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The Fourth year of the design tripos provides students with the opportunity to demonstrate creativity and mastery in design and at least one of the fundamental disciplines, using theoretical, experimental and/or computational methods. Both studio and dissertation projects make use of the knowledge and skills developed in first three years of the degree and the nature of the project will be determined partly by the pathway taken.

The emphasis in this year is on research led exploration of design, materials science and engineering. Students choose design projects and dissertations topics based on their own interests and work closely on them with research and design supervisors, bringing together all the skills and knowledge they have acquired. They will be expected where appropriate to liaise with industry and to be able to carry out work independently and in teams.

There is one compulsory paper, Professional Practice, which covers aspects of the economics and finance of design projects and looks at the legal aspects in greater depth. Students are free to sit any other papers in the Architecture and Design Triposes and are encouraged to explore lectures and other papers offered by the University that might be relevant to their chosen areas of exploration. Students are appointed supervisors for their studio and dissertation projects.


In the final year of the Design Tripos there is no requirement for the design necessarily to be a building. The studio project might instead be exploring the properties of a new material or form of manufacture. The choice of design topic will determine the sort of accreditation sought (Materials or Structural Engineering) and must adequately demonstrate the student’s expertise in that area. So the student might suggest a new form of building construction or designing a skyscraper or they might make a tent or a new type of cricket bat using an unusual material. Or their design might be in the area of computational design and robotics or a device to improve mobility or help the elderly. Suggestions for topics and supervisors are circulated at the end of the third year but students are free to suggest their own topics. The choice is only limited by the availability of supervisor and suitable facilities.


The dissertation or project is a sustained piece of written research of 5-7,000 words in length. The dissertation will usually be associated with and elaborate on the studio project and should have a connection with it. It will have a clear literature survey and demonstrate an understanding of research methods. Students choose from list of projects and of subject areas for dissertations and exercises, and details of the requirements are made available at the beginning the year.


The professional skills course in the fourth year looks at the issues surrounding bringing ideas to fruition including raising finance and securing research funding, entrepreneurship and publication. There is a strong emphasis in this year on research skills and research writing. The course is assessed through workshops and coursework submitted at the beginning of the Lent and Easter Terms.