Curriculum

The Master of Architecture Thesis

Master of Architecture degree candidates in the M. Arch. II and M. Arch. III programs must complete both a written thesis document and design thesis under the supervision of a committee made up of graduate faculty from the Department and the University.

The following steps inform and shape the thesis process.

In the fall of the first professional year, students enroll in ARC 634 Architecture Theory & Research, a course that explores a broad range of theoretical discourse, providing students with a solid foundation in architectural theory and its critical application. During the subsequent  semester, students take the ARC 636 Design and Research Methods course that focuses on the craft of writing, research methodologies, and strategies to select and investigate their thesis site and develop their thesis program. Students are empowered with the methodologies to pursue their written thesis investigation in terms of:

  • Developing the thesis topic or “question”
  • Generating an abstract that responds to the thesis question and outlines a method of inquiry
  • Creating writing groups for peer review
  • Assessing one’s method of inquiry
  • Developing the thesis draft document and
  • Editing, revising and presenting the thesis document.

The written thesis in conference paper, ACSA National Meeting format stresses the exploration, presentation and publication of a theoretical position presented to a distinguished panel of educators as part of the activity of the Architecture 701 Pre-Thesis Design studio. Thesis inquiry is also supported early in the design studio sequence. In the ARC 701 design studios, students write response papers that “problematize a context” and speculatively respond to the “problem” that their design project seeks to address. This process is supported by internationally recognized visiting scholars that work with the students. Recent visiting scholars include: 2012 -  Andés Mignucci, Andrés Mignucci Arquitectos, Polytechnic University of Puerto Rico; 2011 - Renee Chow, Principal Studio Urbis, University of California-Berkeley, and; 2010 - Paul Lukez, Principal, Paul Lukez Architecture, Washington University.

Graduate Departmental Seminars and elective course work stimulate thesis inquiry and include extensive writing exercises in multiple forms. Students are expected to develop an area of thesis inquiry and identify seminars and independent study elective(s) throughout the curriculum that will prepare them for their thesis. During the spring semester in conjunction with the ARC 636 Design and Research Methods course, students present thesis proposals to the faculty. These presentations must include evidence of the topic’s viability in terms of: a statement of, and response to, their thesis question and an outline of their proposed method of inquiry including existing scholarship related to their question expressed in the form of an annotated bibliography. Committees are established in consultation with thesis students and the faculty.

Thesis research and design project site selection must occur during the summer to assure timely completion of the thesis. Students take ARC 700 Thesis Study independently under the supervision of their thesis committee chair during the summer term to pursue the development of the written thesis document until its presentation during the fall term as part of the ARC 701 Pre-Thesis Design studio. 

During the thesis period, students meet regularly with their thesis committees to receive advice and consultation on the position of their written research and design inquiry. Students present their research findings in the form of a well-crafted journal article presented in a conference paper format to students, faculty and invited guests during the fall term. In the final spring semester, students enroll in ARC 702 Thesis Design Studio to complete the thesis design and incorporate their design findings into their written thesis document in terms of a critical addendum that forensically examines their design outcomes in an effort to understand the efficacy of the design and point to its relevance. The ARC 702 studio emphasizes design ideation, process and craft while supporting the student’s design inquiry and content.

Whereas the written theses must meet the standards, format, and procedures established by the Department of Architecture and Interior Design, thesis topics are chosen by the student to explore a particular area of personal inquiry. The thesis topic, subject matter, methodology, and content are developed by the student in consultation with their committee and their studio and seminar instructors. The thesis is valued as a rigorous culminating and synthesizing activity. The graduate faculty and student community expects that thesis activity should be of exceptional quality and its scholarship should become the basis for publication in scholarly journals and presentation at professional meetings.

Areas of Curriculum

Design

Architecture graduate study at Miami University is organized around a rigorous sequence of studio experiences. Students entering the two-year program enroll in ARC 601 during the fall  semester. This studio incorporates design problem solving methodologies and critical analysis. In the context of intensive reading, writing and design exercises tested through a process of individual and group critiques, students are expected to demonstrate strong critical thinking, design ideation and craft.

In the spring semester, students enroll in ARC 602, a comprehensive studio in which students build upon their ARC 601 experiences. This course enables them to realize their designs through the design development/pre-construction document phase. Students in this studio become familiar with all aspects of design integration, including program assessment, site planning, structure, envelope and environmental systems. Instruction in the studio is amplified by frequent on-site visits and consultation with staff specialists from regionally-recognized architectural firms.

In the third semester, students enroll in the Pre-Thesis Studio ARC 701. The ARC 701 studio includes both directed projects and thesis project development. A portion of the semester is spent on the design of assigned projects under the direction of the ARC 601 and 701 studio instructors, in collaboration with nationally recognized visiting scholars that have included architects, artists, psychologists and architectural critics from outside the university who engage in criticism, studio instruction and thesis document presentation. Students in the Pre-Thesis Studio are expected to balance time spent on assigned projects while finalizing their thesis written research, presented in mid-November, and initiating preliminary design investigations related to the thesis project that will be reviewed at the end of the fall semester.

In the final semester, ARC 702 students develop their thesis designs under the direction of their thesis committees and studio instructor and present their projects to a thesis jury comprised of thesis committee members, visiting critics, practicing professionals and nationally recognized invited guests.

History and Theory

All students in the graduate program at Miami are expected to have mastered course work in the history of architecture, including 20th-century architecture. Those who have not taken at least a survey of 20th-century architecture in their undergraduate curricula are required to make up that deficiency as soon as possible, usually during the first semester of the program. In the first semester of the two-year program, all students enroll in ARC 634 Architectural Theory and Research, a seminar in architectural theory and research that offers valuable grounding in architectural theory that enables students to establish a theoretical framework from which to engage subsequent course work. In the second semester, students take the ARC 636 Design and Research Methods, a course that focuses on the craft of writing, research methodologies, and strategies to select and investigate their thesis site and develop their thesis program. Students are required to take Departmental Graduate Seminars in the areas of theory, criticism, the history and philosophy of architecture and architectural practices. Current and recent seminar choices have included period study of Western and other architectural traditions and courses including, but not limited to: Topics in Architectural Theory, Aesthetics, Socially Constructed Architectural Practices, Vernacular Architecture, European and Non-Western Design Theory and Practices, Landscape and Urban Design Theory and Digital Mediation Theory among others. Additional electives in the second year, as well as the opportunity for directed independent study, make it possible for each student to explore a rigorous agenda of personal inquiry.

Structures and Environmental Systems

Courses in structures, materials and methods of construction, and environmental systems provide a requisite technical context for strong design ideation. Emphasis is placed on developing a synthetic relationship between technology and design. Classroom instruction is enhanced by on-site visits to construction sites, building product manufacturers, research facilities and related industries. Solar-assisted heating, natural ventilation, and daylighting concepts are explored so that students may develop responsible and environmentally sustainable buildings.

Courses in digital mediation encourage personal computer application. A range of electives and independent study options permit students interested in technology to focus on these special interests. 

Graphics and Computer Applications

Graphic communication enables one to express ideas in a graphic medium and use drawing as a means to represent design ideation and foster self-expression. Attaining graphic skills is fundamental to architecture design education. The Department offers a comprehensive graphic communication sequence. Students in the M. Arch. III program begin their exploration of and ability to utilize graphic media concepts and techniques upon arrival. The sequence is carefully integrated into the pedagogy of the 500 level foundation and design studios.

Graphic Media concepts continue their development and integration in the second year design studios of the professional program and in departmental graduate seminars such as Mind and Medium that explore digital mediation theory and experience. Emphasis is placed on developing student awareness of descriptive representational media in the context of the act of making and, in parallel with, the design studio. For example, in the ARC 581 foundation studio, a student learning orthographic drawing concepts would be using those concepts to understand, edit and describe the object they are making, linking orthographic concepts with design experiences.

The respective pedagogical goals of the four-semester sequence are as follows:

ARC 612 Graphic Media I (2)

Begins the graphic media sequence for 500 level graduate studio students. Demonstrates 2-D hand based graphic tools and 3D techniques as design strategies that encompass creative expressivity, design analysis and representation through analytical, orthographic, and speculative drawings, media, and models. In addition to skill based learning objectives, introduces architecture design communication based in design history and contemporary theory. Concurrent registration in ARC 581 or approval of instructor required.

ARC 613 Graphic Media II (2-3; maximum 3)

Objective includes the full breadth of design communication techniques such as hand-based processes, digital 2D processes and 3D modeling and introduces modeling software, as well as time-based processes such as video, animation and web presentation techniques. In addition to skill based learning objectives, ARC613 supports architecture design communication based in history and contemporary theory. The graphic media sequence of ARC 612, ARC 613, ARC 614 encompass creative expressivity, design analysis and representation through analytical, orthographic, and speculative drawings, media, and models. Concurrent registration in ARC 582 or approval of instructor.

ARC 614 Graphic Media III (2-3; maximum 3)

Course completed in Spring in conjunction with ARC583 studio. Objective continues the full breadth of design communication techniques such as hand-based processes, digital 2D processes and 3D modeling and modeling software, as well as time-based processes such as video, animation and web presentation techniques. In addition to skill based learning objectives, ARC614 supports architecture design communication based in history and contemporary theory. The graphic media sequence of ARC 612, ARC 613, ARC 614 encompass creative expressivity, design analysis and representation through analytical, orthographic, and speculative drawings and models. Concurrent registration in ARC 583 or approval of instructor.

Additionally, the Department instituted a series of graphics sprint courses that run for 5-7 weeks and focus on a single medium or digital media topic area. Full-time faculty, adjunct professional architecture graphic artists and qualified graduate students teach these courses. The list of sprint course topics changes from semester to semester, depending on the demand and staffing. Sprint course offerings range from courses in watercolor and marker rendering to computer courses that explore 2-D graphics, 3-D formal exploration and animation. The sprint course format allows students to develop their representational skills in a wide range of areas through short courses that can be taken early and throughout a student's period of study at Miami.

In past accreditation visits, the NAAB accreditation team cited these courses as a novel approach to this curricular area and as one of the unique strengths of Miami's architectural program.

The department maintains several support spaces that are directly related to teaching graphics courses and model building skills. These facilities, which are described in greater detail elsewhere, include:

  • The Architectural Design and Visualization (ADVis) Laboratory
  • The hand graphics teaching lab
  • The media room
  • The Department shop

 

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