UPenn Prospective M.Arch Students


Hi All, 

I wanted to begin this thread for all of you who are considering on going to uPenn for the M.Arch program starting this Fall '13. This should be a place for discussing the current faculty, program focus (digital/environmental design), its resources, travel opportunities and any other topics of interest related to the program. Any former uPenn alumni are more than welcome to participate. 

Why are you deciding to go to this program?

Why did you choose upenn over any other options?

What faculty is of your interest and you would like to work with?

What is your perspective on the digital focus of the school?

Mar 24, 13 11:24 am

I will start, I have been very attracted to the program for its focus on digital/parametric design. I am not a big fan of the formalistic approach that has been taken by parametric design lately in schools, with all these organic/blob-like shapes that seem to be out of control. However, I believe this approach hans tons of potential when used with an environmental focus; and uPenn can be a great platform to study that. The important thing for me is the immense amount of expertise upenn has on digital tools and how I can take that as a base for what I want to t study. 

I like very much the relationship the program has with the TC Chan Center for Building Simulation and Energy Studies.

Also, the idea of being able to take as many electives as needed at the Wharton School is incredible, specially if I want to add some education on management and real state to my curriculum.

The Fab Lab seems to be great as well. 

I like very much that work that is currently done by KieranTimberlake, faculty, it seems they are trying hard to push new boundaries related to environmental performance. 


Hope to meet all of you who are planing on attending uPenn!

Mar 24, 13 11:35 am

Are you going to the open house? I'll be attending it on the 8th!

Mar 24, 13 2:03 pm

No... Im too far away and work wont let me! Let me know how that goes!

Mar 24, 13 2:11 pm

Yeah I will. Where will you be moving from?

Mar 24, 13 2:48 pm

I am considering Penn. From North Carolina. Will be at the open house. What schools are you all giving up in favor of Penn?

Mar 24, 13 3:07 pm

^ CCA, Northeastern, Syracuse, ASU, Woodbury (only b/c it's close to home and would be wayyy cheaper) and some others but those were the ones I was really narrowed down to. Most likely I'm choosing Penn, we'll see how the open house goes. What about yourself?

Mar 24, 13 3:18 pm

@tanuja, ill be moving from Quito, Ec. You? 

@hewett - Im giving up columbia, UW (seattle), UBC, UO (Portland) and IIT. 

Mar 24, 13 4:38 pm

I'm moving from Cali

Mar 24, 13 10:45 pm

@ Tanuja
jajaja from Cali as California or Cali, Colombia?

Mar 25, 13 1:02 pm


Mar 25, 13 2:40 pm

U Penn M.Arch1

Do you guys know how many student will be there this year?

Mar 25, 13 4:47 pm
deals on wheels

Another (potential) UPenn M.Arch 1 student. I'm trying to get an idea of student work, but it seems rather difficult. Probably my least favorite website of all the schools I got in to... also, is it just me or is <> not doing anyone the least bit of good....

Guess its all up to the open house. I want to fall in love with it, I really do. Any current or past students help us out with insight into the program?

Apr 2, 13 10:57 pm

@deals on wheels

It doesnt work for me as well. I am believing they took it down so we go to the open house haha. I emailed them about it but no reply yet. 


I have found the webchats very useful and I believe they answered that in the first one of this year.

Apr 3, 13 9:44 am

I'm in my final year in the MArch I program here at Penn. Tinson49, there are usually about 55-65 students in each year. 

If anyone else has specific questions, let me know and I'll try to answer. Deals on Wheels - student work is better found here: 

Apr 3, 13 8:18 pm
deals on wheels

Hayelle - Thanks very much for pointing us to the student work. I'd be grateful if you could give us a bit of insight into the program itself - any flexibility in terms of which studios you take? Is parametric design an overarching (overbearing, perhaps?) theme for each studio? How competitive is it to get the AA travel studio?


Apr 4, 13 12:28 am

There is definitely flexibility in terms of which studios you take. The first year of the 3 year program you don't get to choose who your instructors are, but the next 4 studios, you'll have a say. For those 4 studios, there are studio presentations at the beginning of the semester where the instructors will present what their studio will be focusing on. You rank the studios on a sheet (and in your final semester here, you're also able to choose between landscape or city planning studios if you'd like). Then based on "lottery" or witchcraft, or something, they divide up the students into the studios for the semesters. Most get within their top 1-3 choices. If there's a particularly unpopular instructor, there's a chance you'll get your 4th choice.

The instructors you have to choose from, and therefore the "themes" of the studio generally vary pretty widely. There is always a more Maya-based studio, a more parametric-based studio, a more sustainable or contextual or social studio, a more diagrammatic-studio, etc. They tend to be "situated" in locations all over the world and I've designed a variety of things (a night club, skyscraper, housing, art gallery/cultural center, bath/pool/aqua center...). As a result, the work of my classmates can differ greatly. I, for example, can work my way around Maya and Grasshopper and scripting comfortably. But other classmates, who aren't as interested in those programs/processes, know the bare minimum in terms of how to work with those programs/processes and focus on other things in their architecture designs. So, no, parametric design is not overarching. I've done parametric-focused work in two of my semesters, Maya work in 2 of my semesters, and scripting in 2 of my semesters. Other classmates have done very different things. If there's something in specific you're interested in, let me know and I'll try to let you know how much you'll be able to explore that here. I will say that if you're at all interested in other fields like landscape architecture, city planning, fine arts, real estate, product design or historic preservation, Penn's really useful.  

I would say it is not insanely competitive to get into the AA travel studio. I mean, there were definitely some people who wanted to go who didn't get to, but not everyone applies for it, to begin with. I would say if you work hard when you get here, have quality design work and good grades, you have a solid chance of going to the AA if you'd like. 

Apr 4, 13 12:54 am


Thank you for your comments. I have a couple other questions.

What about studio travel and the summer programs? Where and how often have you travelled? Who funds the travel?

I am doing the M.ARCH I with AP. I am very interested in the work that is done in the MEBD program. Is it possible for me to take their studios/classes?

Also, Can you tell us about the fabrications lab? How well equipped is it, how accessible, prices, etc. 

Apr 4, 13 9:03 am

I know student who traveled the summer after their first year and again the summer after their second year. The summer travel programs are quite popular. In terms of studio travel, in your last year here you're supposed to be able to travel both semesters. Sometimes the studios obtain outside funding, but most of the time they don't and the school will only provide about $1000/student for the week long trip. Or less, depending on how they're feeling or if it's domestic travel (750). But again, if you knowingly choose a studio where they state they have outside funding, then most of it will be covered for you. Students last semester went to Hong Kong, Brazil, Havana, Vienna and to the AA in London. 

This semester, they went to Bangladesh, Death Valley in CA, Estonia, New Mexico and... I think one of the studios went somewhere in Africa, but I haven't been paying proper attention. 

I can't say for sure you can take the MEBD classes, because I don't know many people who have tried to and I myself didn't try to. But I would say in general they're pretty flexible here and if you can talk to them ahead of time about your plans, they'll probably try to make it happen for you. If you can't come to the open house and ask them specifically, email the department or call. They're generally pretty responsive. 

The fabrications lab - I would say it is sufficiently equipped. It's not the most mindblowing fabrications lab known to man, but you'll generally be able to get done what you need to get done. There is shop equipment (the usual - band saw, table saw, sanders, drilling devices, etc etc). There are 3 laser cutters, a cnc mill, vacuum form-er lol - technical, and a 3d printer. There is no additional fee to use the shop equipment or the laser cutters - though you do have to supply your own materials. For the cnc mill and vacuum form-er, you also have to supply your own materials. 3d printing is $10 per cubic inch, though we often send out our files for companies to 3d print and ship back to us (they tend to have more finishes to choose from and can often do finely detailed work better). 

Apr 4, 13 3:51 pm

Anyone going to be at the open house on Monday?

Apr 6, 13 12:36 am

@ Hayelle - Thank you for your comments, they are very helpful. I had a question about the Professional Electives courses. For me, those are very important for our future as practicing architects and specially if we want to have our own office. What has been your experience with them?

@ Everyone - Did you get to attend the Open House yesterday? How was it?

Apr 9, 13 8:51 am

The professional practice courses. We have 3 of them that are required and honestly, they were my least favorite classes. The instructors weren't really able to make it seem like being a professional architect was awesome (maybe because it's not... haha). But we have learned a decent amount about what it's like in the "real word", a bit about business models, and about writing project proposals. You probably could take certain Wharton classes as well to supplement any business cravings you have. I can't say I'm ready to go out and start my own firm right now, or that I wouldn't need to ask any questions while working at an architecture firm, but I also don't feel like I would be super surprised by things or totally unprepared. - our instructor has brought up the basics as to how we might start our own firm. In conclusion, I would say they're fine, but not stellar. 

Apr 10, 13 12:25 am
deals on wheels

I went to the open house. My gut said "no"

Apr 11, 13 1:56 am

@deals on wheels

I went to the open house as well. I loved it! Why did you not like it?

Apr 11, 13 2:02 am

@ tanuja and dealsonwheels -  can you give us more details on your experience during the open house?

Apr 11, 13 3:32 pm

Along with the beautiful city and nice people, I loved the school atmosphere. The studio space was really nice. Apparently they are renovating it so that by fall it will be more like an open office space, like how firms are getting to be like these days, instead of cubicles. The girl who gave our group the tour along with all the people I talked to there were really helpful and willing to answers all questions I had. The girl said the environment at Penn is competitive, but people still help each other out and no one is out to sabotage anyone else. I really liked the fine arts library which is located right in front of the building, it's really beautiful and that is where we would be doing research papers and things like that. Great place for inspiration

In the speech the new department chair and some professors gave, they went through the syllabus and what each year studio would consist of, which I was impressed with. I also am very attracted to the double major and/or certificate programs they offer. In an extra year, you can get a double major in landscape, urban design, or any of the programs the design department has to offer, along with other departments such as engineering, business, and law. I also liked their many opportunities in studying abroad. They have summer trips as well as in your senior year you can chose to go to another country.

I don't know how much that helped haha but basically I liked the work I saw, the environment, the students I met, and the city. So pretty much everything haha If you have any specific questions let me know =]

Apr 11, 13 9:49 pm
deals on wheels

@ Tanuja: The program just wasn't me... The studio projects seemed kind of superficial, and didn't deal with space in an experiential, critical, or empathetic way. There's no doubt in my mind that it would be a great education, especially technically, but I don't want to end up as a renderbitch for a large office.

Apr 12, 13 1:55 am

@deals: Hmm I see, I liked the studio projects. So where will you be attending?

@tinson49: I think about 50

Apr 12, 13 2:41 am

How much freedom do you feel you have in the M.Arch to focus your project on a certain area of investigation? By what you saw in the student work? And what kind of projects did you see done? 
Its to bad the online gallery doesnt work. 

Apr 12, 13 2:57 am


From the projects I saw, I felt there was freedom for students to chose what they wanted to focus on. The variety of other departments within the design department also help because you can take studios from city planning or landscape, etc. So that will give you a wider range of studio classes.

I felt the posters I saw had different personalities, so it was definitely not like all the projects looked the same or anything. In the hallways i got to see some case study models which looked unique from one another. In terms of what programs and materials you want to use, they are very lenient. You can use whatever you need to get the message across. Yes, they do focus on a lot of programs and technical things but from what the professors said, they teach you the programs in their "digi blast" workshop before the semester starts so that you have an idea of how to use the programs and studio evaluation time is used for discussing ideas and concepts rather than how to model something in Rhino or Maya (or whatever program you use). 

The M.Arch 2 people got to focus on a wider range of issues since it is a 2 year program and they have a 5 year undergrad in architecture. Also, if you have an undergrad in architecture (4 year degree and on the 3 year route) I'm sure you will get more freedom since you know what you're doing more than others who don't have that background.

I'm not sure what your background is. Hope that helped!

Apr 12, 13 8:45 pm


Thank you!, Yeah it helped me a lot. Glad to know that there is liberty for us to direct our work. I believe that the education at a Masters level depends a lot on how firmly you believe in something and where you want to take it. I feel that my 3 years of work past my undergrad have been essential for this. I just accepted the offer of admission to upenn! Who else is certain in going there? Ill be attending the M.Arch I program with AP.  

Apr 12, 13 9:00 pm

I am curious as to how the thesis system works at UPenn, I have not heard much about the subject, and the topic was somewhat unclear during the tour I received.

Anyone have any past experience or knowledge of the subject?

-are there thesis "studios" with general design types?

-is there a "pre-thesis" portion of design the semester before?

-how much weight does the thesis program carry in the school?

Apr 13, 13 3:49 pm


Whether or not you choose to work on a thesis project is entirely up to you. A good handful of students each year choose to do this, while the remainder of us continue with research studios into our last semester. Over the summer before your final year, you are required to put together a thesis abstract and select your advisor. In the fall of your final year, it is helpful to take an independent study course with your advisor in preparation for your thesis. In the beginning of the spring semester, you will be asked to present a more thorough plan of action of your thesis. This may or may no be approved (but is usually approved unless it's horrible). You will largely work on your thesis in the spring before you graduate - this happens instead of regular studio, of course. Presentations occur at the end of the spring semester before graduation. 

More students definitely choose to take regular research studios, but I wouldn't say that the thesis students are neglected in anyway. They seem fairly well supported. Hope that helps - I'm not a thesis student myself, but I did consider it for a while. 

Apr 13, 13 4:00 pm


Thank you, this helps to clarify that area of the program quite a bit.


I am from the Chicago area, and did intend to move back after graduate school.

-What is the range that people travel after graduation?

-Does the school mainly target the east coast or are there more widespread connections?

-Of the students you know currently, what seems to be the overarching scheme of plans for post-grad schoool? (does everyone go their separate ways, or do most stay in the area)

-What seems to be the overall look at post-grad school jobs? (what percentage of graduates seem to be working in architecture, and in what sort of positions within the field?)

-How is the hiring process set up for graduation? (do firms come in to interview, do teachers set up positions, are you on your own to find a position, etc.)

Apr 13, 13 4:52 pm

Hey ZachR, 

I get email notifications when there are new comments to this thread, thus my creepishly fast responses to you (I swear I'm not sitting here, maniacally refreshing every minute for new comments). haha 

Anyway, I would say that people head to pretty different places after graduation. A few go to Europe, a lot go to NYC, one or two are returning to Chicago, a handful are staying in Philadelphia and a few of us want to go to the west coast. I guess some go to Asia. I would say that the school has closer ties to the east coast, of course, but I don't feel entirely limited during my search on the west coast. It definitely helps to start making connections in terms of summer internships to the locations you're interested in. I haven't taken a set survey as to where people are headed, so take those previous estimates with a grain of salt - they're just based on those who I've spoken to directly. 

We have a career fair every March for full time positions and internships and instructors can be very helpful too if you approach them. They will generally pass on your resume to their colleagues or offer someone for you to contact. I don't really feel like I'm neglected/on my own in terms of finding a position, though of course you do need to take your own initiative and I have no shame in that sense. I can't stress the importance of summer internships enough, though. Those who already have positions set up post-grad so far are those who are returning to their summer internship locations. 

Apr 13, 13 5:01 pm


Changing the topic a little. What would you recommend, living off campus or on campus as a grad student? And what are some good areas around philly to live off campus?

Apr 14, 13 10:08 am

I've lived off campus my entire time here and I have definitely preferred that. I live in Center City (near Fitler Square to be specific) and it's beautiful there. I really love living in that area/Rittenhouse Square area. The only problem is that it takes long enough for me to go home that I don't like to take time to go home and cook so I end up eating out quite a bit. It takes me about 20 min to walk home or a little less if I can catch a bus quickly. If you bike it'd be faster. I think about half the grad students live in West Philly and half live in Center City. Some international students might have used Penn's on campus housing, but I don't know anyone who still does at this point. 

Apr 14, 13 1:34 pm

Thank Hayelle, it seems center city is a nice place to live and specially if you bike. I had a question for you regarding the Real State Design and Dev. certificate. What do you know about it? would you recommend it?

Apr 14, 13 2:05 pm

Is anyone looking for roommates for next year? I was thinking of living in University City and while rent isn't too bad, having a roommate or two makes it way cheaper. Let me know!

Apr 26, 13 1:22 pm


I need a roommate! I've found a few places which would be doable if I had a few roomies. email me at: =]

Apr 26, 13 4:10 pm

Roommate(s) needed.

I will be attedning PennDesign in the fall. Email @ I have been using padmapper to look and its been pretty helpful.

Apr 29, 13 5:30 pm

Anyone looking for a roommate (I'd rather be with other females but I'm flexible), email me at!

Apr 30, 13 5:44 pm

I'm also looking for a roomate(s) for this fall. Has anybody had any luck finding a place yet? Email me at

May 22, 13 12:29 pm

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