RISD vs SCI-Arc Masters


I'm currently considering getting my graduate in Architecture, and am stuck between RISD and SCI-Arc. I studied one year in undergrad Arch before transferring to a cultural studies course and graduating with that, so I have some technical proficiency and understanding of architecture but will not be going in advanced placement.

The decision is particularly difficult in a few ways: first, I got a scholarship to both which amount to roughly the same expenses per year if you take into account rent and living between Providence and LA; second, I don't have much of a preference between the two locations as I love both areas and would ideally work in either LA or NYC after graduation (I figure RISD generally feeds into NYC firms). 

I've talked to a few SCI-Arc students (granted, there is some bias) who have mostly criticized RISD's focus on hand-made work, arguing that it isn't preparing students for how architecture is generated today. I'm worried about this factor as well -- how heavy does RISD rely on hand-drawings or handcrafted models in their architecture curriculum? Does it adequately prepare students for using technology in most workplaces? On the other hand, RISD is likely a bigger name for potential employers and may help me in getting jobs with more prestigious firms despite this. Finally, having a background in cultural studies and academic writing, I'm also curious as to the amount of importance each course puts on conceptual/theoretical framework behind projects and supports their students in that way.

If there's anyone who has graduated from the Masters programs to either of these schools and could take some time to enlighten me more on the curriculum and its advantages, that would be much appreciated. Thank you in advance!

Mar 22, 21 12:29 pm

don't listen to those sci-arc kids- i would argue the opposite; though they focus on "technology," sci-arc isn't doing enough to prepare students for work on planet earth, but maybe mars. but this is just the equivalent cheap shot.

i went to risd, so some facts: while there is a focus on "hand making," i never found that to be to the detriment of my understanding of technology. in fact, it made it better, and more critical (for instance, i evaluate any piece of software in the same way i do traditional manual methods, instead of taking such software as a given). not to mention there are many professors teaching integrated class that focus on more computer based things; i took plenty of class the used scripting (e.g. pytho).

i also think the department has shifted quite a bit in the past few years and seems to be a little more interested in social and cultural questions as well.

Mar 22, 21 1:22 pm  · 
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Thank you so much for your response, yeah I figured SCI-Arc was a rather unreliable source. It's a relief to hear that RISD seems to balance the two out well.

Mar 22, 21 5:28 pm  · 

Hi I just accepted my M.Arch offer at RISD. Would you give me some insider views/suggestions for an incoming student?

Apr 17, 23 12:11 am  · 

I have gotten into SCIARC and researched the school a lot and what I love is that the professors let you be who you want.  I know people who have done crazy out-of-the-box things and I know people who have taken a more practical route.  Its honestly up to how you want your education to go.  

Mar 22, 21 3:32 pm  · 

Thanks for your response!

Mar 22, 21 5:28 pm  · 

I've had co-workers from RISD and Sci-Arch - The Sci-Arch grads are more adroit with 3D computer based modeling and the RISD grads tend toward leadership roles, they seem more sophisticated in terms of a generalist type role. Then again the Sci-Arch types are more sophisticated in terms of production. Soo do you mostly want to be hands on or eventually be a Job Captain, or Project Architect?

Mar 22, 21 5:17 pm  · 
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I wouldn't look too deep into the particular stereotypes of any university. As a recent alumnus of RISD, I can say firsthand that the criticism of RISD's antiquated form of making is a myth. The reality is that your education is far more reaching than the overly reductive material vs. digital conversation, and both schools likely prepare you for architecture's social, cultural, and disciplinary position. As a graduate student, you determine which representation method is most generative to your research methods and interests. Regardless of the school you choose, you will participate in many new forms of representation alongside talented faculty. 

A few things I may also add in support of RISD's graduate degree. First, what ultimately helped me make my decision was the faculty network and work by recent alumni. RISD participates within an extensive network of universities along the east coast corridor. In any given semester, there are visiting faculty and guest critics from MIT, Yale, Columbia, Harvard, Pratt, etc. which often find themselves teaching Advanced Studios that range in terms of digital fluency. As a RISD student, you can also take courses at Brown, so if you are interested in any of Brown's course offerings, you can take a course there too. Secondly, the fact that the Architecture Department is within an art school is an excellent resource. Some students lean into this more than others. Still, the opportunity to explore courses outside of the department is already calculated into your schedule during Wintersession (an accelerated 5-week term starting in January before the Spring semester). During the Wintersession, students take one or two local or travel courses to explore new forms of making. Alternatively, graduate students have the opportunity to design their own course to teach within the Architecture Department during Wintersession. This led me toward an excellent working relationship with the Sculpture Department and several independent studies, which ultimately helped me explore my digital fabrication research interests.

Hopefully you find this helpful, and congratulations on your acceptance!

Mar 23, 21 4:08 pm  · 
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