writings + texts
Now and Then: The Upside of Evolution
MICHAEL ROTONDI / SEPTEMBER 2022
Good afternoon, everyone -
Parents, relatives, friends, my colleagues, Director, Board of Trustees, and especially all you in the Class of 2022, the 50th Graduating Class of SCI-Arc, congratulations.
My name is Michael Rotondi, aka Roto. I represent the first Graduating Class of 1973. There were nine of us. We were instrumental in conceiving and constructing the "New School," as we called it then. The truth is almost all change in modern history has been initiated by students, then and now. I was witness to this, with joy in my heart and great anticipation of the inevitability of change. I have seen and learned a lot in all of my years here, most of all that conflict is inherently a creative act. With curiosity, cooperation, tolerance, and an open mind, change becomes an evolutionary imperative. I know this from experience.
I have been a part of SCI-Arc for 50 years, in every capacity: a Student, a Teacher, a Director, and a Trustee, but most importantly, a member of the Family.
The following story I will tell acknowledges that memory is not an exact or accurate archive of past events, but rather it serves as a framework for giving us context, perspective, and guidance for living together in the present. These recollections are those of a person who participated in the events that precipitated the New School's (SCI-Arc) conception, founding of its first home in Santa Monica, and its ongoing evolution throughout its 50-year history. As a frame of reference, I think of SCI-Arc metaphorically, as a living organism.
I've been a witness to a form of Creation Itself. A collective organism, conceived at the epicenter, where the counter-productive force of Anger transforms into the generative power of Creativity. Although it began as a revolution, SCI-Arc was a Love Child.
I am often asked - how do you compare, Now and Then? I think to myself, "Then is still Now, genetically."
It's a long story with a simple answer. From my point of view, what we see here now, embodied in this class of 2012, is without any doubt in my mind, The Upside of Evolution.
Backstory in Perspective
SCI-Arc's existence was as inevitable as the context from which it emerged: the radical unrest and change of the 1960s. It was the era when science fiction became science fact. The moon shoot was now a reality.
The acronym SCI-Arc was a combination of science and architecture, Ray Kappe told us. He told us, we were the present and the future. To put it in perspective I will go back a ways. This can be understood simultaneously as fact and metaphor.
4.6 billion years ago planet Earth was formed, and soon became the place of more complicated processes that led to life in all its forms. Humankind added another level of complexity and behavior 250,000 years ago, when our use of language and other symbols began to introduce a new capacity for collective learning. Knowledge and skills accumulated non-genetically from generation to generation.
Collective learning gave us a history, making it possible for us to learn more, faster in proximity to others. Collective learning shapes the evolution of human societies. Over time, humans became highly networked and inter-dependent creatures.
In numbers, we became a learning organism. Still true.
Symbolic language became a memory system - an external hard drive.
Human societies marked a sudden and unexpected emergence of a new level of complexity.
Fast forward, 1972, SCI-Arc is Born.
50 years ago, an even more unexpected evolutionary event took place - the emergence of SCI-Arc, adding an even greater level of complexity to the Universe. A protean organism emerged. It was like a cloud with a core, always adapting to a changing world, and always conserving its identity and integrity.
Change and Conservation.
Invention and Memory.
It was a time of
_Great learning, and
Our comfort has always been in proportion to uncertainty.
That is the way for creative types.
The bigger the problem
The bigger the smile.
Now and Then is Now - the Past still Present.
SCI-Arc became a new laboratory in many ways, becoming both a social and educational experiment. Students and faculty worked long and productive hours, exploring a wide range of ideas and strategies to implement them. We worked like kids experimenting in the garage, taking risks without fear of failure. Our method was defined as trial and error. If we hit a dead end, we turned back to the fork in the road and went in another direction.
For the first time, we had discovered a life for ourselves. There was no other place we wanted to be. Without realizing it, we were already on a trajectory that was preparing us for the high adventure of creating our own world in the world beyond.
All of us with the great fortune to be present here, at the beginning and now, have been a witness to and participant in a life being born and reborn, standing erect, growing to maturity, and taking its place in the world, not merely responding and adapting to its environment as Darwin might say, but defining its own world within worlds, constructing its own environment, always believing that anything imaginable is possible, and eventually realizing that there was and still is an advantage to being young and naïve. The beginners mind has an extra-ordinary capacity to look and see without expectations, as though for the first time.
An ethos began to take shape, one that intuitively understood that cooperation is biological necessity, one that believed in the good.
'Knowing what good meant resulted naturally in doing it, and what is truly good is best for all,' Socrates had argued.
In moments of reflection, we would ask the same questions you ask now.
Why are we doing this?
What will we achieve?
What will our return on investment be?
What are our guarantees for success?
We have no definitive answers to these questions, but one thing we know in our hearts:
It is the right thing to do!
This is Faith -
believing when it is beyond the power of reason to believe. As your faith is strengthened you will find that there is no longer the need to have a sense of control, that things will flow as they will, and you will flow with them to your great delight and benefit. Faith is to believe what you don't see, and the reward will ultimately be to see what you believe, St. Augustine said.
At this moment and in these times, the bad news will become the good news, if you sustain the courage that kept you searching all these years for the answer to your teachers' big question this year:
"What is your Thesis?"
You must continue to sustain your faith in the Promise of Architecture.
What we have seen year after year, and especially now in our 50th year, seeing the extraordinary work of this graduating class of 2022, presented in May and this weekend, I say,
"Much has changed, and nothing has changed.
The original ethos is operating at a higher level."
SCI-Arc is an evolutionary imperative.
You graduates are SCI-Arc,
You graduates are both the parent and child of SCI-Arc.
Perhaps we are the only ones who understand this,
but I believe it to be true.
SCI-Arc lives because of you.
So now, it is time for all of you to go into the world with all of your aspirations, and please call home once in a while, and continue to make the family as proud as we are at this moment.
With love and admiration,
I wish you all well.