skip to content

Department of Architecture

 

This two-year course is a professional course; that is, an ARB/RIBA Part 2 replacing the previous Master of Philosophy in Architecture and Urban Studies in October 2022. It will accept applications from Autumn 2021. The course is unique among MArch courses in allowing students in combining research and design. It allows considerable flexibility in the  choice of both the design project and the research field. It  provides advanced teaching, research and practice opportunities in the social, political, historical, theoretical and economic aspects of architecture, cities and the global environment.

The course is a hybrid of independent research through design and a structured technical learning resource. It is designed for mature students that join the program with a distinct area of interest and provides guidelines to their research, access to specialists of various fields relevant to their studies, and a matrix of deliverables that foster an informed body of work underpinned by a sophisticated set of design and presentation techniques.

Research Proposal

Students attend the weekly lectures for the MPhil of Architecture and Urban Studies and have studio supervisions not heir studio projects which are developed in first year through a series of exercises directed in by studio tutors who looks after students working in a particular area of interest or approach. These are handed in and assessed termly.

At the same time students work with a research supervisor on their refining the topic or their research thesis and carrying out the background reading. At the end of the academic year their produce a research proposal which outlined the scope of both the design project and the written thesis and shows how the two relate. This must be passed to progress to year two.

Students must identify a research supervisor on application and should have discoed a suitable topic with them and have their agreement and support.

Fieldwork

Any field work for the written thesis or design project is carried out over the summer between first and second year. There are various sources of funding which students can apply for to support travel and expenses if necessary.

Written thesis and Design Project

In the Michaelmas Term of the second year students complete their written thesis which is handed in before the beginning of the Lent Term. The 15-20,000 word written thesis must clearly relate to the design thesis and usually they form a collective project, research having informed the design and often the design work having informed the research. A make of 70% in necessary in the written thesis to progress to a PhD after the completion of the MArch.

Topic for Research and Design Projects 

We host  theses on a wide range of topics which relate to explorations into strategies for resilience (material, environmental, socio-economic and cultural), the contemporary role of civic institutions, and the impact of architecture and urbanism on social equity.  In each case students are expected to produce a resolved design project with a clear approach to their research topic at a regional/ urban, and material/building scales. 

The programme propagates a twofold understanding of design and mediates between its analytical/synthetic, and technical/socio-political aspects. These dichotomies are studied within a specific geographic area or region, its local set of conditions and global entanglements setting the parameters for each student’s research. Based on the site’s characteristics, students speculate on the immediate spatial implications of their broader approach to their topic.  The outcome of the course is a carefully articulated design proposition described at a range of scales.  These proposals are developed throughout the duration of the course, drawing on and informing, the direction of both technical and socio-political research. 

While each candidate applies to the course with an individual design research proposal, the structure of the programme groups these topics into a shared set of themes and approaches.  In each case, students are helped to refine their work to focus on a distinct design scale, and to engage with a core research objectives, supported by the expertise of the academic staff.  These common areas of study enable the cohort to consolidate and share resources and expertise whilst building upon the creative productivity of a studio environment.

In support of this structure, we are offer an full seminar and studio programme that introduces a number of theoretical approaches, research methods, and documentation and representation techniques.  These place a strong emphasis on the design content of the projects in the first term, and work to build the supporting research framework in the second.  In this manner we are able to support a focused study of a specific topic, using both design provocations or tests, as well as academic research methods in order to refine each student's approach to their topic.  The two years then give students the breadth of opportunity to explore their projects fully and to wrestle with the implications of their ideas with a depth rarely afforded a conventional diploma project.  The integration with the research groups within the department, and experts in the wider University promotes an understanding of interdisciplinary engagement and an increased integration of studio and research cultures.  And while this produces a stimulating design environment, the primary aim of the course is the development of strong, imaginative, design projects that are grounded in a disciplined understanding of the factors that influence them and the more abstract debates that they are engaged with.

Course Structure & Examination

The course is structured by six residential terms focusing on design and detailed analysis (residence in Cambridge), an interim field work period (elsewhere), and a third term focusing on regional analysis/research (residence in Cambridge). These complementary term components, together with the fieldwork period, provide an opportunity to explore distinct interests within design practice in various settings, whilst offering a sound framework to pursue meaningful research.

Candidates are free to choose a geographic area/region of their interest that frames their study throughout the programme but must identify a supervisor within the department with suitable expertise that they can work with. A list of supervisors and topics their are willing to supervise is available here.

The focus shall be primarily with issues of contemporary construction, not excluding the consideration of historical or traditional building methods that are still prevalent.  More generally, candidates develop an understanding of the complexity of environments and their various aspects being inseparable from, and integrated with each other.  More importantly, however, students will develop highly particular areas of expertise that they may draw on for the remainder of the course.

The programme positively encourages students to develop complex architectural proposals that meet RIBA/ARB criteria for Part II exemption and to acquire knowledge and develop and apply research skills in the following areas:

  • Role of environmental and socio-political issues in architecture and urban design
  • The wider environmental, historical, socio-cultural and economic context related to architecture and cities
  • The building science and socio-political theories associated with architecture and urban design
  • Modelling and assessment of building and urban design
  • Monitoring and surveying of buildings and urban environments
  • Human behaviour, perception and comfort, and their role in building and urban characteristics
  • Research methods and their application through academic and design methods.

Teaching

Teaching is delivered through seminars, supported by individual supervisions.  Students are also offered a series of studio sessions, hands-on workshops, offering support in computer modelling, physical laboratory testing and guidance on the use of environmental sensors and loggers. Throughout the programme individual supervision is provided regularly to assist, direct and monitor progress.

Individual research activities, oral presentations and written essays encourage students to identify and solve problems, and are supported by regular feedback sessions and in supervisions.  These strategies, particularly through specialist supervisions, are built upon through the independent dissertation research programme.

The weekly seminars, plus additional studio workshops, provide a framework to explore a variety of research approaches from a range of relevant disciplines available in the Department. Students receive general seminars and specific guidance on research methods, the use of libraries, and writing techniques. An initial comprehensive bibliography is provided prior to the start of the course to allow students to begin their preparation. Upon arrival to Cambridge, the bibliography is supplemented by guidance on further reading in the seminars and supervisions. Guidelines on coursework essays and dissertations are given in general terms and more specifically in supervisions. Research methods, techniques and analytical skills are developed through the lectures and coursework.

The course requires regular written, visual and oral presentations in the Studio.  Effective communication of research findings and design concepts are an important criterion in all areas of the students' work, and assessed at all stages.  In addition to research skills seminars, students attend weekly seminar courses for the first term and elect to attend seminar modules during their second. They are expected to audit other modules as appropriate for their projects.  Attending lectures is optional but students are strongly encouraged to take advantage of lectures offered in the Department and other Faculties relevant to their research.

The course is intense and demands effective time management.

Supervision

Students will be allocated a departmental supervisor during their first week who will support their academic progress for the duration of the course (two to three supervisions per term). This will be complemented by studio tutorials (1 hour per week) and specialist supervisions arranged by the course director. Supervision arrangements and contacts will be suggested at the beginning of each term but it is the individual responsibility of each student to arrange supervisions, and to submit work promptly as requested by supervisors.

Feedback

This two-year course is an ARB/RIBA Part 2 programme that provides advanced teaching, research and practice opportunities in the social, political, historical, theoretical and economic aspects of architecture, cities and the global environment.

The course is a hybrid of independent research through design and a structured technical learning resource. It is designed for mature students that join the program with a distinct area of interest and provides guidelines to their research, access to specialists of various fields relevant to their studies, and a matrix of deliverables that foster an informed body of work underpinned by a sophisticated set of design and presentation techniques. The course is closely connected with research interests within the Department.  Virtually all the academics and researchers teach and supervise on the course. 

The programme propagates a twofold understanding of design and mediates between its analytical/synthetic, and technical/socio-political aspects. These dichotomies are studied within a specific geographic area or region, its local set of conditions and global entanglements setting the parameters for each student’s research. Based on the site’s characteristics, students speculate on the immediate spatial implications of their broader approach to their topic.  The outcome of the course is a carefully articulated design proposition described at a range of scales.  These proposals are developed throughout the duration of the course, drawing on and informing, the direction of both technical and socio-political research. 

Course Structure

The course is structured around a shared range of topics within which each student develops an individual research project and design portfolio.  This work is conducted over the course two academic years (October-June), with  any fieldwork being carried out over the summer between Years 1 and 2.  During the first year, students develop an architectural project in fulfilment of RIBA part II criteria and supported by drawings and models. The research develops the context for this project and a broader strategic framework, students working in their area of study either in the workshops or in an internship or placement in a related institution (academic or otherwise), or relevant practice. They use this stage to assemble a strong body of primary and secondary material and to progress with the written component of the MArch.  During the final year, students produce a broader design framework for their Y1 proposal that integrates thesis research. 

While each candidate applies to the course with an individual design research proposal, the structure of the programme groups these topics into a shared set of themes and approaches.  In each case, students are helped to refine their work to focus on a distinct design scale, and to engage with a core research objective, supported by the expertise of academic staff.  These common areas of study enable the cohort to consolidate and share resources and expertise whilst building upon the creative productivity of a studio environment.

In support of this structure, we are offer a full seminar and studio programme that introduces several theoretical approaches, research methods, and documentation and representation techniques.  These place a strong emphasis on the design content of the projects in the first year, and work to build the supporting contextual research and strategic framework through the fieldwork period and second year. We use both design provocations, as well as academic research methods in order to refine each student's approach to their topic.  The two years then give students the breadth of opportunity to explore their projects fully and to wrestle with the implications of their ideas with a depth rarely afforded a conventional diploma project.  The integration with the research groups within the department, and experts in the wider University promotes an understanding of interdisciplinary engagement and an increased integration of studio and research cultures.  And while this produces a stimulating design environment, the primary aim of the course is the development of strong, imaginative, design projects that are grounded in a disciplined understanding of the factors that influence them and the more abstract debates that they are engaged with.

Topic for Research and Design Projects 

We host theses on a wide range of topics which relate to explorations into strategies for resilience (material, environmental, socio-economic and cultural), the contemporary role of civic institutions, and the impact of architecture and urbanism on social equity.  In each case students are expected to produce a resolved design project with a clear approach to their research topic at a regional/ urban, and material/building scales. 

Candidates are free to choose a geographic area/region of their interest that frames their study throughout the programme but must identify a supervisor within the department with suitable expertise that they can work with. A list of supervisors and topics they are willing to supervise is available here.

The focus shall be primarily with issues of contemporary construction, not excluding the consideration of historical or traditional building methods that are still prevalent.  More generally, candidates develop an understanding of the complexity of environments and their various aspects being inseparable from and integrated with each other.  More importantly, however, students will develop highly particular areas of expertise that they may draw on for the remainder of the course.

The programme positively encourages students to develop complex architectural proposals that meet RIBA/ARB criteria for Part II exemption and to acquire knowledge and develop and apply research skills in the following areas:

-      Role of environmental and socio-political issues in architecture and urban design

-      The wider environmental, historical, socio-cultural and economic context related to architecture and cities

-      The building science and socio-political theories associated with architecture and urban design

-      Modelling and assessment of building and urban design

-      Monitoring and surveying of buildings and urban environments

-      Human behaviour, perception and comfort, and their role in building and urban characteristics

-      Research methods and their application through academic and design methods.

Assessment

Thesis / Dissertation

Students must submit a dissertation of up to, and no more than, 20,000 words (including footnotes and annotation, but excluding bibliography) on a subject that falls within the research topics advertised in the Easter term before they start the course. A list of these research topics and the supervisors can be found on the department website. The dissertation carries 30% of the final mark. Students who wish to continue to the PhD degree must get at least 70% in the dissertation.

Students write design theses on a wide range of topics which relate to explorations into strategies for resilience (material, environmental, socio-economic and cultural), the contemporary role of civic institutions, and the impact of architecture and urbanism on social equity.  In each case students are expected to produce a resolved design project with a clear approach to their research topic at a regional/ urban, and material/building scales.

Essays

Students must prepare a 3,000 word research proposal at the end of the first year which outlines both the topic of their written dissertation and the form and site of their final study project and provides a detail commentary on how the dissertation relates to the studio project. The research proposal counts for 10% of the final mark and must be passed before proceeding to the second year. A logbook or blog of work and research carried out during the research period between first and second year will be assessed at the beginning of the Easter Term of Year 2. The logbook/blog is not awarded a mark.

Written examinations

The students sit two papers on Management, Practice and Law in the Easter Term of their first year. These carry 10% of the overall marks and must be passed to complete the course.

Studio work

Studio work represents the major output of the course and takes up most of the time. Students are expected to produce regular portfolio work in the form of drawings, models and design work throughout the two years of the course which will be submitted for assessment, typically termly, culminating in a building project realisation at the end of the first year, and the full design project which is completed in the second year. Overall portfolio work counts for 50% of the final mark in the degree. Portfolios are submitted electronically and can be accompanied by physical models and students are expected to present their work to examiners in oral presentations.

Final Grades 

Although marks are issued for the thesis, and students must pass each element, students are not graded overall. The degree is pass or fail (with a distinction awarded exceptionally to candidates who demonstrate a particularly outstanding performance but no guarantee that a distinction will be awarded in any one year).

Teaching

Teaching is delivered through seminars, supported by individual supervisions. Students are also offered weekly studio sessions and a series of hands-on workshops, offering support in research skills and techniques. Throughout the programme individual supervision is provided regularly to assist, direct and monitor progress.

Individual research activities, oral presentations and written essays encourage students to identify and solve problems and are supported by regular feedback sessions and in supervisions. These strategies, particularly through specialist supervisions, are built upon when the student embarks on their independent dissertation research programme.

 The weekly seminars, plus additional studio workshops, provide a framework to explore a variety of research approaches from a range of relevant disciplines available in the Department. Students receive general seminars and specific guidance on research methods, the use of libraries, and writing techniques. An initial comprehensive bibliography is provided prior to the start of the course to allow students to begin their preparation. Upon arrival to Cambridge, the bibliography is supplemented by guidance on further reading in the seminars and supervisions. Guidelines on coursework essays and dissertations are given in general terms and more specifically in supervisions. Research methods, techniques and analytical skills are developed through the lectures and coursework.

The course requires regular written, visual and oral presentations in the Studio.  Effective communication of research findings and design concepts are an important criterion in all areas of the students' work and developed at all stages. The course is intense and demands effective time management.

Supervision

Students will be allocated a departmental supervisor during their first week who will support their academic progress for the duration of the course (two to three supervisions per term). This will be complemented by studio tutorials (1 hour per week) and specialist supervisions arranged by the course director. Supervision arrangements and contacts will be suggested at the beginning of each term, but it is the individual responsibility of each student to arrange supervisions, and to submit work promptly as requested by supervisors.

Feedback

Students will be provided with feedback via studio days, supervisions, supervisor's termly reports, which are available to them via their self-service pages on CamCors and coursework feedback.