conceptual focused schools


I'm applying to March programs for next fall, I come from a very technical background having worked for a structural engineer right out of undergraduate for the past year and a few side jobs at night with architects producing construction documents.

I'm conducting my own research, but thought I would ask for suggestions regarding programs that are more conceptually and theoretically based. I feel this type of emphasis would help me become a more well rounded designer.

I live in the southeast and will probably attend school in the region  however I'm not opposed to travel if the program really speaks to me. I want to minimize student loan debt so Ivys are not of interest to me. Any advice will be greatly appreciated.

Nov 1, 13 9:56 am
Miguel Lantigua-Inoa

Hi Allenmd07,

When determining where to study theory, it comes down to a division of east vs west coast. It is quite well known that east coast schools are much more interested in theory then west coast architecture programs. You will find more theory focused programs in the Northeast and not one in southeast! At least to my knowledge in terms of what has been produced within the field.

Be advised that Ivy league programs are actually the most involved in theory, especially Princeton. Don't shy away from applying to Ivy programs do to financial reasons, as private institutions they tend to give help packages depending on ones situation and stage in education. Although, due to size, Princeton is the hardest to get into. Columbia, Yale, and Harvard are also good programs for such interests. AA if you consider international programs.

Finally, all programs are about conceptual, that is, deal w/ concepts. After all, concepts are the main driver of architecture. In which case, there are programs both in the east/west that are very good, but with regards to theory, it is east coast hands down....west is generally not interested in theory

Nov 2, 13 1:47 am


I have an older version of the ACSA guide to architecture schools and it doesn't really provide much insight in my opinion, so I really appreciate your advice. I'm gonna keep researching programs, I like UVa. I went to their open house and was really impressed with their work. I'm also considering applying to an Ivy, it doesn't hurt to apply right. 

Nov 4, 13 9:57 am

Id recommend Univetsity of Cincinnatti I went to Arizona and every competition we competed against them they had fantastic student body work.

Nov 4, 13 11:26 am

U of Cincinnati? 3 of my co-workers are from there - good school

Nov 4, 13 6:37 pm

Cincinnati also has some of the top passing rates for the licensing ARE exams consistently.

I wish I would have gone there - seems to be the education of an icy league school at a public school price.

Nov 4, 13 7:06 pm

In fact the 3 I have mentioned above, are well on their way to being licensed - they have ARE study groups and are in leadership positions at the office.

Nov 4, 13 7:16 pm

UIC - University of Illinois at Chicago. This school is as conceptual as it gets. Maybe too much so. Check it out, they have some great faculty and a decent program, but I promise that you won't get much practical training there at all. I went there for my undergrad.

Nov 4, 13 8:51 pm

The Princeton advice is probably pretty good. On the other hand the idea that real theory only happens at the Ivy league is absurd. If you want real theory work, go to the University of Chicago, Michigan, Berkeley. SciArc and UCLA are probably just as good a crap-shoot for theory work as Penn and Harvard. 

I'm interested in this idea that there is some other thing called "conceptual work." I've met good people from UVa and Cincinnati, but I would have called their training practical. Not sure what to say about UIC. Can we call it theory-lite? It's like doing theory work, but without the work, or having to know how to read.

Nov 4, 13 9:58 pm

You can be conceptual anywhere. It is more fun being the elephant in the room of worker bees, in my opinion. 

Nov 4, 13 10:21 pm
Miguel Lantigua-Inoa

mespellrong, well, I didn't at all suggest that Ivy programs are the 'only' ones who engage theory, rather the Most involved, the particular faculty members who teach at these programs clearly underscore this. Recall that key figures who lead theoretical discourse as early as the 90's primarily teach in Ivy programs.

allenmd07, yes, it doesn't hurt to apply. I often discourage ppl from basing their decisions primarily on ratings/guides, it is a good place to start though so to eliminate the undesirable schools. Rather look into who teach at these schools and their contributions, lecture series for guests, and how close they are to Both potential employers AND events, to name a few. Best of luck on your application...seems like you have exactly a month to go.

Nov 15, 13 12:57 pm
Miguel Lantigua-Inoa

btw, did you major w/ a b.arch...if such is the case then that changes things significantly. Ivy programs and sciarc and ucla offer great 1, 1 1/2 to 2yr programs. Moreover, if you did major in b.arch then I strongly encourage Ivy, sciarc, or ucla's superstudio only

Nov 15, 13 1:01 pm

Based on my experiences and what I have seen/heard, the ivies can not be generalized as all being "conceptual." Some of the schools are more conceptual than others.

Nov 16, 13 1:39 pm

Coming from a technical background, any program in architecture will be conceptual, because of the design studio being the central experience.  If you have an engineering degree, and a structures background, those courses can be waived, either to reduce your curricular tally, or the waivers can be replaced with electives.

That said, I think Georgia Tech in Atlanta is the best a-school in the Southeast, as well as the best university in the Southeast of those offering architecture.  That sounds a little circular.  I've had a few local practitioners who graduated from there trash it to me a little bit but, seriously, they were trashing Georgia Tech?

Now, GT offers the M.Arch. in 3 years, plus a preceding summer, and on semesters.  When I was admitted, they were on 2 +2 (= no thanks), and on quarters.  I wouldn't do 4 years for something that ain't med school.  Consider GT, especially if you'd like to settle in Atlanta.  Other schools worth considering within reasonable distance from the Southeast, as opposed to crossing the country, are UVa,  Rice (not as expensive as other privates), Michigan, and UT-Austin.  I'd suggest applying to at least 5.

Nov 16, 13 9:27 pm


Thanks for the advice, as of now I'm applying to UVa, V-Tech, NCSU, UNCC, UT Knoxville and looking at GT. Regional schools, nothing to fancy.

Nov 18, 13 9:07 am

My rank order among these would be:

(1) GT, (2) VaTech, (3) UVa, (4) NCSU, (5) UNCC, and (6) UT Knoxville.

Regarding (5) and (6), I'm not that familiar with them and they aren't talked about all that much.  As for NCSU and UNCC, I'd almost prefer Charlotte to Raleigh, but that's just me.  UT Knoxville looks pretty sensible on paper, for putting one through in 3 years.

Nov 19, 13 2:36 pm

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