Jul 23, 2024  
Rensselaer Catalog 2013-2014 
Rensselaer Catalog 2013-2014 [Archived Catalog]

Master of Architecture I - Professional Program

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The curriculum for this professional degree program parallels the B.Arch. program, albeit in an accelerated manner. It features a distinct pedagogical core through an advanced history and theory course sequence. On average, this degree is completed in three and a half years (one summer plus three academic years).

The M.Arch.I degree provides a balanced education in architectural design, history, theory, and technology. As a professional program, it centers on the design studio where projects address myriad design issues through multiple strategies ranging from the design of carefully crafted objects to architecture, landscape architecture, and urban design.

The National Architectural Accreditation Board (NAAB) accredits the Rensselaer School of Architecture’s Master of Architecture three and a half-year program. The following statement is included in the catalog, pursuant to NAAB requirements: 

In the United States, most state registration boards require a degree from an accredited professional degree program as a prerequisite for licensure. The National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB), which is the sole agency authorized to accredit U.S. professional degree programs in architecture, recognizes three types of degrees: the Bachelor of Architecture, the Master of Architecture, and the Doctor of Architecture. A program may be granted a 6-year, 3-year, or 2-year term of accreditation, depending on the extent of its conformance with established educational standards.

Doctor of Architecture and Master of Architecture degree programs may consist of a pre-professional undergraduate degree and a professional graduate degree that, when earned sequentially, constitute an accredited professional education. However, the preprofessional degree is not, by itself, recognized as an accredited degree.

Applicants to this program must have a bachelor’s degree. It is strongly recommended that candidates have within their undergraduate studies a course in free hand or life-study drawing and eight to 10 courses in humanities and social sciences, one year of mathematics with a course in calculus, a course in physics, and additional courses in the sciences. Course work in the arts and art history is also desirable. A portfolio of creative works and critical commentary on those works is required for admission. Application is made to the Institute’s Office of Graduate Admissions. Students with previous architecture courses will be considered for advanced standing in this program. Enrollment in the initial summer studio is usually necessary to determine placement in the design sequence. For information regarding program tuition and financial aid, please refer to the Tuition and Financial Aid section of this catalog.

Rensselaer’s M.Arch.I program incorporates and interconnects the following important elements:

  • Design—The design studio forms the core of all architecture degree programs. The design studio brings together the many aspects of architecture and presents a wide range of design issues, beginning with the development of the tools, skills, and judgments that underlie the production of architecture.

    The skills area emphasizes that the hand is as important as the computer in the development and representation of ideas. The ability to freely manipulate space, surface, structure, and texture is central to the formation of architecture. The tools component develops confidence in the technologies that form architecture and are essential support to creativity. Finally, the judgments aspect is developed through projects premised on the continual evolution of architecture as a manifestation of the social, economic, political, and technological forces within a culture. Typically, the design studios draw on the exceptional range of urban and architectural contexts near the campus; from the historic towns in upstate New York to great cities of the region such as New York, Boston, Montreal, and Philadelphia.

    In the design studio there is no singular, provable, or perfect answer to any of the problems presented. Students explore and develop their design proposals based on their growing knowledge of architecture and emerging abilities. Initial studios introduce students to a full-range of issues, skills, and judgments encountered in design and initiate and reinforce design as critical inquiry. The advanced studios consider larger-scale, more complex, or significant problems in architecture. They include students from across the professional programs. Students select projects and faculty, thereby allowing them to direct their education. The Design Development Studio is a comprehensive design studio in which a prior project is subjected to detailed structural, mechanical, construction materials, and professional practice considerations.
  • History and Theory—A required six-course sequence presents the diversity of architectural works and ideas relative to the contexts within which architecture emerges and exposes students to key historical and theoretical issues in the discipline. Following this sequence, students may take additional advanced architectural history/theory electives as a part of their professional or free electives.
  • Technology and Building Science—Technological issues are introduced from the beginning as essential to the conception and creation, delivery, and performance of architecture. New technologies can also be understood as generative of both form and inhabitable space. A series of six required technology courses considers both qualitative and quantitative views of building technologies. These include statics and strength of materials; basic structures and framing; design of wood, steel, and concrete structures; criteria for selecting building materials and systems; environmental and ecological systems; building systems, including heating, ventilation, air conditioning, plumbing, and electrical systems; sensory environments, including the luminous, acoustical, and tactile dimensions of space; codes and contract documents. Following this sequence, students may take additional advanced technology and building science electives as a part of their professional or free elective selections. Integration of technological considerations is central to many of the studios with a focused emphasis on integrating building technologies especially in the required upper level Design Development Studio.
  • Computation Design—Computational proficiency is central to the practice of architecture. From the first year, students are able to expand their knowledge and skill through course work, which integrates computing concepts and applications—in some cases within the design studios—and through independent experimentation in the many computer labs at the School and Institute. These labs are also complimented by a facility for the fabrication and physical prototyping of design work. We currently have a range of equipment varying from a 3-axis CNC mill, two laser cutters, a 3D printer, and a vacuum-forming machine, as well as access to water and plasma cutters. Students have access to the latest in three-dimensional design software, critical visualization tools, and more specific evaluation based software.

These elements – Design, History and Theory, Technology and Building Science, and Computation – are provided through the required courses as well as many professional electives and topics in such areas as architectural and urban history and theory, technology, computing, building economics, community design, practice and management, architectural lighting, and acoustics in architecture. M.Arch students may augment their required courses with either regularly offered electives described in the back of this catalog or special topics or experimental courses. Sample courses include, but are not limited to:  


Advanced Ceramic Composite Lab
Advanced Architectural Modeling
Analogical Models: Contemporary Art Theory and Practice
Architectural Acoustics 1 and 2
Architectural Aesthetics
Bedford Technology Seminar
Between Dissociation and Merging
Biological Habitat
Built Ecologies 1
Built Ecologies 2
Design Philosophies:Towards a New Technique
Duchamp  Sem: Anarchism Umped
Electronic Media: Critical Visualization
Electronic Media: Physical Design Processes
Emergent Design Philosophies and Techniques
Environmental History and Theory
Environmental Parametrics
Extreme Drawing

Furniture Exploration
Human Environment Interaction
Human Factors in Lighting
Latin American Architecture
Lighting Design
Lighting Technologies and Applications
Materials Systems and Productions
Modular Thinking
Morphogenetic Structures
Performative Morphologies
Project Distortion
Seminar in Sensory Culture
Surface as Structure as Form
Sustainable Building Design Metrics
The Culture of Transparency
The Man Next Door: Alfred Hitchock and the Architecture of Fear

The M.Arch.I program culminates with an individually initiated, planned, and developed thesis. Planning begins in the second year and involves an exchange of ideas with and a critique by a faculty adviser and review committee. Resulting proposals may emerge from a synthesis of previous work applying gained knowledge to advanced issues, or alternatively, make use of experiences to date as a base from which to explore and to innovate. This final year begins with a short competition project in which all participate. An integrated design research phase then lasts the remainder of the first and throughout the second semester.

The thesis is an opportunity to develop a point of view about architecture and its place in the world, to question conventions, habitual responses, and routine approaches to architectural design, and to investigate issues that the student demonstrates as significant to architecture.

The M.Arch.I curriculum sample template is provided under Programs. 

Summer Sessions 1 - 2

The program begins with a 12-week summer session that provides full immersion in architectural design. The summer studio is small and characterized by intense and highly individualized student-faculty interaction. The graduate professional student uses the summer session to prepare for entry into design at the second-year level in the fall; it also provides an opportunity to evaluate his or her design capacity.

First Year

Second Year

Third Year


  • Elective Credit Hours: 4
    (See footnote 3 below)


  • Professional Elective Credit Hours: 4
  • Elective Credit Hours: 8
    (See footnote 3 below)

The degree requires 112 credits.

A Plan of Study is required for all graduate students. Admission with advanced standing can fulfill a significant number of the required 112 credits, especially for students who have been enrolled in undergraduate pre-architecture programs or non-accredited professional programs. Advanced standing requires approval by the School’s Graduate Program Director and the Office of Graduate Education. The final approval of advanced standing will be recorded on the student’s Plan of Study.

Additional Requirements

In addition to the Institute-wide academic regulations outlined in this catalog, the following pertain to graduate programs in architecture:

  • Academic Progress—To earn the professional M.Arch. degree, students must maintain a 3.0 or higher average in the following courses: Design Explorations (ARCH 6110, ARCH 6120 and ARCH 6130) and six credits of 6000-level electives.  Students whose cumulative averages for all course work drop below 3.0 will be reviewed for satisfactory progress. The architecture faculty, as part of its academic review process, will review professional M.Arch. students earning grades of C+ or below. A student earning a C+ or below in a subsequent required design course must either repeat the course or take another course specified by the faculty before advancing to the next course in the design sequence. Students who fail to earn a grade of B or better in the repeated or specified course or who earn a third C+ or lower in design may not continue in the design sequence.
  • Retention of Student Work—All student drawings and models created as part of the instructional program are the property of the Institute until the instructor releases them. The School of Architecture, at its option, may retain certain works for academic purposes.

During their second year, M.Arch.I students participate in a semester-long program in New York City at Rensselaer’s Center for Architecture Science and Ecology (CASE), hosted at the renowned architecture firm Skidmore, Owings, & Merrill (SOM).  The program allows M.Arch.I students to study in a collaborative interdisciplinary research environment focused on the development of advanced, next-generation building systems and sustainable technologies.

In certain cases, M.Arch.I students may participate in a semester-long program of study abroad. Students interested in international programs must develop a Plan of Study with the Graduate Program Director that insures the completion of required coursework in an appropriate sequence. A program fee is required.

In regard to the above template, please note that although studios are generally sequential, ARCH 4300 Design Development studio should be taken after the completion of the ARCH 4360 Graduate Architecture Design 4 studio and before ARCH 6990 Thesis.

  • Technology courses: ARCH 2330 Structures 1 is sequential and prerequisite to ARCH 4330 Structures 2; ARCH 2360 Environmental and Ecological Systems is sequential and prerequisite to ARCH 4740 Building Systems and Environment. 
  • ARCH 2600 Graduate Design Studio, ARCH 2610 Graduate Architecture Design 1 through ARCH 4360 Graduate Architecture Design 4; and the ARCH 2330 Structures 1, ARCH 2360 Environmental and Ecological Systems, and ARCH 4330 Structures 2 series are prerequisites to ARCH 4300 Design Development studio. ARCH 4740 Building Systems and Environment may be taken concurrently with ARCH 4300 Design Development studio.


  1. ARCH 6120 and ARCH 6130 address a variety of significant theoretical issues and are taught together. Topics alternate each year.
  2. Taken in the same semester as ARCH 4300.
  3. At least 6 of the 16 required elective credit hours must be 6000.
  4. Third -year M. Arch students register for 5 credits of Master’s Thesis in the Fall and 6 credits in the Spring.

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