surf a wave that long since hit the shore. can't tell from a distance how true that is, but its not inconceivable...

      the mix of backgrounds and second chancers sounds brilliant though.  more schools should be like that.  maybe architecture schools shouldn't be run by architects at all.

      Apr 19, 13 9:42 am

      ....trying to surf a wave that long since hit the shore.   Not really

      The green architecture movement was just starting to be thought about and was considered outsider architecture. As a student I visited lots of other schools and back then they were still doing Bauhaus. Glen Small was different.

      I considere him the father of green architecture and will argue that. Small himself says not. But when asked who is the father of 'green architecture'  the list is real short. Ralph Knowles? solor studies but green - no; Malcom Wells? gentle underground solar, maybe. Frei Otto and his Institute for Lightweight Structures? closest. And please dont include Soleri. Buckminster Fuller wasnt green.

      Glen Small in one sense, amalgamated if that's the word, all of them into a coherent system. His biomorphic biosphere is the most radical expression of a completely worked out green utopian megastructure.

      Small's design approach is also radically different than most architects. His client he says is ultimately nature herself. I dont know of any other architect who has that priority in mind.

      eric chavkin

      Apr 19, 13 5:38 pm

      I just spent a couple hours at the Sci-Arc Open House Master's thesis reviews. One project assessment called the design roccoco which was interesting since I was thinking more Art Nouveau. What the comment did provide was a useful overall assessment for me of most of the projects - I'd call them a technological roccoco. 

      I found little depth and way too much of the word "tectonic" as some sort of critical shield. 

      Of course, just one group of students and a passing look at their efforts.

      Apr 19, 13 8:50 pm

      Roccoco and Art Nouveau are very specific styles. The assessments are obviously metaphoric. Why cant 'critics' just say exuberant or over-done or whatever instead of confusing students with false comparisons. Not talking about you, but remarks like these tht pass for criticism just shows such a lack of knowledge that it is embarrassing,

      Apr 19, 13 9:07 pm

      Eric, thanks, but I disagree. Using such terms as rococco or art nouveau are done on purpose and pointedly. They are very specifc styles that reflected their associated cultures, typically considered "decaying." By referencing these styles and their eras these other facets are brought into play, unlike simply saying exuberant or over-done.

      And I would hope that a Master's degree student (who assumedly has spent a great deal of time studying art and architecture) would not be confused by these terms but would feel the "smart" that they should transmit.

      Apr 19, 13 9:14 pm
      eric chavkin

      What can  say? I wasn't there. I was married for 18 years to an art historian and spent way too much time in museums, libraries, spending a lot of time with people who know the difference. Architects are notorious for speaking crap. But I wasnt there.

      Nevertheless, when I was ignorant, or less accurate, I described Centre Pompidou, in print, as 'machine-age baroque'. Neologisms are creative, and too easy summations.

      Of course my follow-up question, in almost all cases would ask "what do you mean by that" And go from there. This is the  critical 'method' missing in most SCI-Arc reviews that was alluded to earlier by Orhan and more along my line of inquiry.

      Apr 19, 13 9:54 pm

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About this Blog

No Master is a concept for a peer driven study program aiming to capture the benefits of an accredited master’s program without the school. Aimed at working architects and design professionals who wish to develop their professional growth. No Master - play on words: 1 Architects (master builders) without a master’s degree. 2 No school or teachers but but a peer review process, no masters just students 3 Ronin - masterless samurai, term for a secondary school graduate not admitted to university.

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