PhD in History and Theory of Architecture or Art

HTC currently offers two tracks of study within the PhD program: History and Theory of Architecture and History and Theory of Art. Degree requirements and admissions procedures for both tracks are the same.

The program in History, Theory and Criticism (HTC) draws upon the unique range of disciplines and professions within the Department of Architecture. The program emphasizes the study of Western (nineteenth and twentieth centuries) and Islamic art, architecture and urbanism, and methodological issues that inform or link historical and practical work. HTC was founded in 1975 as one of the first PhD programs in a school of architecture. Its mission is to promote critical and theoretical reflection within the disciplines of architectural and art history. HTC differs from other programs in that it has art historians on its permanent faculty. Visiting scholars are annually invited to teach, supplementing the core faculty.

Continuous registration is required until completion of the dissertation. Generally all subject work is completed by the end of the second year of residency and all other requirements, except for the dissertation, are completed by the end of the third year. The final two years are devoted to dissertation research and writing culminating in a defense at the conclusion of the fifth year.

Islamic Architecture and Urbanism

Within the History and Theory of Architecture PhD track, there is a concentration in Islamic Architecture. The History, Theory and Criticism Section at MIT is one of the foremost Ph.D. programs in architectural history and theory in the US. Its mission is to encourage advanced historical research and to promote critical and theoretical reflection within the disciplines of architectural and art history. The concentration on Islamic architecture and urbanism is an integral part of the HTC section. Usually, one student a year is admitted to work on an Islamic subject and is funded through the Aga Khan Program endowment.

Research projects vary in scope, method, and range from the classical period to the present. Recent Ph.D. topics can be found on the HTC Dissertation and Theses section of this website.

Faculty Advising

Each student will be assigned an HTC faculty advisor upon admission. Generally it is the same faculty member designated to supervise research work. The advisor will consult on the initial plan of study and on each subsequent term's choice of subjects. He or she will monitor the student's progress through each phase of the degree and will assist the student in selecting a dissertation committee. This committee should be in place by the end of the fourth semester of residency.

Admissions for PhD in History, Theory and Criticism

Admission is based on an examination of applicants' graduate academic records and samples of their work. Many of our applicants already have a master's degree, although this is not a strict requirement. However, unlike other institutions, successful completion of the PhD program does not confer a master's degree for partial coursework.

The applicant's statement of purpose and letters of recommendation are very important. Previous academic work should demonstrate the applicant's intellectual and scholarly goals and achievements.

Four funded applicants are accepted each year in the Department of Architecture's PhD program in HTC. Successful PhD applicants are admitted with funding packages through MIT and the Department of Architecture (one in art history and two in architectural history). One additional architecture (or art) history placement is funded by the Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture. Candidates should expect to complete the degree in six years.

Applicants do not need to obtain an academic advisor from the HTC faculty in order to apply to the program.Faculty advisors are assigned to students once admissions decisions have been made.

Deadline and Submissions

The application deadline is December 31, 2014. All application material must be received by deadline. Late applications will not be reviewed. It is the responsibility of the applicant to be sure that the application is completed and all supporting materials are received at the following address by the deadline.

  • MIT Department of Architecture
  • Attn: Admissions
  • 77 Massachusetts Ave., Room 7-337
  • Cambridge, MA 02139-4307
  • Telephone: (617) 715-4490

Online Application

All applicants must use the Architecture specific online application, which is on the MIT Graduate Admissions website: The Architecture Graduate Application will be activated in Mid-September, is unique to Architecture, and is not used by any other department.

Once begun, the online application can be completed at any point up until the deadline at midnight. Try not to begin your application the day before. You don't want something to happen at 11 p.m. before the system closes. After submitting the application, applicants will be able to edit their information.

Application Fee

Application to MIT requires a non-refundable fee of $75 USD. You will need to submit a credit card number on the Architecture Graduate Application to process this fee.


All applicants must submit at least three letters of recommendation. Applicants will use the online application system to invite recommenders to submit letters online.

We prefer that letters of recommendation be submitted through the online application system.


A scanned PDF copy of an original transcript (or English translation) from each university should be uploaded in the application. In addition, we require that one official copy of each transcript (with English translation) be sent by December 31 to:
Architecture Graduate Admissions
77 Massachusetts Ave., Room 7-337
Cambridge, MA 02139

Official transcripts must be requested as original documents from your previous schools. Transcripts may be forwarded by the applicant if they are in the original, sealed envelope. Non-English transcripts must be translated into English, and if necessary, signed by a licensed notary and accompanied by the original version.

Statement of Objectives

The applicant's statement of objectives and letters of recommendation are particularly important. Previous academic work and other experiences should demonstrate the applicant's intellectual achievement, motivation, discipline, responsibility, imagination, perception and open mind. Projects and experiences are judged not only on intrinsic merit but also as evidence of the applicant's ability to initiate and follow through on work that is personally meaningful.

English Proficiency Requirement

Applicants whose first language is not English are required to submit either an International English Language Testing System (IELTS) score or a Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), regardless of citizenship or residency in the U.S. while attending other educational institutions. No exceptions are made. The admissions committee regards English proficiency as crucial for success in all degree programs. In order to meet the admissions deadline, it is recommended that candidates take the IELTS or TOEFL on the earliest possible date.

Applicants must request that an official copy of their test results be sent directly to MIT by IELTS International or Educational Testing Service. IELTS and TOEFL Scores must be no older than two years as of the date of application. To avoid delays, please use the following codes when having your TOEFL scores sent to MIT:

  • Institutional Code: 3514
  • Department Code: 12

The minimum IELTS score required for PhD candidates in History, Theory and Criticism is 7.5 and the minimum TOEFL score is 650 for the paper-based test; 280 for the computer-based test; and 115 for the Internet-based test. While any of these test scores are accepted, the IELTS score is preferred.

All students whose first language is not English are required to take the English Evaluation Test (EET) prior to registration at MIT. Even students who satisfy the IELTS/TOEFL requirement for admission may be required to take specialized subjects in English as a Second Language (ESL), depending on their EET results. These subjects do not count toward the required degree credits.

Graduate Record Examination

Applicants are required to submit Graduate Record Examination (GRE) scores. In order to meet the admissions deadline, it is recommended that candidates take the GRE on the earliest possible test date. Test scores must be no more than five years old. To avoid delays, please use the following codes when having your scores sent to MIT:

  • Institution Code is 3514
  • Department Code is 4401

Portfolio / Samples of Work

All applicants should submit evidence of recent work: scholarly and/or professional. Writing samples should illustrate research interests and capacities. For some PhD applicants, a portfolio can be submitted when it reveals the potential student's intellectual direction, or is otherwise indicative of scholarly interests and abilities.

The portfolio should include evidence of recent creative work, whether personal, academic or professional. Choose what you care about, what you think is representative of your best work, and what is expressive of you. Work done collaboratively should be identified as such and the applicant's role in the project defined. Name, address and program to which you are applying should also be included. We expect the portfolio to be the applicant's own work. Applicants whose programs require portfolios will upload a 30-page maximum), 10MB (maximum) PDF file to the online application system. The dimensions should be exported for screen viewing. Two page "spreads" are counted as one page.


Interviews with faculty in person or by phone are highly recommended, but not required. Because of the diverse background of our applicants, it is advantageous for them to discuss their interests with at least two members of the HTC faculty; applicants are also encouraged to sit in on an HTC class if an in-person visit is possible. Faculty schedules vary so it is best to contact the HTC office directly at least two weeks prior to an intended visit or phone appointment. Please send an email to listing the names of the HTC faculty with whom you would like to meet, the date(s) that you are available, and any classes you might like to attend. Members of the Admission Committee cannot see candidates after February 1.

Decisions and Notifications

Applicants will be notified by mail of the Department's decision by April 1. Decisions cannot be given by telephone.


Degree requirements for PhD in in History, Theory and Criticism


PhD students complete 144 units (not including registration in 4.THG) during their residency at MIT. This is usually accomplished over the first two years of residency by enrolling in an average of 36 units per term, the equivalent of three subjects. The breakdown of required subjects is as follows:

  • 4.661, Methods Seminar, is taken each fall term for first two years—2 x 12 = 24 units
  • A minimum of six lecture or seminar subjects—6 x 12 = 72 units
  • 24 additional units of lecture or seminar subjects, or via enrollment in independent research studies with HTC faculty—2 x 12 = 24 units
  • 24 units devoted to independent thesis research in preparation for the general exams or dissertation proposal (enrolled under the thesis advisor or under others with consent; 4.689, Preparation for HTC-PhD Thesis, is often used for this purpose)—24 units

In the fall semester of the third year, the required subject 4.689 (Thesis Prep) will include a Thesis Topic Workshop, in which students make a presentation to the HTC faculty on their proposed topic and research plan for the dissertation.

Independent study subjects may be taken with advisor approval after the first year of residency. No more than one independent study project may be taken per term, and no more than 12 units may be devoted to any one research project. One independent study project may be devoted to minor exam preparations. Registration for an independent study project requires completion of a departmental Independent Study Project form, this constitutes a contract for the deadlines and deliverables for the subject.

Note: All required credits must be completed before the beginning of the fifth semester. Students failing to make satisfactory progress will receive a warning to that effect, and may incur penalties such as registration hold or loss of funding.

Advancement to Candidacy:

A student is advanced to doctoral candidacy on completion of the following “hurdles,” which should be completed by the third year of studies:

  • Qualifying paper
  • General exam: major and minor fields
  • Language requirement
  • Dissertation proposal

It is the student's responsibility to plan these hurdles appropriately in consultation with his/her advisor, in order to fill out the planner for HTC degree requirements available from the HTC office (Room 10-303). The planner must be submitted in the fall of the second year, with updates submitted as needed. The order in which hurdles are to be completed can be determined by the student in consultation with his/her advisor. All pre-thesis requirements* must be completed and approved by June of the third year. Failure to complete pre-thesis requirements by the end of the Spring term in the third year (semester 6) may result in withdrawal of funding. [* “Pre-thesis” includes the dissertation proposal. When that document is completed and filed, assuming all other hurdles are completed, then the student may enroll in “Thesis,” 4.THG.]

Additional paperwork must be submitted to confirm completion of each of the above hurdles; this paperwork is signed by the student’s advisor and by the Director of HTC.
The HTC faculty meets at the end of each Spring semester to review student progress in general and advance students to the status of candidacy (also known as “ABD”). Once approved, copies of the internal HTC documents are submitted to the Department of Architecture degree administrator and filed in the student's official departmental file. The degree administrator informs the Registrar when degree requirements have been fulfilled, and allows the Institute to certify candidacy.

Qualifying Paper

It is strongly recommended that work on the QP be completed within one month. The paper must be the result of a seminar or directed research conducted during the student's HTC study at MIT and may not be part of thesis research. The instructor for the class administers the paper, but if this faculty member is outside HTC, the paper must also be read by a member of the HTC faculty. The core criterion for the paper is that it should be ready for publication in a scholarly journal. Since this requirement should be completed before the general exams, the paper topic should be discussed with the advisor no later than the third semester.

General Examination: Major and Minor Fields

The fields of examination are set by mutual agreement between the student and the advisor. The purpose is to demonstrate the breadth and depth of the student's critical awareness of the discipline in which he or she works. Most universities, research institutions and other potential employers must be assured a graduate has areas of competence beyond his or her specialization.

It is strongly recommended that work on the minor exam be completed in three months. The minor exam may cover a different time period from the major exam, or it may have a theoretical focus that complements the historical focus of the major exam, or it may cover in depth a topic within the broader field covered in the major exam. The minor exam may be a three-hour written test, or it may consist of preparing materials for a subject: specifically, a detailed syllabus, a bibliography, an introductory lecture and at least one other lecture.

It is strongly recommended that work on the minor exam be completed in three months. The major exam is a three-hour written test covering a historically broad area of interest that includes components of history, historiography and theory. Preparation for the exam will focus on four or five themes agreed upon in advance.

Although it is possible for one professor to give both exams, such an arrangement limits the student's exposure to the faculty. With approval, a faculty member outside HTC may administer the minor exam. In this case, an HTC faculty member must also read the exam.

Topics and examiners should be finalized no later than the fourth semester. One exam can be taken as early as the end of the fourth semester.

Language Requirement

It is recommended that students complete their language requirement by the end of the fourth term. Because of the foundational role French and German have played in the discipline of art and architectural history, successful study or testing in these two languages constitutes the usual fulfillment of this requirement. For students working on topics for which there is another primary language, a substitution may be approved by the student’s advisor. The MIT Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures administers graduate language examinations.

The language exam can only be waived under the following circumstances:

  • The student is a native speaker of the language needed
  • A university course (two years plus) has been completed for a language not administered by the language department, and a “B” or better average grade was maintained

Credits accumulated from language subjects taken to fulfill this requirement cannot be used toward the 144 credits of coursework required for the degree.

Dissertation Proposal

A dissertation advisor should be selected by the end of the fourth semester. During the fifth semester, the Thesis Topic Workshop will be held for the student to present the broad outlines of a topic, to identify relevant archives, and to review methodologies. It is estimated that the writing and revising of the proposal should take no more than four months.

Immediately following the Thesis Topic Workshop in the fifth semester, an appropriate dissertation committee should be proposed by the student and approved in principle by the advisor. (The committee may be changed with the approval of the advisor up to the eighth semester.) The dissertation committee comprises a minimum of three members; two must be MIT Department of Architecture faculty members, and the chair must be a member of the HTC faculty (and the student's main advisor). The third member may come from HTC or may be appointed from outside the department or outside the Institute. Students may add additional members in consultation with their advisor.

The dissertation proposal should be drafted and defended by the end of the sixth semester. Formal approval of the dissertation topic is gained through a proposal, which the student submits and defends to his or her dissertation committee prior to the end of the sixth semester of registration. The student is strongly advised to have an informal meeting of the committee some weeks prior to the formal defense, to reach a consensus that the thesis topic is of the right scale and the prospectus itself is ready to be defended.

A dissertation proposal (also called a prospectus) should contain these elements:

  • General thesis statement
  • Scope, significance or “stakes” of the thesis
  • Survey of existing research and literature with critical comments and an assessment of the extent to which this material will be utilized
  • Method of the thesis work
  • Outline or brief sketch of the dissertation, e.g. summaries of proposed chapters
  • Working bibliography
  • Resources for primary material
  • Archives and proof of access; IRB approval if required
  • Plan of work, including a timetable

The formal defense of the prospectus consists of an oral examination in which the candidate meets with the dissertation committee; the committee decides whether the prospectus is approved as is, requires further revision, or does not pass the defense.

When the appropriate paperwork is filed with the HTC administrator in acknowledgment of successful completion of this exam, the dissertation topic and proposal are considered approved. The student is passed to candidacy. Once the proposal has been approved, the student may register for 4.THG, Graduate Thesis.

Dissertation Defense

Regular contact with committee members during the process of drafting the thesis can ensure a student's readiness for the final thesis defense. Students are advised to meet with committee members to obtain comments and guidance throughout the writing phase of the project. The final draft should be submitted to committee members no later than one month prior to the defense. The defense cannot be scheduled any later than two weeks prior to the published Institute PhD thesis deadline.

The dissertation is defended in the presence of the full dissertation committee. If a member of the committee is not able to attend or participate by virtual means (speakerphone, video call), he or she must contact the committee chair with comments and questions. That member must also inform the committee chair of a vote.

The result of the defense can be that the thesis is accepted, accepted with revisions or rejected. If the thesis is accepted with revisions, the student makes the necessary changes to the document and submits them within an agreed time frame to all or some of the committee members, as determined at the defense. If rejected, the student must re-defend according to a timetable agreed upon at the defense. Students are strongly advised to set a defense date three months before the Institute’s deadlines to allow for revisions and avoid compressing the time given to the committee to read the dissertation.

The PhD is awarded after two copies of the defended, approved, archival-ready dissertation have been submitted to the Department of Architecture at its headquarters. The copies must be submitted by the Institute deadline for doctoral theses as published in the MIT Academic Calendar. Students must adhere to the Specifications for Thesis Preparation published by the Institute Archives.

Thesis Research in Absentia

Acceptance into the program is granted with the presumption that students will remain in residence at the Institute while completing the degree. However, on occasion, work away from the Institute may be essential for such tasks as gathering data. Students who have completed all requirements except for the dissertation may therefore apply to take one or two semesters in absentia. A proposal for thesis in absentia, which outlines work to be accomplished, should be delivered to the director of HTC no later than the drop date of the semester prior to the one in which the student plans to be away. (The student should consult with the Academic Administrator in Headquarters as well as HTC staff for a review of the financial and academic implications of TIA status.) Both the HTC faculty, the Department, and the dean of the graduate school must grant approval. Students must return to regular registration status for the final term in which the dissertation is to be submitted to the Institute. However, the dissertation draft may be submitted to the student’s primary advisor and committee members at any time during the TIA period. Similarly, the defense can also be scheduled at any time (as long as the committee has at least 4 weeks to read the full and final draft). Regular registration status is required only in order to file the archival copy and apply for the degree.

Nonresident Research Status

Students are expected to carry out thesis research while in residence at the Institute. However, should a student who has completed all requirements except for the dissertation need to continue thesis research in years beyond the awarded funding, he or she may opt to apply for nonresident research status with the permission of the dissertation advisor. (The student should consult with the Academic Administrator in Headquarters as well as HTC staff for a review of the financial and academic implications of non-resident status.)