Columbia Intro to Arch. & Other Similar Programs

El Tejon


I'm a third-year structural engineering student from Canada, interested in eventually completing my M.Arch after graduation. To prepare myself for this (and ensure that architecture is the correct path for me), I've applied to a bunch of summer architecture programs, to build a portfolio. I've already been offered admission into Columbia's Intro. to Architecture program, as well as Parsons' similar program. I am planning to apply to summer programs at Harvard, Austin TX, and the YArch program at Chicago. I was considering also applying to Glasgow, but their summer program seems less focused on architecture/design. Plus, I'm from Canada... and it's in Glasgow.

I was wondering which of these programs would be "ranked" the highest on this forum, or if anyone could share their experiences and/or opinions of these programs. Columbia's seems to be most appealing to me at this point, but I would like to hear some other opinions before I accept. Any help at all would be much appreciated!


Jan 16, 13 7:47 pm

I'm also interested in attending one of these summer programs, and am wondering the same thing. Also, how difficult it is to get into these programs, and what to expect when I'm there.

No one has responded to this thread, but perhaps we can share any info we learn on our own? If you find anything out, post it here, and I'll do likewise. One thing I learned today, from the chair of the architecture department at the community college I'm attending, is to target the schools you want to get into for a master's program, as they will know you already, and it shows you know what their program is about and you're very interested in it. He also said that if you attend any of the big names, it'll be helpful wherever you apply to graduate school.

My situation is I've have been working in an unrelated field for 12 years after getting my BA, and am strongly considering switching careers to architecture. I've done a lot of independent research on the field, I'm taking architecture and design classes at the local community college this semester, and I will be applying to summer programs to see if this is a good career path for me. I will apply to the programs at Berkeley, Columbia, SCI-Arc, and YArch, and perhaps some others as well.

Jan 18, 13 8:22 pm

GSD is the absolute best. you get exposed to all the other disciplines. the teachers are great. no complaints

Jan 18, 13 8:30 pm
El Tejon

@jesusmaldonado - I take it you attended the Harvard program? Also, what do you mean by "all the other disciplines"?

@siesta - I'll definitely share anything I find out about these programs! As for the Columbia program - I feel like it's probably not that difficult to get accepted. I applied with a 3.85 GPA, have a non-architecture background (structural engineering is a related field, but still), and heard within a few days. I also applied very early, so that would definitely be to your advantage.

Jan 21, 13 5:24 pm

I can't comment on these programs.  I did not go to one.  I just took classes in drawing and architectural graphics on my own.  I had known I had wanted to go to a B.Arch. and then did not, going to a M.Arch. later.

I am assuming they are all good, with the Ivy League ones being the best.  UT-Austin is a good school that is becoming even better.  I would say Columbia or Harvard, unless UT-Austin is a LOT cheaper and you don't need the urban stimulus of a big Northeastern city.

Your approach is correct, in that: a) it will enable you to see if it is a viable career choice for you, b) it will enable you to assemble work for your portfolio, and c) it will make you more competitive in securing a spot in an entering class at a M.Arch. program.

Jan 21, 13 5:57 pm
El Tejon

@observant - Thanks for your insight! Columbia only gave me two weeks to decide, so I'm currently accepting all the help I can get.

Also - has anyone heard things (good or bad) about the AA's Summer Program? I know the architecture school itself has a world-class reputation, but I was curious about this summer program in particular. The application fee is £700 and non-refundable...

Jan 21, 13 7:00 pm

From looking at AA's website, it appears you just sign up for their program; the application is basically just your contact information and you fork over £700.'s tempting to me because I am considering a master's program in Europe.

Jan 23, 13 1:14 am
El Tejon

@siesta - Yeah, I noticed that, and it seems weird. I know the school is very good, but it feels like they're just taking my money, since they won't refund it!

Anyway, I have until Friday to secure my position at Columbia. Does anyone have any opinions to share on their Intro to Architecture program?

Jan 23, 13 5:54 pm

I took the Intro to Architecture program at Columbia and enjoyed it immensely. It solidified my goal of going into architecture. The work was difficult since I had no previous exposure to architecture prior to attending the program, but I learned so much within six weeks that it was totally worth the investment. I recommend the program, but I cannot say how it compares to any other school's programs.


Overall, it really is "an introduction" to architecture. We started with conceptual and abstract diagrams of a specific site that we were to work with for the entire duration of the program. The work culminated in a final project where we designed a building for the site  . You don't learn any technical abilities, but it does a good job of showing you GSAPP's pedagogy if anything.

Jan 27, 13 9:56 am
El Tejon

@AvanineCommuter - Thanks for the helpful reply. Since you stated that you didn't really gain any technical skills, would you say that their program isn't ideal for someone who is trying to build a portfolio for grad school?

Jan 27, 13 6:33 pm

Great to hear that you're doing an intro program before jumping into the MArch--that's a smart move for someone w/o an arch background. I applied to both the Intro program at GSAPP and CD at GSD and decided to go with GSAPP b/c I live in NYC and it was easier for me logistically.

About the 2 week deadline to decide--it's not hard and fast. I needed a month or two to decide, and it was fine when I finally did. You applied much earlier than I did (I applied mid-March), so it'll be a while (if ever) until they run out of space for students.

Regarding technical skills, none of these intro programs will teach you software like AutoCAD, Revit, Maya, Sketchup, Rhino, etc. For one, it takes much longer than a few weeks to master these programs, and also, the goal of these intro studios is to teach students key design principles along with providing exposure to drawing/modeling (i.e. visually and physically representing your ideas). The software programs are tools you can pick up later--knowing how to use them doesn't equip you to think like a designer. As such, you will come out of any of these intro studios with material for your portfolio. Just make sure to document your work carefully throughout, or if you end up being so rushed for time for pinups that the last thing on your mind is taking portfolio pictures (likely what will happen), make sure you take good care of your output (both preliminary and final) and photograph it all very thoughtfully at the end. Since you don't have an arch background, schools won't expect presentation renderings or technical drawings from you. But they'll want to see that you can think strategically, that your designs articulate a coherent and compelling point of view, and that you understand good craftsmanship, which you can certainly demonstrate through physical drawings and models.  

As for the Intro program overall, I can't compare it to other programs, but I had a really great experience. Both my critic and TA were excellent teachers, and the mini-projects that we did en route to the final project were thoughtfully organized so that one set of skills built up to the next and so on. There were also several opportunities to visit a variety of NYC firms--starchitect, corporate, and smaller more multidisciplinary design firms. Throughout the program, the TAs run some helpful workshops as well (e.g. building your portfolio, the realities of the profession, intro to drawing, etc.) and there are some interesting lectures given by practicing architects aimed at the broader community that Intro students are welcome to attend. 

A couple of downsides: Intro is shorter than CD and costs more. The studio space is significantly more cramped and the facilities less well-equipped than CD. Your experience will differ (potentially drastically) based on who your critic is (and you don't get any say), but this might be the case everywhere since personality and pedagogy always vary from critic to critic, and in this kind of environment, everyone is very passionate, even more sleep-deprived, and thus, hypersensitive. Finally, NYC is tantalizingly close, but you won't get to do much exploring (unless you arrive early or plan some vacation time afterwards) b/c you'll be in studio most of the time.

There are several other threads on this topic which you can search for ("Introduction to Architecture", "Career Discovery", etc.) that can provide some additional perspective. 

Would love to hear which program you go with and what you end up deciding about architecture. Best of luck! :)

Jan 27, 13 11:33 pm
El Tejon

@lydyl - Wow, thanks for the great response! I'm glad to hear so many positive things about Columbia's summer program. I actually went ahead and accepted their offer before the deadline they gave me, just to be safe. If I decide to go elsewhere, the cancellation fee will be $200, which seems like a reasonable price to pay.

Your advice on building a portfolio (with constant documentation, etc) was especially helpful. I'm sure my portfolio will be improved, no matter where I go. I'll definitely let you know what my decision is!

Also, out of curiosity, did you have an architecture background when attending the program, and are you working on your master's now?

Jan 29, 13 11:58 am

lydyl is right. The technical skills aren't important for your portfolio if you are not a BArch candidate. You will get good projects to put in your portfolio if you work hard during your time there. Remember to take photos after every step of the way; I learned the hard way and lost a lot of work when my models were destroyed before I had a chance to photograph them. 

Jan 29, 13 2:55 pm

@Tejon, no problem--glad to be of any help! I did not have an arch background, and am still figuring out whether or not to pursue an MArch. Tough decision for people who love the discipline but are wary of the profession for all the usual reasons. 

Jan 29, 13 3:03 pm
Dima Srouji

The AA summer program was great.

Jan 29, 13 3:54 pm
Dima Srouji

I just noticed you were interested in the AA program. Although almost anyone can sign up and go, everyone was talented and passionate about architecture (if not passionate, curious) I was in Unit 1 with Anderson, Alex, and Trevor. After presenting our final work everyone from the school was so impressed the school started a whole other program based on that unit. Here's the link.

Jan 29, 13 4:00 pm
El Tejon

Thanks for all the help, everyone.

@disro - The AA program definitely looks great. My strengths are in drawing and conceptualization, so it appeals to me. However, I've decided not to pursue it just because it's so short, and it doesn't financially make sense for me to fly to England, from Canada, for just a couple of weeks. I have, however, been looking into the Summer Foundation program at Bartlett. I emailed the contact on their website, but she said that they are still assembling the course details/timetable. Have you heard anything about this program? It's 9 weeks long, which is why I'm considering it.

Jan 29, 13 4:26 pm
Dima Srouji

@El Tejon Sorry I wish I could help with that. I don't know anyone that's done the program. Although, I know that if you spend 9 weeks at the Bartlett...and if they like you.. it's an almost automatic acceptance. I did a 6 week program at Carnegie Mellon (very similar to the one at the Bartlett) and figured out the next year that they choose 10 people from the summer program to accept automatically. Also, the Bartlett is really well located. You'd have so much fun in London it's a brilliant place to be, especially in the summer. 

Jan 30, 13 9:49 pm

can anyone suggest me good colleges for summer programs in the US?

i am a B.Arch from mumbai university, india and currently working in an architecture firm in mumbai. i am planning to do masters in architecture in 2018 (since i guess i am too late to apply for 2017 fall now) and came across GSAPP 'intro to architecture' program. i am wondering if i should take this course. can anybody suggest me if taking up this program in Columbia university is worth before applying for graduate studies in architecture?

and does taking up a summer course like this have advantage in application of graduate programs in ivy league schools and other good architecture schools?

is there anyone here from prior architectural background who has enrolled or is going to enroll for this course? 

Nov 26, 16 10:41 am

I completed the program at UC Berkeley. It was factastic. Incredibly rigorous and a perfect prep to apply (which I am doing now). The instructors were great and teach super effectively. I highly recommend these programs. 

Dec 1, 16 10:54 pm

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