In short, an architecture thesis is the culmination of your education. Both undergraduate and graduate students must present an issue in architecture and develop a design that aims to solve it.
This is then concluded with a presentation and critique, where students present their work, showcasing what they’ve learned throughout their education.
For many, choosing a topic you are passionate about with relevant sources can be a challenge, however with a little research, fortunately, there are many tips for developing a successful thesis project that are both comprehensible and engaging.
What is an architecture thesis?
There are many subtle abbreviations to how a school of architecture approaches their thesis topics, but fundamentally they all look towards achieving the same goal…
The University of Miami School of Architecture describes an architecture thesis as a design project that is devised by a student on his/her own. This enables students to discover their interests and connect their studies to a professional context. Moreover, the thesis consists of a written part (research and analysis) and an architectural project.
California State University Northridge defines a Master’s thesis as a demonstration of a graduate student’s ability to explore, develop, and organize materials relating to a specific problem or an applied orientation within a field of study. Additionally, you can build off of existing data or collect your own.
In particular, the undergraduate thesis at the Southern California Institute of Architecture (Sci-Arc) prepares students to defend their beliefs about architecture and work alongside professionals. Not only that, but students must identify design challenges to their perspectives and global issues. By selecting a site and designing a building, students must solve the design problem to defend their position on architecture.
Like Sci-Arc, many schools invite professionals to be advisors to students throughout their research or jurors. At the end of the thesis year, students present their work to faculty and visiting critics.
How important are they?
The architecture thesis is crucial in representing and presenting what you understand about architecture and have learned as a student. Not only that, but the thesis is a depiction of you as a young architect and designer.
The process involves extensive research, which allows you to investigate something new that you are interested in. As a result, the architectural thesis may help you understand what you want to do in your professional career.
How do I choose an architectural thesis topic?
As a critical moment in your architecture education, choosing a topic for your thesis can be mind-boggling, and at times evoke eminence pressure and tension upon the creative process.
After all, the whole semesters (and often academic year) is based upon it and its success. Archdaily outlines eight very useful suggestions on how to guide your selection process.
While a graduate or doctoral thesis is focused on filling a gap in knowledge of a particular subject matter, the undergraduate thesis is less challenging.
It is a good idea to choose an unoriginal topic and focus your efforts on representing what you’ve learned as a student throughout the years.
Choose a topic that piques your interest
As your classmates complete their projects and have different schedules, the thesis year may seem isolating. Therefore, it is important to pick a research topic that you are passionate about. Moreover, your level of interest in your work can reflect in your final project.
Set a small scope
Choosing a research topic that is too large may be challenging to complete in the school’s time frame. To avoid getting overwhelmed with your thesis, consider starting with a refined topic; you can always expand its complexity later on.
Understand what you’re good at
Every student’s skill sets vary. Therefore, select a topic that can best represent your personal creative and technical abilities.
Is there enough existing literature on the topic?
Before the design part of the thesis, reading and analysis are crucial. Moreover, choosing a topic with an abundance of existing research can help you draw conclusions, compare findings, and have a firm understanding to support your proposal.
Balance art and science
While showcasing your artistic skills in an “out of this world” way seems tempting, remember that the thesis revolves around art and history and building technology. Therefore, presenting a topic that is too abstract may misrepresent your ability to solve practical issues.
Consider your future aspirations
After you graduate, your thesis will become the most significant part of your portfolio for applying to jobs or graduate school. Consequently, it is important to pick a topic that you would like to have experience with for your future.
Aim to solve a real-world issue
Architects have an important role in shaping how a society functions and changes over time. As a result, students should consider topics that attempt to deal with a socio-economic issue such as climate change.
Where to start?
Students can and will make changes to their final approach and find alternative avenues to investigate throughout their entire project.
Therefore as a guide, an effective starting point can be to begin with an overall vision of what you want your thesis project to identify, discuss and represent once complete, and then to work backwards and analyze what will be required to reach this goal.
Students largely focus on finalizing their thesis topic at the beginning of the semester, but must be prepared to have several ideas rejected by your advisor before reaching a final answer.
Typically, students face the issue of not being able to locate enough information on their chosen topic. To get around this dilemma, looking at past thesis projects and seeing how similar approaches were carries out can be extremely helpful.
Additionally, it is important to choose an interesting topic that will keep the jury engaged during your presentation, it must be able to stand scrutiny and receive criticism as well as be successful in defining its purpose.
How to write and develop a successful thesis
There are many types of research, such as experimental, historical, visual, and imaginary to contend with and use. Moreover, you should decide on an effective way to answer the big question you are asking.
Libraries are a helpful tool for discovering past research on your topic. First, you should start with general literature from encyclopedias, books, articles, and the internet. Once you have a sense of how your topic relates to your research question, check out the vast online databases.
Meanwhile, record the sources you read for your bibliography. The references of journal articles are typically found in the footnotes. A useful tip for finding more information on your topic is looking up other literature an author has written.
While you read, remember to take notes of important facts for your research. Also, you can narrow down the information that is relevant to your project by reading the abstracts of articles and the prefaces, introductions, Tables of Contents, and footnotes of books.
The first form of analysis used for the architecture thesis is visual. By looking at plans and photographs of a building, you can get a sense of the three-dimensional structure.
Moreover, ask questions about the image such as how does it function in the city, how does the structure work, or how does it fit the site? If one of these questions you come up with relates to your big question, it may become your small question.
Textual analysis is closely reading text. Some questions you may ask are what do the words convey, what does the author mean, or what are the implications for these ideas.
Next, historical analysis is looking into the historical situation surrounding a person, building, or event. Some questions you may consider include what was happening at the time, who was the audience, or where does an idea originate.
What is your research proposal?
Once you’ve chosen your research topic and the question you are investigating, it is time to develop a research proposal.
This should include your big question, your topic and specific examples you plan on using, the small question you want to answer, a bibliography, the type of analysis you intend to use, and how you plan on connecting the example to the large question.
Outline your paper
An outline is a helpful strategy to organize your ideas prior to writing your paper.
To create one, write all of the points you are including without the sentence structure. Rather than listing topics within your research, make sure the outline clearly states your thesis and each detail you will use to back it up.
Additionally, Microsoft Word and/or Google Docs have a helpful outline tool.
The first part of the paper should be an introduction to your big question, research topic, small question, and thesis. Remember to keep this short, as it will be the paper’s first page.
The middle section or majority of the paper should thoroughly explain your analysis while supporting your thesis. Since this is your contribution to the field, make sure the reader will be able to understand what you’ve accomplished and its significance.
After, the conclusion is supposed to connect your thesis back to the big question and explain the implications of your findings.
After you complete an outline, the rough draft should organize your ideas into a logical sequence. Don’t focus too much on grammar yet. Also, if you find yourself repeating ideas, select the best-written form.
Reread your writing and consider what you want to convey with your words. Then, start a second draft by rephrasing your writing to support your ideas. You should also eliminate grammar mistakes and spend a long time polishing your first paragraph until it contains all of the aforementioned premises.
Keep your sentences brief so that the reader can easily understand your thesis. Also, write in an active voice rather than past tense to keep the audience’s attention.
Architecture thesis topics and examples
There are many architecture thesis topics to choose from. Some range on issues relating to architecture’s role in the environment to sociology. One way to find past examples is to search for an architecture school’s thesis projects online.
In our article, Architecture Thesis Topics, we compiled projects from various architecture schools as inspiration.
Preparing for your presentation
At the end of the school year, undergraduate and graduate architecture students that developed a thesis project must present in front of faculty, visiting professors and professionals, and other students.
This can be a nerve-wracking experience, especially since all eyes are on you and your work. On Archinect, Sean Joyner describes how many students spend most of their time creating a wonderful thesis. However, when it comes time to present their work, they are unprepared.
Consequently, this can dramatically impact how the audience understands and perceives your thesis.
Make an outline
Writing a simple guide for what you want to discuss during your presentation can help organize your ideas. Here is an example:
- Introduce the program/design problem – 1 minute
- Explain your approach to the solution – 4 minutes
- How you identified the problem – 2 minutes
- Your formal method for addressing the problem/your concept – 2 minutes
- Walkthrough of drawings and tie to the concept – 4 minutes
- Close and recap – 2 minutes
Also note that depending on your school, you may have different time limits for your presentation.
Pinning up your work before your thesis review and rehearsing your presentation can help you feel more prepared on the actual day.
We have an article here on how to prepare.
Moreover, having greater confidence during the crit can enhance the jurors’ perception of your work. You can have someone record you practicing so that you can critique yourself.
- Don’t keep your hands in your pockets or behind your back
- Being silent when you’re trying to think of a word is better than saying “uhm” or “uhh”
- Use your hands to guide the presentation
- Make sure your appearance is presentable for your crit
For additional information on how to survive an architecture crit, check out our article.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many architecture schools have made the thesis presentation an online experience. For example, the Tulane School of Architecture created a 3D digital model of the presentation room and project boards.
Also, students at the Rhode Island School of Design, Virginia Tech School of Architecture and Design, and Taubman College had to present their theses on Zoom. At Berkeley Architecture, the program Miro was used to have each student’s presentation board together online.
What is the difference between a thesis and a dissertation?
There are differences in meaning between an architecture thesis and dissertation in the U.S. and Europe. In the United States, the thesis is part of a Master’s degree (and a Bachelors’s in Architecture degree) and a dissertation is part of a doctorate.
In contrast, Europe refers to a dissertation as broader research for a Master’s degree (or undergraduate degree) and a thesis as part of obtaining a Ph.D.
Is developing an architecture thesis hard?
An architecture thesis is a rigorous process that requires extensive research and typically leaves little time for sleep. Additionally, as the deadline approaches, students try to finish their designs, compile sheets, and complete their models.
To alleviate some of this pressure, the information in this article can give you a better understanding of the architecture thesis to prepare you for the semester.
A thesis is more thorough than a research project. Moreover, a thesis is the analysis of multiple research projects in a particular subject.
Additionally, the purpose of writing a thesis is more aligned with displaying your knowledge of a particular topic, usually to gain a higher degree or qualification. On the other hand, a research project is an independent study that is typically a requirement for a class in an academic setting.
Overall, the architecture thesis is a critical part of your architecture education. You will have to complete a written paper and design portion, which will ultimately be presented to a jury.
Along the process, remember to choose an interesting topic that you are passionate about and has a large number of sources. Viewing past thesis projects is a good idea to find research relevant to your project.
Finally, following our suggestions can optimize the amount of time you have on the design part of your thesis.