skip to content


The first year of the Design degree provides the foundation skills for the rest of the course. The emphasis is on gaining the design, mathematical and presentation skills that underpin the entire course.

Most of the lecture courses in first year are taught jointly with the Architecture Tripos. The largest difference between the two courses is that the Design course includes a lecture course on Mathematics and Programming (see below).

The first year of the Design course teaches you to create designs and present your ideas in drawings, models and words. The skills you learn in the first year form a firm foundation for the rest of the degree.


Year one studio work is based on a series of projects that introduce you progressively to the conditions and possibilities of architecture. These typically start with smaller-scale, more abstract exercises and work up to a more complex building project at the end of the year.

Studio is taught in our studios. Drawing boards, equipment and materials are all provided. Students are only expected to provide pens and pencils. The studio spaces are provided with desktop machines for CAD. All students are trained to use the machines in the Digital Fabrication Workshop which provides facilities for 3D printing, CNC and modelmaking tools. All model-making materials are provided and students are taught to use whatever they need to produce the projects set.

The emphasis in first year is on developing your skills in traditional modes of architectural representation – models, collages, perspectives, elevations, plans and sections. At the same time, students will be taught to use the basic graphic software  like Photoshop and InDesign in the Professional Skills Course and as the year progresses students will be expected increasingly to use these in their studio presentations. They will gain skills in testing and evaluating design and will apply the skills learnt in the Professional skills course to present their ideas to an audience of  peers and visiting critics.

Cambridge prides itself on small-group teaching. Studio days are timetabled twice a week throughout the term. On these design tutors see students singularly or in small groups. At the end of each term they present their completed projects from that term for marking. Overall the studio work carries 50% of the total marks on the course. . Projects are chosen to provide opportunities for students to develop and demonstrate knowledge and understanding, qualities, skills and other attributes in the context of creative interdisciplinary design. Usually the projects set will be buildings, but this will not always be the case and students might also be set projects that might involve making objects, furniture, products or bridges. The projects will vary from year-to-year. Examples of studio themes in year one are:

Michaelmas Term     Sustainability

The short projects in this term introduce basic design concepts such as iteration, an understanding of form and modes of orthographic and axonometric drawing, basic hand modelling techniques and how to present your ideas. The project set looks at the principles of the environment design course and uses those to inform the design. 

Lent Term  Accessibility 

Students work on projects that explore designing for those with physical or mental disabilities

Easter Term   Inclusivity 

The project or projects explore projects on a larger scale that address the issues of inclusivity in design and participatory design through exploration of current issues in the local area. 


The Professional Skills Course in first year provides an introduction to the skills required for professionals in a working environment and looks at what professionalism means.

It introduces students to the role of design professionals in society. It looks at professional bodies and accreditation, ethics, codes of conduct, regulations and rules. It introduces the ideas of collaborative working and team skills, participatory design and engagement, inclusivity and accessibility and the importance of diversity and engagement. It explores the roles of individuals in design and building practice and the different roles in the process.

The course also aims to provide students with an introduction to the various practical study and communication skills they will require both to complete the course successfully and to be able to perform effectively in practice. It starts with training in verbal presentation and preparing making digital presentations. It covers the basics of essay-writing. It introduces types of design drawings and models. Students are taught how to draw by hand in the first instance. In the Lent Term they learn to use Photoshop, Indesign and Illustrator. Basic 2D CAD is introduced in the Easter Term. They are taught how to make models by hand using paper and card.

It is marked through coursework.


The Materials and Fabrication Course is divided into two parts: the Materials part of this course involves a basic introduction to Materials Science. It explores the basic structures of materials and the way the choice of materials affects design. The course will explore the range of materials available for design, their chemical and physical structure and how materials are chosen for particular purposes. The Fabrication part of this course looks at the basic materials used in buildings and how they are assembled. As a whole the course, which is taught jointly to both architecture and the design tripos, aims to give a basic introduction to Materials Science and Building Construction. The course is assessed through workshops and coursework submitted at the beginning of the Lent and Easter Terms.


This introductory course to environmental design and sustainability in architecture aims to demonstrate why such issues are of relevance and interest to designers today. It discusses environmental issues at the global, local and interior level and assesses their qualitative role in the perception of space and the built environment. Through vernacular, historic and modern examples, the significance of environmental issues is appraised in conjunction with an introduction to the basic principles of environmental science (i.e., the approach is from 'context to principles’). The course aims to outline the role of environmental issues in design, encouraging an overall awareness of how they inform design decisions in light of the broad principles involved.

First year Environmental Design Course students can expect to have gained preliminary knowledge and understanding of: the relationship between people and buildings and between buildings and their local environment;the principles associated with designing stimulating and satisfactory visual, thermal and acoustic environments; the requirement to relate design to human needs; systems for environmental comfort, their history and impact on design; the factors involved in ‘sustainable’ design; the importance of precedents from an environmental perspective; building users’ requirements, appropriate building performance standards, and health and safety issues; and the environmental impact of specification choices

The course is assessed through workshops and coursework submitted at the beginning of the Lent and Easter Terms.


This course provides a basic introduction to structural engineering design and calculation. The  the course is taught jointly with the architecture course and involves using graphic statics to gain an understanding of how loading affects structural form.

The course is assessed through workshops and coursework submitted Michaelmas Term.


This course provides the mathematical understanding necessary to understand concepts in science and structural design. The course presumes the students have Mathematics A level or equivalent. As syllabuses vary, the course will begin by revising A Level Mathematics and basic calculus and trigonometry. The course will then go on to cover the ground covered in Further Mathematics. By the end of the year it aims to have provided students with the basic mathematical tools they will need to proceed to the second year, introducing students to fundamental concepts of mathematics (such as geometry, calculus and linear algebra and matrices). The course is assessed through written examinations at the beginning of Lent and Easter Term. Supervisions are provided throughout Michaelmas and Lent with practice questions to prepare for the exams.


This course, aims to introduce students to the rich history and theory of design, encouraging them to think about different approaches to design and enabling them to be critical of the design work of others by examination of the historical, social, theoretical, cultural, ecological contexts of the design problems and solutions. The course is accompanied by workshops in Michaelmas and Lent on writing and study techniques. There are two submitted essays, one submitted at the beginning of the Lent for feedback but not marked (formative) and one at the beginning of the Easter term which forms the mode of assessment (summative) .