“Twitch Plays Architecture” channel. Led and created by SCI-Arc Faculty members: Casey Rehm, Damjan Jovanovic, John Cooper , and Anthony Tran. Image courtesy of SCI-Arc
With COVID-19 challenging the nature of in-person events, architecture groups and schools have been forced to think outside the box with how they conduct these gatherings by pivoting to virtual events for online audiences.
Specifically within the academic context, online video platforms and community streaming services have aided in adjusting to this new focus on virtual interactions and gatherings. However, when it comes to highly anticipated school events like thesis exhibitions, spring shows, and graduation, is it possible to replicate the excitement of the IRL experience?
Previously, Archinect discussed the future of lectures, symposiums, and end of the year events with several architecture deans and leaders. While many of these academic leaders have expressed optimism in their plans to make the best of the situation, the pandemic’s ruthless interference has prompted schools large and small to rethink how to do what they do best: deliver quality instruction while highlighting their best and brightest students.
Before COVID-19, going to a SCI-Arc event was often a grand, highly organized, and slightly over-stimulating affair where production value is high and the expectation of having student work deliver new and innovative architectural visions is paramount.
On May 2nd, 2020 SCI-Arc, an Archinect Partner School, hosted its annual fundraising gala, Main E-vent, and the associated 2020 Spring Show highlighting recent student work. Those who have attended a SCI-Arc event in person know that the school’s attention to detail and production efforts are often larger-than-life. This year, however, with everything remote and online, many wondered if the institution would be able to live up to its reputation virtually as well.
The Main E-vent
Before COVID-19, going to a SCI-Arc event was often a grand, highly organized, and sometimes over-stimulating affair where production value is high and the expectation of having student work deliver new and innovative architectural visions is paramount.
Conditions, of course, are different nowadays, and its to be expected that pulling off an event like this online would require several experiential and technical adjustments. I asked myself how could they provide an experience that allowed for each student’s project to shine? How could they create an engaging fundraising effort without the glitz, glamour, wining, and dining that’s only possible with in-person human interaction?
Main Event is SCI-Arc’s largest fundraising initiative for their scholarship endowment fund. This gala is used as an opportunity for the institution to not only celebrate its roots and the individuals that support the school, but also to extend their campus community to visitors, key supporters, and the public.
For me, it was easy to wonder how this year’s Main E-vent would differ from any other virtual gathering. As I patiently waited for the livestream to commence, I aimed to keep my expectations realistic. Coordinating such an event live is already quite a feat, but I was especially intrigued to see and understand how the school’s plan to integrate Twitch into their virtual soiree experience would play out.
Once 6pm PST struck, the festivities began.
Starting off with faculty cocktails led by Marcelo Spina, it was quite entertaining see more than 20 Zoom boxes filled with SCI-Arc instructors, each bringing their own brand of energy to help warm up the event guests.
From the live welcome by SCI-Arc Director Hernan Diaz Alonzo to touching tributes for the late Ray Kappe and Merry Norris to comment exchanges and conversations taking place within the chat sections of Youtube and Twitch, it was fun seeing each faculty member and the audience let loose in the comfort of their own homes. Further, as an outsider reading and engaging in the comments from students and faculty, it was clear that although this virtual event was a fundraiser meant to celebrate student work, it provided a glimpse into SCI-Arc’s unique interpersonal ecosystems.
Part virtual telethon, part live discussion, faculty members and program chairs who appeared at the virtual show used the event to address the importance of what SCI-Arc “brings to the table” when it comes to architecture academia and pedagogy.
Showcasing digital representations of undergraduate, graduate, and postgraduate students, these galleries were broadcast live and presented these projects to the online audience simultaneously.
Being a fundraising event, discussions like this were expected, of course. Viewers watched as Florencia Pita (Graduate Thesis Coordinator), Elena Manferdini (Graduate Programs Chair), Tom Wiscombe (Undergraduate Program Chair), and David Ruy (Postgraduate Programs Chair) discussed the future of what their programs have to offer students and why Main E-vent is an important festivity to showcase these accomplishments despite the pandemic.
Wiscombe poignantly stated, “there’s a crisis of knowledge going on. Knowledge is crucial and it’s important to have sophisticated imaginations. We want to create expertise in architecture and design but also teach fundamentals in liberal arts like philosophy, art history, and film. […] We’re in the long game here at SCI-Arc.”
Commenting on the student work and the importance of Main E-vent, Graduate Programs Chair Elena Manferdini explained, “We will train your eyes, hands, and your skills to be able to visualize your ideas, creativity, and your natural talent. Main E-vent is the opportunity that allows for that to happen.”
Soon after SCI-Arc’s Twitch channel was running live, guests from all over were able to explore digital rooms and channels of various SCI-Arc studios created specifically for the event. Showcasing digital representations of undergraduate, graduate, and postgraduate students, these galleries were broadcast live and presented these projects to the online audience simultaneously.
Spring Show curator John Cooper provided a virtual tour of the SCI-Arc campus, enabling viewers to have a quick glimpse at how a virtual exhibition can take place. From the music and sounds emanating from the screen to his procession through student work, this was something I’d never seen before. When you’re presenting work in a physical space everything has its own place: People can walk to a project and take up space with it. Yet, for this year’s Spring Show, Cooper, along with faculty and students, had to bring their projects to life for viewers in a whole new way.
Images of the human forms dancing and animals pulling dollies of what looked like student work was confusing, but also intriguing. If you’re someone who isn’t a fan of SCI-Arc’s “out of the box” delivery this may seem like a bit of chaos. But perhaps this is what makes SCI-Arc’s approach to bringing their student’s work and presenting it online so different than other schools.
Behind these hyper-visual, speculative images lie architectural themes that are being reinterpreted through experimentation, digital computation, and play.
Behind these hyper-visual, speculative images lie architectural themes that are being reinterpreted through experimentation, digital computation, and play. Altering what is possible for contemporary media, technology, entertainment, and architecture is what the institution is all about, after all. On top of that, their integration of Twitch, an online streaming platform for gamers, added to the event’s level of audience engagement.
With a plethora of channels available, visitors could hop from one studio’s work to that of another. A channel I found most entertaining was Channel 99 “Twitch Plays Architecture” created by SCI-Arc faculty members Casey Rehm, Damjan Jovanovic, and John Cooper with Anthony Tran. By entering simple commands in the comment section, guests were able to drop in their own forms and shapes within the digital environment being displayed.
Jumping from channel to channel, it was hard not to get lost. However, after a few hours of exploring these studios, one thing that stood out was the institution’s commitment to providing students a platform to showcase their work. The existential barriers of social distancing and cancelled in-person studios were artfully handled through faculty and student collaboration augmented and amplified by technology.
Jumping from channel to channel, it was hard not to get lost. However, after a few hours of exploring these studios, one thing that stood out was the institution’s commitment to providing students a platform to showcase their work.
Nothing can truly replace in-person experiences, but what SCI-Arc did provide is a virtual soiree that catered to the institution’s strengths: merging architecture, technology, and experimentation.
However, with all the digital feats, SCI-Arc was able to accomplish, experiencing the Spring Show beyond the live YouTube portion might be a bit difficult for those who aren’t as technically savvy. An in-person SCI-Arc show is overwhelming to guests not familiar with their exhibition approaches. Did the institution mimic previous in-person iterations? Not quite. But, it’s hard, if not impossible, to replace seeing the meticulously made models, large student renders, and drawings pinned up throughout the building with something on a screen. Yet, after attending the event myself, it became clear the school played to its strengths and managed to produce something that was actually quite memorable.
Main E-vent allowed for faculty to be creative and for them to push what’s possible for presenting student work all the while showcasing these productions during a global pandemic. And, of course, most importantly, SCI-Arc gave its community something to celebrate.
They proved that despite the added pressures of organizing the annual event online from scratch, SCI-Arc was able to show, perhaps once and for all, that the school is a cutting edge hub for producing students that know how to put on a show.