SCI-Arc Media Archive FAQ

Also see Where did the videos come from? and How did the Archive happen?

WHAT IS SCI-ARC? Founded in 1972, the Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc) is an independent, accredited degree-granting institution offering undergraduate and graduate programs in architecture. Located in a quarter-mile-long former freight depot in the Arts District in Downtown Los Angeles, the school is distinguished by its vibrant studio culture and emphasis on process. SCI-Arc’s approximately 500 students and 80 faculty members—most of whom are practicing architects—work together to re-examine assumptions, create, explore and test the limits of architecture. SCI-Arc faculty and leadership have garnered more than 500 national and international design awards and recognitions, including Progressive Architecture awards, American Institute of Architects (AIA) awards, and the prestigious Jencks and Pritzker architecture awards.


WHAT IS SMA? The SCI-Arc Media Archive is an online showcase for lectures originally presented at SCI-Arc from 1974 to the present.  SMA  is based on two ideas that have characterized public programs at SCI-Arc from the beginning:

–The community benefits from engaging different points of view—from the other side of town or the other side of the globe.

–Critical architecture practice is a public concern, not a private conversation among experts.


WHO IS SMA FOR? The archive crew has designed SMA to be useful for students and scholars, but also to be easy to use and fun for anybody with an interest in architecture, Los Angeles and experimental design.


WHAT’S IN SMA? SMA consists of over 600 videos of lectures held at SCI-Arc from 1974 to the present, featuring over 700 speakers. From the website, visitors can view all the videos, pause, jump forward and back. Each video is divided into chapters to ease focused searching. Each video is extensively described, speakers identified, and topics and themes tagged. Visitors can search by keyword, year, speaker name or theme.


WHAT IS THE SCI-ARC LECTURE SERIES? Each semester’s lecture series produces an eclectic selection of speakers from multiple disciplines, including architects, designers, artists, film-makers, engineers, theoreticians, and performers. Speakers are selected by a forum of students, faculty, alumni, and administrators and the lectures are free and open to the public. Lectures are followed by a dinner in honor of the speaker, allowing students and faculty to interact more personally with the invited speaker. SCI-Arc lectures are broadcast live for simultaneous viewing on the internet at


WHAT ARE SMA’S VIDEOS ABOUT? Over 3300 different topics have been identified in the lectures, from Abstraction to Zurich, with an emphasis on architecture and design issues. The speakers include the most significant architects, designers, and theorists of the last four decades—including 11 Pritzker Prize winners. The Southern California scene is especially well represented with architects from midcentury (John Lautner) to now (Elena Manferdini), civic leaders (Antonio Villaraigosa), artists (David Hockney to Mike Kelley), and unexpected guests (Breakfast Club director John Hughes).


WHAT WERE SMA’S SELECTION CRITERIA? SMA is not a publication or exhibition; it is an archive. It has no author, editor, or curator. It reflects SCI-Arc, but isn’t about SCI-Arc.


The videos have not been vetted on the basis of content or personality. SMA includes every lecture that was available, audible and visible. The archive crew strongly believes in a SMA that includes something to delight and something to horrify everyone.


WHY HAVEN’T SMA’S VIDEOS BEEN CLEANED UP? In keeping with this archival mission the individual videos have been digitized but not been manipulated further. SMA presents the documents as found, without editing or “improvements.” The videos are documents produced at different times and places, by means of different technologies, and visitors should be able to see and appreciate those differences.


Besides being an archive of architectural discourse, SMA is also an archive of video technology over the last four decades. Visitors who are familiar only with present-day video will be surprised at discovering the range of visual styles in video represented in SMA: from the silvery black & white images of the mid-1970s, to the saturated hues of the Eighties and Nineties.


The SMA videos also demonstrate a range of approaches to videography. Some of the videos are very raw, others are carefully shot and edited. There is no correlation between chronology and technical sophistication: most of the earliest videos from the mid-1970s are carefully edited from footage shot by two cameras.


WHY DOESN’T SMA HAVE EVERYTHING? The 600 videos in SMA represent an estimated 60% of the public lectures held at SCI-Arc between 1974 and the present. If visitors note the absence of a lecture they remember attending, the explanation is a combination of the following factors:

–Not every event was videotaped

–Quality issues: videotapes made were not always worth keeping

–Shrinkage: videotapes were lost or discarded

–Damage or decay: videotapes were damaged in playback, taped-over, or disintegrated


WHY ARE SO MANY SMA VIDEOS DATED JANUARY 1? The videos came to the archive crew without adequate documentation: the only available inventory of videotapes made between  1974 and 2002 was incomplete, and much of the information was contradictory. Most of the dates appearing in SMA are the result of research. When only the year of an event has been determined, it is identified as “January 1” of that year. When the month and year is known, it is noted as the 1st of that month and year.


WHY ARE THERE TWO DIFFERENT EVENTS TOGETHER ON THE SAME VIDEO? Generations of SCI-Arc staff and students typically economized their use of videotape. Also, some VHS transfers of multiple older format material might have been made for a specific presentation.


WHY IS THE SAME EVENT DIVIDED INTO DIFFERENT VIDEOS? When an event exceeded the length of the videotape, additional tapes were required. In some cases these elements were later combined in a single tape. SMA presents the documents as found, without editing or manipulation.


IS IT POSSIBLE TO GET A COPY OF A VIDEO? Naturally we’re delighted by your interest, but the Archive cannot provide copies of any of the videos. Our policy is that the videos now exist exclusively online, within the context of the Media Archive site. We would encourage anyone working on a presentation, media project or exhibit to explore ways of linking to the videos as they appear in the site.


WHAT’S THE EXHIBITS SECTION? SMA invites architects and scholars to select videos from the archive to tell a story, make an argument, or illustrate a theme. The goal is to demonstrate different ways of using and interpreting the videos, and to encourage visitors to explore and make their own discoveries.


WHAT ARE THE POSTERS? From the beginning, SCI-Arc has been noted for its striking posters, especially the announcements for the public lectures. The Poster section includes high-resolution scans of posters from 1972 to the present.


The archive team digitized every poster available. As with the videos, the team continues to look for missing posters. Anyone who has a SCI-Arc poster that is not in the Poster section is requested to contact the archive at


SO, IS THIS IT? SMA is not done, and will never be done. SMA will continuously expand both into the future and the past. Besides adding videos of the latest SCI-Arc lectures, the archive crew will continue our search for past videos. When we find them, we will add them.