Harvard GSD MDes


There have been a number of threads about this topic, but they all seem to have died out, so am creating a new thread.

I recently got admitted to the MDes program for a concentration in Energy and Environments. I am wondering if people who are currently at the GSD would be able to give their opinions on what the program is like?

What are the pros and cons?

How does the MDes program compare to other programs like the Master of Environmental Building Design (MEBD) program at UPenn, and the SMarchS program at MIT? 

Any feedback is greatly appreciated.

Look forward to hearing back from folks, and congratulations to everyone who got into their schools of choice.

Mar 8, 14 4:53 pm

Sorry, but I dont know many who take the MDes seriously.

Mar 9, 14 6:27 pm  · 

I agree with the previous comment. I would look into SMarchS at MIT- heard decent things about that. 

Mar 9, 14 7:08 pm  · 

Is the MDes program at Harvard really a joke? Is that the word around? I have met some graduates from the program and came to think rather lowly of them...

Mar 9, 14 7:33 pm  · 

So which programs in your opinion have the best reputation for building technology and sustainable design? 

Mar 9, 14 8:21 pm  · 

architect27_87 I am in the same exact position, asking the same question...

I'll tell you what i personally believe about the MDes program. The reason it may be "looked down upon" is that it is compared to the MArch in Architecture program. On that kind of scale, the Mdes program is not studio based and therefore lacks the intense nature of pure design based programs. Hence could be taken to be easier (I don't think this is true)


I think the program should be evaluated on the basis that its primarily a research based degree- one that focuses on building your tools in the field of energy and simulation. Having said all this, I have also heard that the MIT SMArchS program and the MEBD program at UPenn are both very strong.. It's a tough decision really..

Have you applied or been admitted to these programs as well?

Mar 10, 14 5:20 pm  · 


I do agree with your thoughts. Much of the negative chatter in this forum is from people applying to M.Arch programs who are also making comparisons to MDes type degrees. It's comparing apples to oranges. They write that the MDes degrees don't have as much access to the big name studio critics, the work isn't as good, and that it's easier to get into the program. But if you look at what the degrees are setting out to do, then all of that should be true. A research degree means you'll be doing less studio work (perhaps none at all), so of course you won't have access to studio critics. The work will be less showy, and often entirely written, so it will not look as glamorous as the work produced in the studios (but in many cases it may ultimately be more rigorous). Lastly, the admissions pool will be much less competitive because fewer people choose to perform architectural research versus design - that's not a measure of quality, it's just statistics. Ultimately though, the bias in architecture graduate degree programs is that design is king.

That being said. I have been accepted the the MEBD at UPenn and am still waiting on the SMarchS at MIT. I think I will probably accept MIT's offer if they yes. I am still debating between the GSD and Penn. $$$ is a factor for sure, so is the credibility of the the research that is conducted specifically in the energy and environments track.

What about yourself?

Mar 10, 14 5:34 pm  · 


Did you receive an offer letter from Penn for MEBD or just get notified by an email? 

Mar 12, 14 1:15 pm  · 


i got an email from the director of the program saying that I have been accepted to MEBD and to accept the official offer of admission when it arrives.

Mar 12, 14 1:30 pm  · 

I completely agree with all you said, and on top of that I firmly believe in selecting a "niche" in graduate study. In the sense that if you already have a Bachelors degree in architecture, you shouldn't be targeting another Architecture degree (an MArch). You should specialize and add to yourself by studying something different. That is of course my personal opinion, and everyone has a varying view on this..

Well I've also been accepted into the Upenn MEBD program and waiting for SMArchS! Yes, money is a huge factor.. the GSD weren't very kind with aid haha

But Harvard is still quite tempting..
Any ideas on when the MIT decisions will come in?

Mar 13, 14 4:12 pm  · 

Hi, I've also got admitted to MDes program concentrated in Energy and Environments, and also waiting for SMarchS from MIT.. I also didn't find much information about the program from students and internet. I've receive an email from Kiel which said to have a conversation with him..

Mar 13, 14 4:26 pm  · 

Hi all,

Congratulations on everyone's acceptances! I guess we are all waiting to hear back from MIT SMarchS before making our decisions. All the best with that! I think MIT decisions might come in either tomorrow or sometime next week based on trends from previous years.

I have been trying to get information on the programs and opinions from various contacts to get a sense of the programs. All 3 programs seem to be comparable to each other in some ways since they are all from top-notch schools. That being said, I think it would be balance between the rigor / quality of the program, the level of in-depth technical knowledge / research you wish to pursue, and the "brand-name" of the institution depending on where you intend to continue your career post graduation i.e. whether you see yourself going into academia or being a consultant in the industry etc.


I completely agree. Is UPenn offering any aid for the MEBD program? I had the opportunity to meet Dr. Braham after he gave a lecture. They are doing great work there and he is a down to earth guy and a leader in the field. The big draw of UPenn is the integrated design studio they do in the summer before completing the program where students have the opportunity to apply what they have learned in a studio design setting. I think the program at Harvard is a little different with a thesis as the final goal, the research that Kiel is working on is very interesting, he mentioned that they also now have Ali Malkawi on the faculty. He was the director and founder of the T.C. Chan Sustainability Center at UPenn.


I spoke to Kiel on the phone yesterday and asked questions about the MDes program, collaboration opportunities and the kind of work that they are doing. A couple of things stood to me as positive signs:

1. They now have Ali Malkawi at the GSD.

2. Kiel mentioned that they will be reducing the number of compulsory courses for the program to allow students to diversify and take other courses of their interest.

3. He mentioned that there are opportunities to become an RA in the different research groups, as well as TA in the design studios.

4. The class size for the Energy & Environments Track is pretty small. Kiel mentioned that 13 students were admitted to the concentrations. 

Hope this helps.

Mar 13, 14 5:08 pm  · 


Thanks for all the info. It's interesting to see how we've all come to do our research and reach the same conclusions. Most of what you said, I had also heard from people at MIT and others familiar with the MDes program.

I also heard that Ali Malkawi is quite a significant addition to the team and that him and Kiel are working on interesting research.

I have also heard much praise for Dr. William Braham. From both a graduate of the Mdes program and a friend of mine who is currently in the MEBD program. He is quite an educated, well-rounded professor. The MEBD program has him as an advantage and the direct affiliation with the TC Chan center.

The MEBD had the diversity scholarship form to fill out in the application. I'm guessing decisions for funding come in on March 14- with the official letter.

And wow, 13 is quite an impressive number. Would you happen to know how many applicants there were?

Congratulations everyone, I hope we all reach the best decisions!

Mar 13, 14 5:26 pm  · 


Thanks very much for your information! It really seems all positive sighs. I have not talked to him yet and would like to ask also about the career possibilities.

And its good to hear that we have more flexibility according to our own interest. 

Hope u will get your best result.

Mar 15, 14 3:09 pm  · 

MDeS Art Design & the Public Domain ($ 2/4)


SMArchS ($ 3/4)

Mar 29, 14 9:35 pm  · 

Final Decisions?

Apr 12, 14 2:51 pm  · 

MDesS at the GSD

Apr 12, 14 3:42 pm  · 

Yes, me too. Did you go to the open house? Anything eventful?

Apr 17, 14 3:46 pm  · 

Applying this year to Mdes Technology in GSD and Smarch Computation in MIT. Any suggestions guys?

How is your experience there? 

Nov 8, 14 4:30 am  · 

Hey @ki74  @architect27_87   @archfei  

Let us know how the programs area working out for you guys?

Would be appreciated a lot.


Oct 29, 17 7:50 am  · 

Additionally if you could include info of your grades and Gre scores etc, that would be perfect. Thanks

Oct 29, 17 8:12 am  · 

People who think Mdes at Harvard GSD is a joke should check the employment and salary statistics presented by the career service at the GSD ...

The Mdes students make on average 3-4x more than architects/designers/Urban planners, etc...upon graduation. In my option, Mdes Technology + Mdes Real Estate are the highest paid. 

The Mdes program is designed for people knowing what area they want to focus on after graduation. It is taught by top notch professors and speakers/networking opportunities are huge. Even Google/Blackstone hire Mdes students.

So if you have top notch employers + great professors + high salaries ... how can the program be a joke ... :) ?

PS: there are some cons...but on the long term they wont really matter.

Know your facts before randomly discussing stuff.

Nov 23, 18 9:33 am  · 

Is MDes really a joke?

I was admitted today with no financial aid.

I do not find this thread too promising nor the $0 granted to me.

Mar 1, 19 12:26 am  · 

Reporting live form the field:

I'm a first year student in MDes at GSD. I have an undergraduate architecture degree and have worked for 2 years before coming here. 

My views on MDes:

The MDes cohort is very diverse. While most students have an architecture background, there are others who come from varied other fields such as art history, consulting, international development, consulting, engineering, media studies, etc. The learning process therefore is very enriching. The others, who come from an architecture background have already done their design studios in undergrad and are looking to further their careers in a specific field. The program itself is very flexible, which has its pros and cons. The greatest advantage is - if you know where exactly you want to be upon graduation and what you want to do, the school allows you the flexibility of tailoring your academic experience to what is most relevant to you. I take only half my classes at the GSD. The other half are at the Harvard Kennedy School, Harvard Business School and MIT. The resources are truly unparalleled. The disadvantage however is - if you dont have a specific direction of what you want to do, it is very, very easy to get lost in all the options available.

Jobs / career - the career services at GSD works tirelessly to ensure that you get to work in the field of your choice. Most students also choose to pursue a PhD upon completion of MDes. People have worked in fields ranging from consulting to museum curation, real estate development to product design. The options are endless.  And yes, they do get paid more and a fresh MArch grad on an average!

Culture - whoever said that MDes is a joke, hasn't spent a day at the GSD! LOL.

Tracks - the MDes tracks I believe are more rigourous than the others are: Critical Conservation; History and Philosophy of Design and Media; Urbanism, Landscape, Ecology; Art, Design and Public Domain.

Good luck and hope to see you this Fall!

Mar 1, 19 7:56 am  · 

Thanks @hpcc for the above comment, I have been waiting for a long time for someoe who's been pursuing Mdes in the GSD to reply on this thread. :)

Sep 11, 19 8:46 am  · 

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