Perspectives on RISD / PennDesign


I'm currently trying to decide between RISD and PennDesign (M.Arch I), and while both have their pro's and con's, I was hoping to hear the perspectives of others who may have had the chance to visit (I live in Honolulu, and was unfortunately unable to make the trip), or have experience with their respective grad programs. I'm keeping this short, because I don't want to narrow anyones responses. Just share what you know :) Aloha!

Mar 29, 14 3:41 pm

I visited PennDesign's open house last weekend and posted a detailed description of it here:

I'm deciding between PennDesign and SCI-arc myself at the moment, leaning towards Penn.

Mar 30, 14 1:14 am

Congrats on your acceptances! I also got into RISD for my MArch degree and am trying to decide between it and another school. What are you major pros/cons for RISD? 

Mar 31, 14 1:16 pm

Hi genevievebaleine,

RISD is a great school, and every alumni I've met raves about it. It would be close to Boston, a city I love. I hear great things about Providence as well. RISD is perhaps the best art school in the world (we all know this can be debated forever), which will open me up to many perspectives I'm sure I'd never have myself. It will have FAR better facilities than my undergraduate university. RISD will also provide connections to the northeast, which is likely where I see myself working in the future. People who talk about RISD grads have always said great things. They seem VERY well prepared to become creative architects. 

On the downside, its going to cost A LOT of money. While I did get a scholarship, I will still be taking a tremendous amount of loans. (This is the same for Penn, so I don't know how much it will factor in). I'm not sure if RISD is as connected as Penn, which is a con for me. If I've learned ANYTHING about architecture, who you know DEFINITELY matters. The ability to get a dual degree at Penn, specifically the MBA, is a con for RISD. I am unsure of where architecture will be in three years, and thus having an MBA from Wharton is a SOLID back up plan to finding work. (Provided one can get in, which is no easy task).

There aren't too many negatives to RISD really, its more about which school is better for me I guess. This is still just such a difficult decision. I hope I've helped in some small way. A lot of these things kind of only apply to me. 

Mar 31, 14 7:13 pm


I read your description, which I liked a lot. I REALLYYYYY wanted to go to the open house, but living in Honolulu at the moment, I just couldn't. If there is ANYTHING you left out of that review please, do tell. Do you think they included the non-parametric material in PrMtrs2 just to make people believe they are more balanced? If they really are strictly parametric that would be a huge downside for me. Thanks for all your help btw!

Mar 31, 14 7:16 pm

@MrMayberry Parametric design, at least when I attended, was not the rule at all. Certain studios did focus on it, but there were other studios (and you can choose in your second and third years) did absolutely no parametric design. I have classmates who barely touched parametric software throughout their time at the program. That being said, it's great to learn and you might end up changing your mind about it - it's nice having the exposure and option. 

Mar 31, 14 7:37 pm


The fact that RISD is a fine arts school is definitely what draws me to it as well! I'm excited about the prospect of meeting and interacting with people in other creative fields and having the opportunity to explore beyond architecture. I'm planning a trip down there the weekend before decisions are due to really try and get a feel for it. It's a little late, I know, but if you haven't made up your mind by then I'll definitely post my thoughts!

I also got some interesting advice the other day from a RISD alumni, which you might be interested in. "While on the one hand, it's good to be strategic about what advantages one program might offer your longer term professional and academic prospects, this can also be counterproductive if you base your decisions on possible futures rather than on your general interests/preoccupations now. My own view is that you should select a program based on your general interests/tendencies and focus on honing those well during your education. This, in turn, will allow you to cultivate a strong sense of your own individual interests, which will allow you to be a better designer, a stronger intellectual, and someone who is propelled by curiosity... traits that will serve you well in any capacity in the future. It's hard to say where this will lead, but that's part of the joy of the process."

Mar 31, 14 8:55 pm


Thank you for your response! If I may ask, was your undergraduate work heavily computer based? Did you have much experience with parametrics when accepting Penn's admissions offer? Thank you for your time!

Mar 31, 14 9:27 pm


I will definitely consider that in my decision! There are just so many factors, I'm changing my mind almost every day. It's horrible. I've never been like this before haha. 

I would LOVE to know what you think of your visit btw! 

Mar 31, 14 9:33 pm


I thought it was some pretty unique advice! It definitely changed the way I was looking at my decision- although I'm the same as you, changing my mind at least once a day. I'll be back with updates on my visit, good luck with your decision-making until then!

Mar 31, 14 9:56 pm

My undergraduate work was at Berkeley, so no it was not heavily computer based - I just went into it with a strong understanding of Rhino/various rendering programs, but no Grasshopper, Revit, Maya, Generative Components, RhinoScript/Python, etc all of which I graduated Penn with a solid knowledge of. That's just me, though - I do know people who knew what they were interested in other things and focused on those things without bothering with the other techniques/software. For me, I wanted to learn about as much of the new technology/approaches/concepts as possible because I wasn't sure I'd ever get that sort of exposure again. 

If you're worried about connections in the northeast, I'm sure either school is great in that sense. I don't know about RISD, but most of my classmates from Penn are in NYC and had little problem job searching (I'm in California and have also been fine).

It's definitely worth a visit so you can feel out the two and see what grabs your interest. Also look at the course listings and see which ones you'd be interested in taking right now and study professor/lecturers' work. It's also helpful to see if anyone knows people from RISD and Penn that can help you compare the two. And in the end, don't underestimate the importance of cost - architecture in general isn't worth taking on more loans for, so whichever school offers you more money... 

Apr 1, 14 12:56 pm

Thank you Hayelle. I do have a scholarship to both schools, although RISD was a little more generous. I'll still be taking on vast loans for either school. I am certainly interested in generative design, I just don't want that to be ALL i'm exposed to, you know. Though, I'm thankful for your perspective, in that, it's not ALL I have to pick from at Penn. 

I would like to stay in NYC / Boston post-graduation, perhaps even Europe. The west coast certainly has it's perks, I just want to expand from the west (growing up in Hawaii, I think I've been here long enough haha). 

Thank you for all your advice Hayelle, and if there is anything further you wish to share, then by all means do share :D


Apr 1, 14 9:19 pm

Hi MrMayberry,

I'm fresh from my visit to RISD! The city, faculty, students, and facility were all amazing. However, I've decided it's not the right graduate school for me since the school reminded me a little too much of where I went for my undergraduate degree. RISD isn't very focused on history or theory, but it'll offer you a great background in tectonics/making/fabrication. Already having an undergrad degree in arch means you'll likely be able to exempt a few courses, allowing you to take more electives and really steer the direction of your degree. Additionally, wintersession adds a whole new dimension to that. You can take courses outside of arch, go work on design build projects, or even propose and teach a course yourself. It's very much a school that produces designers, people who can think for themselves, rather than worker bees.

The thing that really put me off was that there is zero differentiation between undergraduate and gradaute students. In your first year of the grad program, you'd be studying with second year undergraduate students- and I mean that in every sense. You'd be taking the same courses and working in the same studio groups. While I understand that a lot of Masters students are coming from non-arch backgrounds, I didn't like the idea of having to go through that learning process again and perhaps becoming someone that a lot of the new students would rely on.

If you have any questions, let me know! Good luck with your decision!

Apr 14, 14 8:01 am

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