In the intricate world of architecture, the journey of mastering the discipline does not merely entail the understanding of forms, spaces, and materials but also requires the cultivation of a deep conceptual understanding and intellectual curiosity.
A significant milestone in this journey is the completion of an architectural thesis, typically the climax of an architecture master’s program.
This monumental project is not simply the last hurdle before obtaining the degree; instead, it is a comprehensive demonstration of the skills, knowledge, and critical thinking abilities that students have developed throughout their studies.
This article aims to demystify the process of completing a thesis and highlights its role in shaping the academic and professional journey of budding architects.
It offers insights into the crucial steps, from topic selection to project execution, shedding light on the value that such a complex task brings into the practice of architecture.
What is an architecture thesis?
An architecture thesis is an extensive project undertaken by students in their final year of study. It synthesizes their architectural education, bringing together theory, research, and design into a comprehensive and focused project. The purpose is twofold.
Firstly, it demonstrates a student’s ability to integrate and apply their accumulated knowledge and skills.
Secondly, it allows students to delve deep into a topic of their interest, pushing the boundaries of existing architectural discourse and potentially contributing original ideas to the field.
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.
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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 to choose an architectural thesis topic?
The process of selecting a topic is a significant step in the architecture thesis journey. It demands careful thought and deliberation, as the topic should not only be of personal interest but also possess relevance to current architectural discourse and feasibilities for extensive research and exploration.
Involvement of faculty advisors during this phase is crucial, as their expertise and guidance help steer the student towards a viable and challenging topic.
1. Importance of relevance and feasibility – Relevance is key to ensuring that the thesis contributes meaningfully to the architectural community. A relevant topic addresses current challenges, trends, or gaps in the field. Feasibility, on the other hand, considers the practical aspects of the thesis.
A feasible project has a well-defined scope, accessible resources for research, and is executable within the given timeframe.
2. Involvement of faculty advisors and mentors – Faculty advisors and mentors play a vital role in the process of topic selection. They provide critical insights, suggest necessary adjustments, and help align the student’s interest with the demands of the thesis project.
Their guidance helps maintain a balance between ambition and pragmatism in shaping the thesis.
3. Be unoriginal – While a graduate thesis is focused on filling a gap in knowledge of a particular subject matter, an 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.
4. 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.
5. 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.
6. Understand what you’re good at -Each student has a distinct set of skills and capabilities acquired through personal experiences and interests. Recognizing your creative and technical capacities, along with their limitations, will guide you to a topic that optimally utilizes your skills.
7. Is there enough existing literature on the topic – A substantial amount of reading and analysis precedes the design process of a thesis project. As an undergraduate, existing research or studies will be your primary reference sources. It’s practical to choose a study area where a significant amount of prior work exists.
This prior work will enable you to analyze, compare, draw conclusions, and use the knowledge gained to suggest a well-informed proposal.
8. Balance art and science – Some architecture students risk over-romanticizing their thesis projects, considering these projects are seen as the pinnacle of a program deeply rooted in both art and building technology. Nonetheless, finding a topic that balances both is crucial.
An overly abstract topic might make it challenging for a jury to evaluate a student’s understanding of concrete issues.
9. Consider your future aspirations – After you graduate, your architecture 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.
10. 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.
Writing and developing 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 topic ideas & examples
For many, finding a topic consumes a large amount of their time, which is what has lead to the creation of this list and collection of examples of past and present thesis projects.
In constant evolution, the below topics aim to provide a series of examples and source of inspiration to help support your topic.
Choosing a thesis topic for architecture requires a balance of personal interest, practicality, relevance to current trends, and potential for original contributions to the field. The best topic is often one that you are truly passionate about and can spend a considerable amount of time researching and designing.
The list that follows is a collection of our favorite examples and sources of inspiration:
01. Domestic Horizon by Jiaheng Xie, Rice University, M.Arch ‘20
This project tackles the issue of “Growing the city, shrinking the Footprint.” With cities becoming taller and more condensed, the student developed an Aerial Pedestrian Network system. In effect, it attempts to lift the domestic horizon, create a city above ground, and expand street life.
Simultaneously, Jiaheng’s thesis updates the Chinese Model of Density by mixing block scale development with expanded street life.
Moreover, Guangzhou requires design tools that the government can use for new developments that encourage new living experiences, are connected to the ground level, expand urban life, and preserve the sense of neighborhood.
02. Equivocal Elevations by Anna Kaertner, Harvard Graduate School of Design, M.Arch ‘21
Leipzig’s different names throughout history are indicators for the city’s changes in identity. After the bombing of Leipzig in 1943, political regimes and architects have used these histories to guide construction.
Meanwhile, the city’s identity is filled with unraveling, overlapping, and competing projections of the past and future. Ultimately, building elevations have been the main registration of each attempt to resolve the city’s identity crisis.
Equivocal Elevations proposes a Super Civic Service Center, which builds on the Bürgerzentrum, a city-government institution that addresses the converging individual identity, city bureaucracy, and civic identity.
The new center is founded from the elevations of the site, which come from studying the Leipzig archives. Therefore, Anna’s thesis aims to continue the uncertainty to the city’s identity while referring to its distinct various histories.
03. Bunker Reclamation by Demosthenes Sfakianakis, Syracuse University, B.Arch ‘20
This thesis explores the extreme conditions under the Communist regime in Albania. For example, the government manipulated citizens through punishing nonconformist architecture and enforcing acceptable color palettes and subjects in art.
The research also looks at the prison/labor camp system under Hoxha’s rule.
Additionally, this thesis proposes a collection of graphics that showcase the harsh conditions under Communist authority and the idea for bunkers to be reinterpreted from symbols of oppression to modes of collective healing.
04. ReThinking Home Waste by Elena Echarri Myers, Syracuse University, B.Arch ‘20
ReThinking Home Waste investigates the history of consumption around the world. Particularly, the shift from a society that locally consumes basic necessities to one that shops for pleasure and for items that are globally mass-produced with short lifespans.
As a solution, the thesis proposes a model to manage the abundance of waste in New York City. The project is a multi-family residential complex that incorporates less wasteful living, education of proper waste discharge practices, and sorting hubs for materials with an economic incentive.
05. Reshaping Reality: From Disneyland to Dismaland by Lina Wang, Syracuse University, M.Arch ‘18
Disneyland is a key example of a hyperreality, as the imaginary is presented as more realistic than reality itself. Moreover, the theme park draws in visitors by making the problems of the real world less relatable.
Evidently, society is more focused on entertainment than current political and social issues. Banksy’s Dismaland is a visual depiction that critiques this attitude.
In response, this thesis proposes to use the frame of Disneyland in New York City to showcase the opposite and dark issues like politics, climate, sustainability/energy, education, global environment.
06. Returning to Earth by Daniel Morely, Iowa State University, M.S. ‘20
For the past century, life and death have been perceived as opposites. Due to the common ignoring of the subject of death, the Western burial practices from the 19th and 20th centuries have been unquestioned.
In recent decades, however, Westerners have begun to realize that many of their burial practices are unsustainable.
As a result, Returning to Earth proposes a new form of burial that is concentrated in the Ouroboros, the eternal cycle of life and death, and humans place within that cycle.
07. Harnessing social networks in Khartoum’s informal tea places: The case of Mayo internally displaced persons camp by Rami Mannan, Iowa State University, M.S. ‘21
This thesis project looks at the social qualities of informal tea places in Khartoum, Sudan. Tea places are examined because they are good indicators of the social, political, economic, and environmental effects of the rapid population as a result of forced displacement in the region.
Additionally, they produce strengthened social networks, which are explored as a means of community development and in Iowa.
08. Work-Homes by Satya Charan Ganesuni, Iowa State University, M.Arch ‘18
While work homes have been utilized since ancient times, they have become more popularized because of their technological advantages, time savings, and budget savings.
In the past, researchers have defined the characteristics of integrated spaces. However, this thesis aims to use the advancements of technology and work-home principles to create a set of design elements that can make workspaces more efficient.
09. Between Land and Lake: Environments of Learning in Tonle Sap Lake by Julie Chau, University of California, Berkeley, M.Arch ‘14
The Tonle Sap River in Cambodia is a developing region that experiences flood pulse. In response, Julie’s thesis aims to provide an infrastructure for places of learning for children.
In doing so, she investigates the distinct features surrounding the lake, existing learning environments, and design solutions around the world.
This thesis proposes to use a redesign of the learning environments to teach children about the ecological conditions and reclaim local ownership and responsibility for the lake.
10. Robinhood Gardens 2.0 by Stathis Gerostathopoulos, University of California, Berkeley, M.Arch ‘14
As city buildings develop higher from the ground, architects and urban designers are tasked with recreating the ground as a space with activity between, through, and above buildings.
In a series of unfinished projects, architects Peter and Alison Smithson popularized the term “streets in the sky” and commissioned the Robin Hood Gardens housing estate in East London.
However, after State neglect and vandalism, it was set to be demolished in 2014. In response, Stathis proposes a mixed-use development with a new design approach to replace the Robin Hood Gardens.
11. The Beige Conundrum by Alma Crawford-Mendoza, University of Massachusetts Amherst, M.Arch ‘21
While color is part of everyday life, it is often not given much thought. For example, a person may decide to wear a pair of blue jeans and a white t-shirt. However, what compelled the person to wear those colors?
Similarly, you can ask questions about the factors that influence the exterior color selection of homes. To address this inquiry, the thesis aims to examine the reasoning behind the common beige color of homes in Massachusetts and color’s greater potential role in the built environment.
12. Housing for Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD): Creating an Integrated Living Community in Salem, MA by Tara Pearce, University of Massachusetts Amherst, M.Arch ‘21
While some adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are high functioning and able to lead successful and independent lives, many still experience obstacles in locating and securing sufficient housing.
Not to mention, the increasing price for buying or renting an apartment makes many adults with autism have to live with their aging parents. Meanwhile, government funding and group homes for adults with ASD are limited.
In response, this thesis proposes a model living community in Salem Massachusetts for adults with ASD.
Through analyzing recent literature on autism-friendly design and interviewing professionals in the field and parents of adult children with ASD, Tara seeks to improve their living conditions and access to resources.
13. Adaptive Airport Architecture by Yash Mehta, University of Massachusetts Amherst, M.Arch ‘20
The main factors for determining the spatial requirements for an airport depend on its projected life span, security restrictions, and other socio-political influences.
Additionally, the initial stages of the design for any existing or new airport come from the ‘Master planning report,’ which includes airport layouts, environmental studies, analysis of runway orientation, land use plans, activity forecasts, capacity analysis, estimates of facilities, and more.
However, technological and infrastructural changes are key problems with airports. This thesis aims to analyze the different factors that prevent airport terminals from going along with these changes.
Moreover, the project proposes a re-design of the Bradley airport at Hartford that attempts to increase the efficiency and life span of airport terminals.
14. Humanity in Children’s Cancer Hospital by Sara Jandaghi Jafari, University of Massachusetts Amherst, M.Arch ‘17
Children sense their physical space and respond to it more directly than adults. Therefore, visiting hospitals can be emotionally challenging for children while they are stressed from being ill and experiencing painful medical procedures.
The research aims to identify what makes a supportive pediatric setting in the views of children and adolescents and explores how architecture can make hospital stays more pleasant.
Additionally, Jandaghi develops a vision for the sustainable hospital movement and showcases the importance of participatory research for healthcare design.
15. Changing Landscapes: Redefining Preservation for Legacy Neighborhoods by Kaitlyn Levesque, University of Pennsylvania, ‘19
Kaitlyn’s thesis focuses on traditional preservation policies and practices, which usually prioritized the physical form and fabric of heritage places over other values.
This issue disproportionately favors dominant cultures in historic narratives, leaving urban areas suffering from divestment.
Moreover, the project proposes a more equitable preservation process, which is applied to the North Philadelphia neighborhood of Strawberry Mansion.
16. Free Trade Zone in Transit by Andrew Lam, Cooper Union, B.Arch ‘14
The Panama Canal is a significant trading route that connects the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans. After a history of conflict over control of the waterway, it was finally given to the Republic of Panama.
However, the growth of the global economic demand has led to an increase in container ships. Consequently, this has redefined the canal as a space that belongs to the world.
This thesis attempts to solve the issue by developing a community based on trade and interaction between the vessels and boats in the waterway. Additionally, this proposal aims to urbanize areas in the region that experience little activity.
17. A Deep Breath of Art by Sara Alkhatib, Virginia Tech, M.Arch ‘20
The busyness of meeting deadlines and completing daily tasks can keep artists away from their inner creativity. As a result, this research explores the role of architecture in producing more artistic experiences.
Sara proposes an artists retreat in the U.S. National Arboretum that holds an area for privacy for artists to self-reflect and a community space for artists to socialize and exchange knowledge.
18. Common Ground by Daniel Kuehn, Rice University, M.Arch ‘17
This thesis investigates the environment and the city as contemporary issues and how they merge to rethink the rhetoric of sustainability.
Specifically, the project involves a flexible urban framework located on Treasure Island, San Francisco, that tests the feasibility of augmenting coastal cities. This includes supporting the social, cultural, and environmental ecology from the immediate effects of climate change.
Moreover, Common Ground is a temporary community for first-world climate refugees that will change over time to accommodate the greater measures taken in San Francisco for combating sea-level rise and climate change.
19. Hang in there by Evio Isaac, Rice University, M.Arch ‘18
The reflected ceiling plan is a drawing used by architects to communicate the position of fixtures, mechanical penetrations, lighting, and finishes to the construction team.
However, it is typically a secondary drawing. Hang in there investigates the potential of using the reflected ceiling plan as a primary drawing, which challenges the absoluteness of the architectural plan.
20. Head Space: An Exploration into Design Code by Gaylon Lerch, Kennesaw State University, B.Arch ‘21
In response to the idea that today’s coding standards do not address the needs of occupants of the built environment, this thesis explores the field of medical research. Such as information from the fields of psychology, physical medicine, and architecture.
The effects of light, sound, and overall spatial quality on people using a space are observed to understand the criteria for healthy human function.
As a result, the research compares these findings to current building codes and establishes new guidelines for architects to follow.
Ultimately, the architecture field is about 20 years behind the knowledge of psychology and physical medicine on occupant behavior in residential spaces.
FAQs about an architecture thesis and topics
What are the best thesis topic for architecture?
Choosing a thesis topic in architecture is an important decision, as it should reflect your personal interests and professional aspirations while also contributing to the field. Here are some suggestions for compelling thesis topics in architecture:
- Sustainable and Eco-Friendly Design: Investigating the use of sustainable materials and technologies in building design to minimize environmental impact.
- Urban Regeneration and Revitalization: Studying the transformation of urban areas, focusing on community engagement, heritage conservation, and sustainable development.
- Architectural Technology and Innovation: Exploring new construction technologies, materials, and methods that could revolutionize the way buildings are designed and built.
- Disaster-Resilient Architecture: Designing buildings and infrastructure that can withstand natural disasters, focusing on regions prone to earthquakes, hurricanes, or floods.
- Adaptive Reuse of Historic Buildings: Examining how historic buildings can be repurposed for modern use while preserving their cultural and architectural heritage.
- Human-Centric Design in Architecture: Researching the impact of architectural design on human behavior and well-being, including the design of educational, healthcare, and residential spaces.
- Smart Cities and Urban Technology: Investigating the role of technology in urban planning and the development of smart cities, with a focus on sustainability and efficiency.
- Landscape Architecture and Public Spaces: Examining the design of public spaces, such as parks and urban squares, and their impact on community and environmental health.
- Affordable and Social Housing Solutions: Addressing the challenges of providing affordable housing solutions in urban and rural areas.
- Architectural Theory and Criticism: Delving into the philosophical and theoretical aspects of architecture, analyzing trends, movements, and the works of prominent architects.
- Cultural and Contextual Architecture: Studying architecture that responds to its cultural and environmental context, particularly in areas with rich traditions and diverse cultures.
- Interactive and Responsive Architecture: Exploring the integration of technology into building design to create responsive and interactive environments.
- Healthcare Facility Design: Focusing on the design of hospitals and healthcare facilities to improve patient outcomes and staff efficiency.
- Virtual Reality and Architecture: Investigating the use of virtual reality in architectural design and its potential impact on the industry.
When selecting a topic, consider your interests, the relevance of the topic to current trends in architecture, and its potential impact on the field. It’s also beneficial to consult with your academic advisor or mentors in the field to refine your idea and ensure its feasibility for a thesis project.