Growing up in Chengdu, Wenhao Huang spent most of his high school years trying to find a happy medium between his passions for biology and literature. Finally, it hit him — he could study architecture and go on an academic journey encompassing both the arts and the sciences. Whilst an undergraduate student in Baltimore, Maryland, he started looking into the possibility of transferring — specifically to an institution renowned for its ability to inspire.
Skimming through student portfolios, only one option made the most sense. “The Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc) was home to students developing projects more ‘visual’ than anything I had ever seen before,” he says. “You could tell each project and art form was intentionally aimed towards development and exploration of architecture.”
By choosing the Bachelor of Architecture (B.Arch) programme, Huang knew he could be one of them too. The five-year professional degree, accredited by the National Architectural Accrediting Board, focuses on both design excellence and intellectual breadth through SCI-Arc’s signature approach to liberal arts-based education.
The journey has been as interdisciplinary as ever. Philosophical lessons are Huang’s favourite. Without these sessions, he wouldn’t be able to think as creatively and architecturally as he does today. “It’s reimagined my way of seeing leaps and bounds,” he says.
A true “school of architectural thinking,” SCI-Arc is dedicated to educating architects who will imagine and shape the future. Such outcomes are typical at a world-renowned centre of innovation. Hence, Huang has even been able to explore artificial intelligence (AI) as part of one comprehensive module.
“We use AI to explore many aspects of architecture: materiality and form. Instead of steering away from such technologies, I’ve been encouraged to explore them while identifying what they mean to the field of architecture,” he says. “Many questions arise in the exploration process, but these lessons have certainly helped me achieve some of my finest projects.”
Conceptualising and executing the projects Huang speaks of is one of the unique ways SCI-Arc ensures its learners evolve into savvy industry experts with broadened horizons. Students enrolled in the B.Arch programme spend five years at SCI-Arc working on portfolios primed to make them highly competitive in the global architectural marketplace.
These collections often capture the attention of top firms, such as Morphosis, Gehry Partners, Gensler, ZGF, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, Zaha Hadid Architects, Neil M. Denari Architects, and Eric Owen Moss Architects — all of which have welcomed SCI-Arc graduates with open arms.
The other half of B.Arch graduates matriculate to some of the world’s most prestigious postgraduate degree programmes. Of course, SCI-Arc is home to its impressive lineup of postgraduate offerings as well, which rank in the top 10 across all of the DesignIntelligence survey’s focus areas, including design theory, construction methods, materials, and sustainability.
Each programme is delivered from SCI-Arc’s campus within the Arts District in downtown Los Angeles, California — a city Graduate Programme Chair Elena Manferdini describes as “a generous place for architects.” The walkable cultural hub is filled with museums, art galleries, restaurants, and boutiques that never fail to cure the most severe cases of designer’s block.
Tanya Jhaveri, a B.Arch student from India says she “couldn’t have chosen a better destination” to study in. She had sought a city that would inspire her the way her home city of Ahmedabad inspired her grandfather — who never received professional architecture training, yet succeeded in designing and building a beautiful “haveli” (a traditional Indian mansion organised around two courtyards) for their family.
“Seeing his dream come true was inspiring to me,” she says. When Jhaveri learned students at SCI-Arc were striving to break boundaries at similar scales, she knew it was a community worth joining. In the studio, she’s been learning to follow in her grandfather’s footsteps by immersing herself in hands-on projects set in place to help her build visual literacy, learn design skills, test ideas, and receive personalised attention from esteemed practitioners who double as SCI-Arc’s faculty.
“Every studio has been an experiential learning curve,” Jhaveri says. “Each has had its set of ups and downs, but they have ultimately taught me to always have trust and faith in the process.”