Need insights on choosing a specialization!

Hi everyone! THIS IS GOING TO BE LONG SO BEAR WITH ME. And I'm new here. 

I'm planning on doing my masters (or postgraduate studies) but I can't decide on what direction I want to go. Architecture is a very multidisciplinary art and science and it's hard to pick a focus when you want or are interested in so many things. I graduated with a Bachelor of Science (BS) in Architecture, I'm licensed in my country, and I have seven (7) years of experience doing different work (designing for construction management & real estate development, city planning administrative works, design for interior spaces, residential and commercial buildings, graphic design and creative direction for events, doing presentations) I plan to teach later on but coincide it with practice as well with the aim or direction to practice architecture, and its allied practices and services, in a new, different, experimental, explorative way.

I've been researching on programs that are very specific so the selection process is more downsized and simpler (to avoid picking from a very broad network of programs of the same title and curriculum from across the world). Like for example there are so many architecture, urban planning or urban design programs out there to choose from, I looked for ones that have courses or modules in the program that you don't commonly find in others (or with a particular focus) or one of a kind programs (ephemeral, typologies, etc.). Of course, another factor is price of tuition and the cost of living where the school is!

I recently did the AA Visiting Schools and it introduced me to parametric design (Rhino, grasshopper, robotics, etc.) and I want to build up on that, but I feel like such software or programs I can learn on my own or in a short course without really needing to get into a masters program. With such tools and skills, I want to eventually do exhibition and temporary spaces (which a lot of architects do now a days). On the other hand, my resume leans more towards urbanism, but I also want to dive deeper into more engineering aspects of that (like urban and environmental in scope). So there's this whole conflict of choosing where to go because I'm just so into many things!

I've narrowed down my picks to four areas of interest:

MSc Integrative Technologies & Architectural Design Research at the University of Stuttgart's Institute of Computational Design / Institute of Building Structures & Structural Design (similar programs: ETH Zurich's Architecture & Digital Fabrication, Design By Data's Advance Master in Computational Design, Digital Manufacturing, and Building Technologies) - I want to specialize in computation because architecture is becoming more complex and there are emerging tools, programs and technologies now that allow architects to go beyond “drawing” or “drafting,” and such complexity needs to be calculated accurately and optimized pragmatically. I became fascinated with this emerging direction in architecture because of my undergraduate thesis on expo pavilions and how they are catalysts for innovation and progression in the design practice. This was when I discovered kinetic architecture, a part of my thesis that I created a theoretical design for, and its ties with computation and digital fabrication which I aim to explore with this program: mechanical systems integrated into or designed as architectural elements. This also allows the practice to branch out to different disciplines, helming a more multidisciplinary scope of work and body of knowledge, as well as an expanded skillset. University of Stuttgart’s ICD is well known for its experimental approach to digital fabrication and robotics. Every year, students build a pavilion as a main project of the program.

Professional Masters in Urban & Environmental Engineering / Master of Science at the Pontificia Universidad de Catolica Rio de Janeiro (partnered with Technische Universitat Braunschweig) - I want to specialize in urban & environmental engineering because as designers of the built environment and climate change affecting our planet, it is vital that we have a scope or body of knowledge that concerns properly maintaining and sustaining the natural environment, resources, and infrastructure to be able to make sustainable models for the present and future cities. The urban & environmental engineering program fits well with the urban environment integrated into the natural landscape of Rio de Janeiro, and only PUC Rio offers such a program with a very technical curriculum covering infrastructure and environment.

Masters in Temporary Space Design / Masters in Ephemeral Architecture & Temporary Spaces at the Elisava Barcelona School of Design & Engineering (similar programs: UCL Bartlett's Design for Performance & Interaction, AA's Spatial Performance & Design) - I want to specialize in temporary space design because it’s an endeavor I have always wanted to continue out from my undergraduate thesis related to expo pavilions and because of my experience in designing commercial spaces. I admire temporary space design because it’s a catalyst for spatial and material exploration and experimentation. It’s also very participatory because it involves interaction with people and how they move about space. I find the relevance of temporary spaces significant because as architects and designers, at the core of what we do is that we design for the people. Judging whether a design is effective or not in terms of many aspects always goes back to the people who experience it visually, physically and spatially. And I love curations in museums. Elisava is the only institution that has a program in temporary space design with courses that allow students to be truly hands-on in the projects and exercises they undergo; from conceptualizing, planning, and designing to fabrication, prototyping, and building.

Master of Architecture - Typologies at the Technische Universitat Berlin - I want to specialize in architecture typology because with today’s fast paced technology and ever-changing demands of the urban landscape, new types of developments have emerged, and are still emerging, thus new spatial typologies and urban models are being explored; with climate change at the forefront of concern and consideration in how we design our buildings and cities, and factors such as social, political and economical shaping it also. Technische Universitat Berlin offers a program in architectural typology with the built environment of Berlin as its model and laboratory. Berlin is a city of arts and culture, and its history and architecture offers students an immersive experience into studying typologies and how the city is shaped by it.

I've also looked into MIT and UCL for Architectural Computation programs, and pretty much all of the AA programs but since cost (both living conditions and tuition) is a big consideration on my part, I've shortlisted my choices by excluding schools in the US and UK. I didn't really consider rankings also because I believe "success" is defined by what you do with what you learned from the program and not by the school you went.

Anyway, would love to hear all of your insights!

Sep 19, 17 2:01 pm

tl;dr (yet)

Sep 19, 17 2:11 pm

I will pencil reading this in for five minutes later and advise.

Sep 19, 17 6:37 pm

I would tend to pick a program based on the teachers, not the invented language.

Sep 19, 17 7:44 pm

Yep I've researched on that already. All schools, except for Stuttgart, rank in the top 10 of their respective countries and regions, and all the professors have global experience both academically and professionally. It's tricky to compare the teachers per program because each program is different from one another in terms of area of study and curriculum: First option is more digital, second is more engineering, third is more art and the fourth is more theory & history.

I would physically visit the teachers. Surprise visits.

That would be a good idea though if they were all in just one city or country.

Skype is your friend

Which culture do you want to have smoosh into your future you? Personally I stay in SF and get culture remotely. I really think the only point of higher ed is the one or two really great teachers a place might have and you can't know that without going there.

I've been to my second option in Rio de Janeiro, PUC Rio. I've met with the director of the program and we had a very good conversation about it. I've also met with students from the university and they were highly recommending it too because of the competitive faculty. So that's one off the list. I recently did an AA Visiting School where I met a former student (now teaching at the AA) of the current director of the Institute of Computational Design in U.Stuttgart so that's the nearest insight I've gotten so far about the program.


Follow your gut. Intellectualize later.

Sep 19, 17 9:27 pm

Easy. Barcelona. Being that close to frequent Sagrada Familia often, and getting to fabricate some projects at university is a pretty fantastic breadth of scope and scale, and each can teach your a metric shit ton about what you need to know about Architecture. plus- Patatas Bravas! 

Sep 19, 17 9:44 pm

Would you happen to know about the IAAC and what's it like? I have a friend who graduated from there but she didn't say much LOL


I visited ICD at this years Fabricat conference.  Achim Menges was my tutor and he is brilliant.  The programme has many real funded areas of research many around wood so brings lots to programme.  I love stuttgart.

If you are planning to teach you should do a PhD. Just getting a masters is not enough for your career.

You should choose the programme in the place you want to start your academic career - if you plan to head back to US, choose Stuttgart - it is by far the top programme in your list.  I met many yanks who are in the programme there -

Sep 20, 17 9:51 am

Noted, TED! Computational Design is becoming more and more relevant and there are many schools offering it (Bartlett, AA, etc.) but so far the ones with the more detailed curriculum / course modules that I liked is ICD Stuttgart, Design By Data in Paris and ETH Zurich. I don't have plans of starting a career in the US though (as I'm not from there), and I'm most likely to focus on applying such knowledge both academically and professionally in tropical context (because I'm from a tropical country).

I would do the environmental engineering one except for the catholic part. (I'm an ex-catholic). Well, I left the church at age 10, so non-catholic.

Sep 22, 17 4:00 am

Hahaha! I came from a Jesuit school throughout elementary until high school, and then I went to a Dominican university for my bachelors. I'm catholic, but not active or non-practicing. To each his own as they say. The environmental engineering is actually on top of my list. I've been to Rio and it's a great laboratory to study that program. Plus, climate is great.

Thanks for the response, guys! Keep them coming! 

Sep 25, 17 8:58 am

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