Thesis Requirements

Thesis Requirements

Chris Perry, Coordinator

Final Project Design Research Sequence | 2016-17


In the last two decades architectural education has witnessed a significant transformation of the architectural thesis. Since its formation in the nineteenth century, the architectural thesis has represented an opportunity for students to produce fully independent architectural projects, whether “project” was defined as the demonstration of architectural knowledge in the solution to a specific design problem, as was the case with the Ecoles des Beaux-Arts, or a form of political, cultural, and / or disciplinary critique against such traditional forms of problem-solving, as was the case with the post-modern thesis of the 1960’s and 70’s. “Design research”, as it has come to be known within contemporary schools of architecture, is perhaps the most recent iteration of this evolving curricular form, and not unlike its antecedents, can be seen as characteristic of the interests and ambitions of its own particular moment in time.
First, design research may be viewed as an indication of a general interest within contemporary architectural discourse to integrate aspects of both the profession and the discipline of architecture. If the problem-solving implications of “design” are typically associated with the former, “research” as a mode of knowledge production, whether in the form of intellectual critique or creative innovation, is generally characteristic of the latter. Thus, design research is conceived as an integration of the two, thereby providing a space for students and faculty alike to engage in open-ended forms of inquiry and experimentation particular to the advancement of disciplinary knowledge, while simultaneously addressing the “real” issues, needs, and challenges facing the profession. As such, the research and design work produced in a design research sequence may be seen as both discursive and projective, that is, responsive to the internal discourses of architecture as an autonomous discipline while simultaneously engaging its exterior, i.e. the technological, social, economic, political, and environmental challenges of the built environment.

Second, design research positions the architectural studio as a space of collaboration between faculty and students for the exploration and production of new forms of knowledge and design innovation; hence the term “laboratory” often used by contemporary schools of architecture to describe this particular type of studio. As a means of pursuing a set of interests particular to the work characteristic of their research and design practices outside of academia, the design research studio, or laboratory, provides faculty with the opportunity to develop a set of questions and problems related to a particular area of design research through which their respective students engage and advance those particular questions and problems. In this particular configuration, then, the architectural studio is not simply a course for disseminating existing forms of knowledge and design expertise as part of the standard architectural education. Rather, this “laboratory” for “design research”, conducted through close collaboration between faculty and students alike, carries with it the larger ambition of producing entirely new forms of knowledge as a general means of advancing the discipline and by extension the profession of architecture.

Hence, the Final Project course sequence at Rensselaer’s School of Architecture is designed to enable fifth-year undergraduate students in the Bachelor of Architecture (BArch) program to develop a semi-independent design research project over the course of two consecutive semesters. Led by individual design critics, each seminar/studio section in Final Project provides a specific area of design research through which students develop their work.

In the fall semester of Final Project students concentrate principally on topic and material / formal research in the context of a seminar. In the spring semester, the focus shifts to schematic design, followed by design development, representation, and production, in the context of a design studio, with the expectation that the fall semester’s seminar research will be utilized as a platform for the production of highly resolved architectural and/or urban proposals in the spring semester studio.


The Final Project course sequence is unique in that it provides students and faculty the opportunity to engage in advanced design research in a way not possible given the time constraints of a typical semester-long studio. The expectation, then, is that by the end of the spring term, each student will have a highly developed design proposal represented by a substantial amount of presentation material. Thus, in addition to a typical set of drawings (plans, axos, sections, diagrams, etc) each student will be asked to produce large high-res renderings and a series of well-crafted physical models and / or prototypes.

The fall semester seminar is comprised of two phases of work, while the spring semester studio is comprised of three phases of work, the structure of which helps to ensure that each student reaches his or her full potential over the course of the two-semester sequence. While sequential in nature, this phasing structure also produces overlaps at particular points in each semester. The intention here is to encourage productive lines of feedback between the various phases of work, while at the same time providing a clear structure and set of deadlines for each semester.

In the fall semester seminar, the two phases of work include topic research and formal research. These two phases of work combine research related to a particular discursive theme, i.e. topic, with a series of generative studies particular to questions of physical matter or form. The intention here is to see analytical and creative work not as separate and discrete endeavors but rather, endemic to one another in the larger context of the creative process. In this respect, thinking and making are viewed as mutually inclusive activities, thereby expanding the process of producing “research” to include acts of creative invention and production in addition to historical and theoretical analysis. This formal research, whether it consists of material or digital experiments, or perhaps both, also serves to provide a platform for transitioning into the schematic design phase at the beginning of the spring semester studio. As such, each student is armed with a body of formal research with which to address various issues and challenges related to site and program.

It is expected that each student complete the fall semester seminar with a clearly articulated and highly developed body of topic/formal research as this ensures that the first phase of schematic design work in the spring semester studio is devoted exclusively to the development of a design proposal, in turn providing ample time in the second half of the spring semester for the production of large high-res renderings and well-crafted physical models and / or prototypes.

And while each section leader maintains full autonomy in the framing of their respective seminar/studio section, including the selection of a particular topic / formal research theme, specific methodologies of making as it relates to that particular phase of work, as well as the determination of site if he or she chooses not to leave that to their students, they will be asked to follow the phasing structure in both the fall and spring semesters. This helps to ensure that each FP section is at a similar level of development over the course of the year and as a result can be expected to produce a certain quality as well as quantity of work by the end of the spring semester.


Library Requirements: Print & Electronic Thesis Book

[Click here] Thesis Binding Requirements

Comments are closed.


Evan Douglis, Professor


School of Architecture
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
110 8th Street - Greene Bldg.
Troy, NY 12180 - USA

Main Phones

Front Desk: (+1) 518-276-6466
Dean's Office: (+1) 518-276-6460
Undergrad Admissions: (+1) 518-276-8478
Graduate Admissions: (+1) 518-276-6877