Thesis Ideas!


I am getting ready to start thesis, and im really freaking out. This past semester i took a class that was supposed to prepare you for thesis. Well, lets just say that i don't feel like i got the most out of the class. I ended up writing about gentrification/displacement, but i dont feel like I came out of it with a topic. I am interested in the slums, and the poor, homeless, occupation, etc. I'm pretty much stuck at this point!!! Any ideas, or thoughts?

Jan 6, 06 9:21 pm
vado retro
Jan 6, 06 9:30 pm
some person

It's okay if you haven't picked a topic yet. And once you do pick a topic, you can probably expect it to change at least once before you're done. You'll end up with a richer project that way.

Jan 6, 06 11:09 pm

I actually have the same interests, and about 8 months left to clearly define my topic...I have so far decided that I´m definitely going to do a theoretical work instead of the common pseudo-real project (I´m in germany, and we have three-months final projects for a five-year-degree)... I will start now with an analytical work about how architecture can "serve all", be an including, empowering force instead of an segregating one... I will also spend five months in china, and I very much hope a real good topic will come up during that time, experience and work. The professor whom I want to work with is actually not an architect but an art-historian and REALLY scientific instead of design, and some say that´s bad for finding a job with architects, but I think that´s how I get the most out of School, which is school and not reality...

Jan 7, 06 6:26 am
Luis Fraguada

leena, what kinds of books are you reading to fuel any of this? While not specifically about any of the topics you mention (although it does touch on those and a lot more) Bruce Mau's Massive Change (not just Bruce Mau) is a quick read. Might help to generate some direction . . .

Jan 7, 06 8:11 am

I didn't really look into theory as much, or urban design (i found out that we cant do urban design for thesis at my school) I started looking at the works of Hasan Fathy, and i read alot about race, gentrifcation in general, and in my city, Boston. I have not yet gotten into the theory aspect of it, as I was just letting my sources guide me. I agree that its probably best let the ideas evolve overtime, but i'm not quite sure i even have a starting point. My ideas in the writing class began with Occupation, then oppression, to gentrification. All these words are very political,and im not so sure that's the direction i want to go in. I have run into projects where I pretty much created things that do not exist, and it causes for a very challenging project, and a good one b/c its a new idea, but the project itself lacks b/c i never seem to have enough time to get into it as i'd like. I would rather start thesis with at least 2 solid ideas to go with.. maybe i'm just jumping the gun here? i dont know.

Jan 7, 06 8:55 am


The current Burnham Prize competition is for ideas regarding empty lots in North Lawndale, Chicago. I was reading through the material the other day and "gentrification" is definitely a major theme/issue.

Jan 7, 06 9:49 am

Just start by making up a thesis-ey title. Here's 5 to start you:

Deconstructing Eisenman: Cultural presemantic theory and social realism

Discourses of Futility: Expressionism in the works of Archigram

Tschumiist hyperreality and subtextual discourse

Subdialectic desemanticism and constructivism in the works of El Lissitzsky

Subconstructivism and Deobjectivism: Crucifying the cross

It's actually kind of fun. I can't wait to do my thesis now.

Jan 7, 06 12:38 pm

well you have to do a written AND a building project correct? This meaning that you will have to become somewhat specific in regards to a site? Or has this been thrown out the window at this point? This is how I remember the thesis taking shape when I was at the school you are at. I would attempt to stay general enough that you can write extensively about it but specific enough that your written thoughts and analysis can be actualized into something "real" and tangible for your crits/pin-ups - that being a project. Prof's like to grab on to one thing and never let it go and if it is something that can be easily understood you are helping yourself out on both sides tremendously.

I know that there were a handful of temporary housing, houses for the homeless, pre-fab stuff in my graduating year alone - if this is the direction you are starting to lean then maybe flip through the archives in the lib. and see what seemed to be the strengths and weaknesess of previous projects to help clarify where it is you want to go because the precedents are numerous.

Also, my thesis prof really didn't like that fact that I couldn't sum up my thesis topic in just one word, not sure why, but I'm just saying.

Jan 7, 06 1:39 pm
The Job Captain

the best thesis anything is consideration of the profession you are working in and often a critique of the working medium. i would advise that it is best to think of your thesis not in terms of a theoretical topic per se but in terms of understanding space in a different way, or an architect's relationship to the creative process in general.

Jan 7, 06 9:25 pm

A thesis can't propose to solve a social problem because its beyond the scope of architecture. Narrow your topic to issues of architecture and architectural research and you will find it much easier to develop your topic. Write you thesis statment as it exists now. It must propose a statement of opinion that is not yet proven, but can be proven through the intervention of site and program. The design of the building, (i am assuming its a design thesis, not history or theory) will be the ultimate proof.

Jan 8, 06 1:16 am
Pete Dawson

That is really dissapointing - seems like architecture is blamed for a number of social problems - it's really too bad that solving them is beyond it's scope

Jan 8, 06 9:59 am

Well, if social problems are the issue, maybe you sgould start with some cultural geography studies. J.B.Jackson and the like. Everyday America would be a good read (an essay compilation commenting on cultural landscape studies at the moment) - being political doesn't mean always to be loudmouthed and provocative.

Jan 8, 06 1:34 pm

Architecture alone is not blamed for social ills or successes but is one of the symptoms of such event. Architecture alone was not to blame for the Paris riots, but modern architecture and modernist housing was a symptom of the alienating public policy the French have on their immigrant population. Pruitt Igoe did not define the ghetto, but was a symptom of the systematic segregation of the poor to the inner city; a means to an end. Equally, architecture has never converted someone to Christianity, or any other religiion, or made anyone rich (short of the designer).

Jan 8, 06 8:11 pm

There are these little Island countries (Tuvalu, the Azores) that are going to totally sink because of global warming. Propose some utopian-ass, sustainable, floating island mega-structure (diamond shaped structural skin) save the natives project, take off on a “site visit” until the weather warms up then come back and make a big floating foam model (in OMA blue) and let the sucker bob around in a waiting pool for your crit. Bada-bim bada-boom.

Jan 9, 06 12:39 am
le bossman

i actually think there is room in thesis to solve a social problem. the problem here is that it doesn't necessarily make for an interesting visual design problem. while a lot of architecture students start out with good intentions in this arena, they often wind up with a cool design project which doesn't necessarily address any of the proposed issues in a pragmattic [realistic?] manner.

Jan 9, 06 8:54 am

maestro - "A thesis can't propose to solve a social problem because its beyond the scope of architecture."

my thesis, more or less on the topic of emergency housing, included proposals on new legislation, governmental agency (fema) reorganization, manufacturing, shipping logistics, and urban planning, among other topics. does your thesis have to deal only with a building? if so, that seems way too limiting to me.

i probably fell into the trap that bossman describes. although i feel that my research and proposals outside of the built object were solid, my final housing solution was in no way pragmatic or realistic.

Jan 9, 06 9:42 am

Leena, your focus of study is very intriguing to me. In fact when I was deciding on a thesis, my two choices were a) studying regional identity via improvement of infrastructure with a signature structure or b) studying social justice issues by creating a low-income housing complex with an improved sense of community. I decided on "A" because I have a short attention span and somehow that seemed like more fun to me.

However, if you would like to steal my second idea, please feel free, and then I could live vicariously through you. Or not, whatever, but if I had done it, I would have tried to address these points:

-If you are in design school, you need to design something for your thesis. Plain and simple. So start off by saying, "I'm going to explore this concept by designing a building." Do as much theoretical research as you like but don't get so out of hand that you don't have time to design something.

-The topic that I was interested in was low-income housing and the sense of community of its inhabitants. Specifically, what elements would make inhabitants feel safer and more protected? What would make them feel less disadvantaged? What would make them more likely to take care of their homes? I was interested in a complex geared towards single mothers and their children, placed on a site in the inner city. Something that could potentially improve the lives of its inhabitants while improving the streetscape and community around it.

Of course you can go in whatever direction you like, but you asked for ideas, so this is one you could use! Good luck.

Jan 9, 06 12:26 pm

focus on defining space..
which is NOT to say focus on making a building...

how you do this or why is your own and you should feel free to expose or conceal those thoughts and process as you see fit...

Architecture cannot save the world...
and more importantly
You cannot save the world..

two seconds after you leave the realm of academia...
nobody cares about what you wrote... or what you thought about.. or what you read...

Jan 9, 06 3:49 pm

indeed, if you think about low income consumption, what they choose to buy; really bears no consideration for aesthetic sensibility.
who can afford nicely designed prodects and stay educated in the realm of art et al.
rich people.

do something completely out of left feid that all the critics will hate, hopefully because they never had the balls/humility to do it, or it starts to realize the absurdity in parts of this feild.
this is the last project you get to do anything that only has to hold its weight in elegance.

Jan 9, 06 7:59 pm
Dazed and Confused

Leena - great question!

le bossman - great answer - but only at the beginning.

The thesis project is not for your professors or for your future employers. It is for YOU and for the strange and wonderful planet you live on. It is your chance to show the professors, employers, clients - - - whatever - - - what YOU have to offer. What you want for the world. How their sorry lives can benefit from YOUR existence - - -

- - - - - Just don't sell yourself short is what I guess I'm trying to say.

Kick ass!

Jan 9, 06 10:24 pm

maybe study the architect's reletive role as a percentage of involvement in built environment from single man or group with hammer and nail versus complex industrial system made up of thousands of nameless faceless disconnected ( physically ) people on different continents. How much energy is used to produce both environments.

Jan 9, 06 10:43 pm

5 has some super ideas
but I would strart by definning some keywords and than connecting them to something outer of archietcure like biology, phisics, antropology...

it usually gives some great and complex attitudes.

Jan 10, 06 5:42 am

as a fellow thesis student, and having two different perspectives on the process(tulane student who started thesis in new orleans just to spend the semester at penn and am now back in nola)--

it comes with time...your advisor will send you in a direction that is sometimes skewed by their personal interests and "agenda" but if through somewhat following their suggestions you end up finding a focus that fits your proposal--go with that and screw your advisor...they will respect the fact that you are seriously finding your own way through the process...

currently i'm hung up on the paper part too, but i'm reading and reading and reading--notes and personal thoughts included...

but i would suggest--as my advisor did for me--to instill your a direction for your thesis in a very short paragraph using key words or phrases to inspire you through the process...and ALWAYS go back to your initial paragraph to make sure you aren't getting off track with the research and direction that the project is taking...

keywords and phrases help, but sometimes you can limit yourself with bullet points that are too short to expand upon later...just a warning from personal experience...

i wouldn't come to a title until later, because your direction will come to a more focused point a little later...

don't freak out yet...there is still time...not much, but there is still time..

Jan 11, 06 3:29 pm
Pete Dawson

Ah - Really great to read some of what has been written here since my earlier more sarcastic post - The simple truth is that Architecture can make an impact. Don't sell yourself short at all Especially during school. Your Thesis is your opportunity to experiment and put ideas out there. It is an opportunity to propose change and hopefully become part of a larger discussion of social issues. If you find yourself "trapped in the real world" when you get out of school and think that all of this stuff was just a big waste of time - then move on to something else - you are in the wrong place. There really are people out there who are actively engaged in changing the world.

My only advice to leena is find something you care about and engage it

Jan 11, 06 3:51 pm

One more thought along the lines that your thesis is a chance to participate in a larger discussion/get your ideas out there/etc.:

It's also a chance to establish a research or design focus for yourself. If you're really passionate about your topic, find ways to make your thesis lead to other opportunities later in your life. Use it as a catalyst for future explorations and opportunities.

Jan 12, 06 2:52 pm

do not screw the advisor just yet.
since thesis is a very personal thing you could use it to negotiate your own agenda against that of your advisor. a very good and empowering exercise for the real world if nothing else.

Jan 12, 06 8:10 pm

im into thesis...n totaly freaked out thinkin abt it...n in my school my faculty prefers vry decent n non complicated b glad if nybdy suggests me topic...whch r really wrkable n r simple....thk u

Apr 13, 11 1:22 pm

Your thesis could be about how your education has failed you?

Apr 13, 11 2:42 pm

That's what Sorkin did in his thesis and look at him now!

Apr 13, 11 3:23 pm
Gee Lendio

What could be a good thesis for this coming 1st semester? I've been thinking of health facilities located in rural areas in a particular city in the Philippines.. It would be really helpful for the people in the locality saving up the effort and time going to cities just to go see and visit a doctor

May 29, 15 1:15 am

Here's a question: what constitutes fair housing? What amenities are inclusive vs exclusive? Doese everyone deserve the same? How do you create housing that has basic functions yet has hierarchy? 

May 31, 15 7:59 am

Hi all, I am working on my master of architecture thesis, but i need some topics to search about, ...... i am searching for Landscape/ urban design issues... do you have any suggestions ?

May 4, 16 11:53 am

I don't, but maybe you should ask a few more times in years-dead threads just to be sure.

May 4, 16 12:20 pm

Hi guys,

I'm a bit confused actually.

Looking at my own city i get a feeling of doing my thesis on a social topic like designing houses to solve the problem of population growth and scarcity of land in the cities but on the other hand ive been thinking about doing thesis on a very different futuristic topic like a self sustainable live, work, farm kind of vertical neighborhood for the metro cities...cities which have lost touch with agriculture which is sad for india.... as india is known for being a agriculturally rich nation!

Jul 6, 16 3:46 pm

Back to the Original poster's desire to tackle gentrification and to possibly mitigate the negative effects.  This is an interesting and potentially controversial topic.

I would find the book the life and Death of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs to grasp the never ending changes urban environments face (several chapters are dedicated to Boston). I would recommend the Social Life of Small Urban Spaces the film and the book by White.

I would take a real-estate law class online or at community collage to learn about the different aspects of home ownership and financing as this can be crucial in any thesis dealing with gentrification.

As for theoretical versus a realistic project, if you want an easier time trying to find a job in a firm that designs buildings that are intended to be built, I would do a project that is or could be real and has a real world site or at least has the opportunity to detail a wall section or something that can translate into professional practice. If you want to teach theory or do design competitions and fanciful renderings do a thesis on whatever you want.

Over and OUT

Peter N

Jul 6, 16 4:29 pm

Modern architecture, according to the Bauhaus school, was supposed to provide double plus good architecture for all the proles at a really economical cost. It has failed miserably to do that. Do a paper to delineate why it failed so epically.

Jul 11, 16 4:16 pm

Do a paper to delineate why it failed so epically.

It didn't, we just refuse to recognize trailer parks as the logical end point of Bauhaus.

Jul 11, 16 5:32 pm

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