“SCI-Arc is still a raucous place in a pedagogical way,” says director Eric Owen Moss, FAIA, “but administratively it is more institutional than it used to be.” The Los Angeles school’s gallery encourages that active discourse and provides the framework, sweat equity, and funding for experimental installation work. This spring, local architect Barbara Bestor, AIA, 44, worked with students to construct “Silent Disco,” an unfolded plywood polyhedron that doubles as a dance club. The piece, a perceptual play on surfaces, is covered in Dazzle camouflage graphics and glittery mirrors.

By engaging the whole school in the process, SCI-Arc continues its hands-on legacy, even as it embraces digital tools. “Built work—whether in installations or ‘bricks and mortar’—is both a crucial form of engagement and ever more difficult to achieve due to the institutionalization of so many building practices,” Bestor says. “There are fewer design-centric architecture projects to do out there. It is not a new problem, but it is hard to get new interesting or challenging work built in the U.S. in this climate. The schools have become crucial to supporting the next generation.”