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A SCI-Arc panel spotlights architecture’s toxic work culture

I’m in the Mile High City, which means I don’t need as much bourbon to write this newsletter as is customary — thereby saving time and money. I’m Carolina A. Miranda, arts and urban design columnist at the Los Angeles Times, and I’m here with the week’s essential arts news and a spoofy theater TikTok.

Is that the office we want? What began as a SCI-Arc panel on the professional aspects of working in architecture mushroomed into a full-blown controversy that has led to the suspension of two faculty members at L.A.’s famously avant-garde architecture school. It has also spurred a fierce industrywide debate over acceptable working conditions in the field. It all began somewhat innocuously. Late last month, three SCI-Arc professors — Marrikka Trotter, Margaret Griffin and Dwayne Oyler — held a conversation at the school titled “How to Be in an Office” that was intended to give students a taste of what awaited them professionally upon graduation. But comments by Trotter about the hours a young architect might face in different settings — she asked students if they preferred “a 40-hour workweek that you can barely get through? Or is it a 60-hour workweek that you can’t wait to start every day?” — along with comments by Griffin about working a “side hustle” set architecture Twitter alight.

On social media, the hashtag #HowNotToBeInAnOffice quickly took off with discussions about labor conditions in a field where long hours, sleepless nights and low pay have long served as a sort of ritual hazing of the young. (Similar to journalism in that way.) Writer Katherine Guimapang followed up with a blow-by-blow of the proceedings on Archinect. The hubbub over the panel led a group of SCI-Arc students, faculty and alums to launch a petition calling for the removal of Trotter, who oversees the school’s history and theory curriculum, in addition to Tom Wiscombe, chair of the undergraduate program. The pair both work at Wiscombe’s namesake firm, Tom Wiscombe Architecture, and among the allegations leveled against them was that TWA had hired SCI-Arc students to work on projects and then subjected them to mistreatment. A follow-up story in the Architect’s Newspaper, citing anonymous sources, goes deeper into the allegations — describing 18-hour workdays with no lunch breaks and a request by Wiscombe that students clean the studio, which led them to quit en masse.