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SCI-Arc Grad Thesis Weekend 2020 Presents a Thrilling Virtual Smorgasbord

On September 9-12, SCI-Arc convened to present its globally renowned Graduate Thesis Weekend, as the culmination of the 2020 graduate programs curricula. Complete with wall-to-wall livestreamed final reviews, SPIN Room commentary sessions throughout, as well as rich and engaging discourse and feedback from a wide range of experts in the field of architecture, this year’s graduating M.Arch 1 and 2 students took the virtual stage via Twitch and YouTube Live to present their final thesis projects.

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SCI-Arc Graduate Thesis Coordinator, Florencia Pita, and Graduate Programs Chair, Elena Manferdini in the SPIN Room

SCI-Arc Graduate Thesis Weekend is the school’s largest annual event, during which visiting critics, architecture professionals, as well as SCI-Arc faculty and leadership collectively review students’ graduate theses as they put forth their final proposals, which each year endeavor to generate new perspectives in architecture and design. As Graduate Thesis 2020 was held remotely, SCI-Arc invested extensively in its online platforms and promoted new ways to virtually gather and broadcast live, allowing the event to reach a larger audience than ever before.

For thesis graduates this year, SCI-Arc adopted the latest technologies to make first-person experiences possible during remote learning to enrich students’ worldviews, which enabled experimentation and exploration of new forms of architecture using digital innovations, including the wildly complex virtual models for which SCI-Arc students are known, dystopian narrative films, and much more. Additionally, many thesis students through their projects explored and reflected upon life, architecture, and materiality amidst a pandemic in tandem with a global uprising for human rights and eradicating racial injustice.

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Thesis project and presentation by Graduate Thesis student Jesse Gates (M.Arch, '20) with Juror Germane Barnes

“The current pandemic-related lockdown worldwide has transformed our ways of both communication and experience,” commented Graduate Programs Chair Elena Manferdini of the present and future contexts within which this year’s Thesis Weekend will be viewed. “I believe that this virtual reality holds the promise of new possibilities going forward and will foster debate in a wide spectrum of creative and cultural sectors.”

“For me, thesis was a rare opportunity in which I was able to truly inhabit my work—as a designer and a queer person,” said Richard Mapes, one of this year’s five Gehry Prize recipients, “and the pandemic, BLM [Black Lives Matter], and global ecological issues have highlighted the need for strong and unique voices.”

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Thesis project by Gehry Prize winner Justine Poulin (M.Arch 1 ’20)

The 2020 Gehry Prize winners, revealed during SCI-Arc’s commencement ceremony, were Mapes (M.Arch 2 ’20), Irvin Shaifa (M.Arch 2 ‘20), Zoe Małecki (M.Arch 1 ’20), Justine Poulin (M.Arch 2 ’20), and Saleh Jamsheer (M.Arch 2 ’20). The Gehry Prize is awarded in recognition of the year’s most exemplary Graduate Thesis projects.

“I was so shocked to win the Gehry Prize,” shared Małecki on being announced as a prize recipient. “It feels so nice to win after working so hard for the last three and a half years; I'm still in disbelief because there were so many amazing projects this summer.”

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Thesis project by Gehry Prize winner Irvin Shaifa (M.Arch 1 ’20)

For Shaifa, the thesis experience itself represented a starting point, “of a lifelong investigation or obsession.”

“I view architecture as an act of optimism,” he continued. “Thesis has been an opportunity to pronounce positive futures without fully concretizing any one path. It is a way to embolden various mindsets and environments that require constant change to retain their functionality.”

According to Jamsheer, he approached Thesis with the ambitions of doing “what I felt most passionate about, disregarding whether people would criticize it for not being ‘architecture.’ It was an opportunity where I could spend time finding a way to bridge my interest in film with the knowledge I’ve acquired over the years of studying architecture.”

“To me,” added Poulin, “Thesis is an amazing opportunity to concentrate your attention on a topic or interest and explore its potential through specific avenues—having to do so in such a particular context certainly brought up interesting challenges, but also wonderful discoveries.”

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Elena Manferdini in the SPIN Room with SCI-Arc Faculty (clockwise) Anna Neimark, Mira Henry, John Cooper, and Kristy Balliet

SCI-Arc Director Hernán Díaz Alonso discussed the evolving role of Graduate Thesis for students as well as the school as a whole: “In terms of aspiration, what we at SCI-Arc want Thesis to be is an absolutely vital first step towards a professional life; that’s the best that it has to offer as a pedagogical, academic, and professional tool. There is an important aspect of Thesis in not only each individual finding their voice, but also a collective voice, providing a place for all voices in the school to be expressed.”

“Thesis is valuable because it produces a wonderful disruption,” Díaz Alonso concluded, “allowing students, faculty, advisors, and visiting reviewers to come together to have a healthy intellectual battle for the center of the discussion of the discipline.

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DJ Florencia Pita in the SPIN Room Graduate Thesis afterparty

To access archived SPIN Room sessions, visit the SCI-Arc Live Channel here.

To access Graduate Thesis Weekend schedule and view student work, visit the dedicated Graduate Thesis website here.