Graduate Programs

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Degree Requirements

MArch

MArch Curriculum Chart

As the first program of its kind in the United States, the professional degree program at MIT also has a particular responsibility to the future. Defined by the intersection of design and research, our professional program serves as a laboratory for all the innovation and scholarship within the department — while also serving as a laboratory for the future of architectural education itself.

In this laboratory, our students are leaders. The small size of MIT’s MArch program, with 25 students in each class, allows for unique trajectories through MIT into the profession of architecture and beyond. The program’s size also ensures that our experiments together are conducted in an atmosphere of engaged debate — with ourselves, with guests, and with the larger communities that we serve. As well as within the classroom, this culture extends through public lectures and programs within the department, the School of Architecture and Planning, and all of MIT — with students curating the most agile platforms for dialogue.

Though it feeds on everything that surrounds it, the MArch laboratory derives its energy from its key testing ground: the studio. Studio is a key site of iterative, embodied, design learning, where cultural meaning animates methods and materials with urgency. MIT’s MArch studio sequence is both surrounded by and infused with deep disciplinary and interdisciplinary thinking, sometimes in support of — and other times deliberately at odds with — studio concerns. It comprises three distinct units: (3) Core Studios, (3) Research Studios, and a Thesis Project.

The collective mission of the three Core studios is to offer fundamental architectural methods to students, while opening up a series of different entries into the vocation of an architect, such that students can begin to develop their own positions and become well versed in initiating other entries and paths through the discipline. Each of the Core studios is oriented toward the contemporary conversations and the future of the discipline, which means that they are constantly updated. Though each of them delimits a different set of cultural, technical, and disciplinary issues, together they deliver approaches, attitudes, and questions  we deem essential for students establishing their own research projects and agenda.

For a large part of the population of every incoming class of MArch students, these three studios will be the first experiences in navigating uncertainty in the creative process, the exhilaration of giving form to ideas, imagining material assemblies with specific properties, and searching for the appropriate ways to align architecture’s agency with their own cultural and social ambitions: These will be experienced with increasing levels of control throughout our creative lives. Enabling a lifelong process of iteration and experimentation is the underlying ethos of all three core studios.

Following Core, the Research Studios offer an array of topics at scales that range from 1:1 experimentation in assembly to the geographic scale. They fit — though, never neatly — into several categories of inquiry: architectural, which includes design of buildings and urban life; urban, which includes design of landscape, territories, and the urban fabric; and cross studios, which focus on interdisciplinary topics and open up the possibilities for the final deliverables of the studio to take place in various media suited to the focus of their research.

Seminars and Lecture courses drill down into historical and disciplinary expertise, which contextualize, challenge, and sometimes enable studio’s instrumental thinking, while Workshops provide a platform for faster, more discrete experimentation than is normally conducted in studios. All of these are mechanisms by which faculty involve students in the deep depths of their own research.

The Thesis semester caps the MArch studio sequence. It provides to students a precious and sustained space for their own experimentation with framing the terms of engagement with the world. The size of the program becomes relevant here once again. Many forms and formats of work are possible for this self-directed project: a student could choose to see their contribution at this stage as feeding into a larger project already well under way in the department, or one of the labs currently operating, or as a more intimate dialogue with individual faculty. The buzz, the energy, and the production that take place during the MArch thesis ferment into material artifacts, processes, statements — knowledge — that probes the edges of architecture. The final Thesis presentation, set to be the last event of the semester, is when the faculty involved in the MArch program, together with students and guest critics, celebrate our students’ ideas, risks taken, decisions made in the course of their thesis projects, and all those yet to come.

Residency

Those who have not yet studied in a department of architecture and are admitted to MArch at Year 1 require 3½ academic years of residency to fulfill the degree requirements.

Faculty Advising

A faculty advisor with a design background will be assigned to each MArch student before the first term of registration. The advisor will monitor the student’s progress through completion of the degree. 

Subjects and Credit Units

The MArch is awarded upon satisfactory completion of an approved program of 282 graduate units and an acceptable 24-unit thesis for 306 total graduate credits.

Subjects required for the 3½-year program include the following:

  • Six architectural design studios (3 core studios and 3 research studios)
  • Geometric Disciplines and Architectural Skills I (4.105)
  • One Computation restricted elective (4.117, 4.511, 4.521, or 4.567) 
  • Three Building Technology subjects (4.464, 4.462, and 4.463)
  • Architectural Assemblies (4.123)
  • Precedents in Critical Practice (4.210)
  • Professional Practice (4.222)
  • Architecture from 1750 to the Present (4.645)
  • One History, Theory and Criticism restricted elective (4.607, 4.612, 4.621, 4.647, 4.241, or 4.652)
  • One History, Theory and Criticism elective
  • One Computation/Media Lab elective (4.5xx or MAS.xxx)
  • Urban Design elective (11.xxx)
  • ACT elective (4.3xx)
  • Three open elective subjects (or 24 total credits)
  • Preparation for MArch Thesis (4.189)
  • Graduate Design Thesis (4.ThG)

All elective subjects must be at least nine units.

Credit for Previous Academic Work

MArch students who have successfully completed the equivalent of one or more required architecture subjects outside MIT (or within MIT as undergraduates) may be given advanced credit for those subjects by submitting a petition for curriculum adjustment with as much relevant material as possible (including a transcript, syllabi, reading lists, problem sets, paper assignments, or portfolios). Petitions are submitted to Kateri Bertin before the first day of class and are then reviewed by the MArch Program Committee by the end of the first month of term. The Committee is composed of one faculty member from each of the four discipline groups. Depending on the subject for which MIT credit is requested, students may substitute an elective in the discipline group or substitute a free elective. All requests must be resolved by the beginning of the penultimate semester.

English Proficiency Requirement

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 International English Language Testing System (IELTS) or the Test of English as a Foreign Language (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 units but will prove helpful to students who need to develop the skills necessary to write a thesis.

Jumpstart  

MIT Architecture's Jumpstart is designed to prepare incoming MArch students for the rigors of the first design studio and to develop basic skills. The course is intended for students with little architectural studio experience but is also open to others who would benefit from introductory exposure to unfamiliar software. Jumpstart is created for our MArch student community by our MArch student community. This experience is taught through exercises that have been handed down from year to year and taught by our esteemed teaching fellows (recent graduates).

Policy on Incomplete Subjects and Thesis Semester

MArch students may have no more than one incomplete in a required subject when they register for thesis (4.THG). This incomplete can be no older than one term (received the term prior to thesis registration).

Students who have incompletes from several subjects or incompletes from earlier terms will be denied registration until those subjects are finished and graded. This policy applies to incompletes in subjects required by the degree curriculum or necessary for units toward the degree. 

Academic Audits

A chart indicating progress through the academic requirements will be maintained as part of each student’s file. The administrator of master’s degree programs will distribute this audit to students and to faculty advisors each term.

Thesis Preparation and Thesis

An MArch thesis at MIT operates as an independent thesis project, interrogating the discipline of architecture. The thesis is developed by the student and is supported by a committee of readers and an advisor. In the next-to-last term of registration (the semester prior to thesis), students enroll in Preparation for MArch Thesis (4.189). This course guides students towards declaring a thesis statement as well as forming the thesis committee. The result of this 9-unit subject is a thesis proposal.

The MArch thesis committee is composed of three members. The thesis advisor must be a permanent member of the Department of Architecture faculty with an architecture design background. The second and third members (also known as readers) may be any member of the MIT faculty or research staff, an outside professional, or a faculty member from another institution. Download the Thesis Committee Guidelines here.

Thesis co-advising is permitted as long as one of the advisors is a permanent member of the Department of Architecture faculty with an architecture design background. The other advisor may be any member of the MIT faculty or research staff, an outside professional, or a faculty member from another institution.

MArch students are required to register for 24 units of thesis (4.THG) the final term. 

The thesis proposal, including a thesis proposal form signed by all the thesis committee members, is due the first week of the term in which the student registers for thesis.

The MArch Thesis Review Schedule includes deadlines for proposal review, public mid-review, penultimate review, final review, and final thesis document.

The MArch degree is awarded after all the degree requirements have been met and the approved, archival-ready thesis has been submitted to the Department of Architecture by the Institute deadline for master’s theses as published in the MIT Academic Calendar. Students must adhere to the Specifications for Thesis Preparation published by the Institute Archives.

SMACT

SMACT Degree Requirements

Residency

The minimum required residency for students enrolled in the SMACT program is two academic years. SMACT students do not register for summer term.

Faculty Advising

A faculty advisor from the Art, Culture and Technology Program is assigned to each SMACT student at matriculation. The advisor will consult on the student's initial plan of study and on each subsequent term's choice of subjects. This individual should be a faculty member with whom the student is in close contact; changes in advisor may be made to make this possible. The advisor monitors the student's progress through completion of the degree.

Subjects and Credit Units

A minimum of 135 units of graduate-level coursework is required, not including thesis. Subjects to be taken:

  • 4.390 Art, Culture and Technology Studio is taken each of the four terms of enrollment in the program 
  • Two ACT graduate subjects, one of which must be taken with an ACT core faculty member
  • Two elective subjects that support student's area of study
  • 4.387, SMACT Theory & Criticism Colloquium, taken during first term
  • 4.388, SMACT Thesis Preparation, taken during second term
  • 4.389 SMACT Thesis Tutorial, taken during third term
  • 4.THG, Thesis (registration for thesis), taken during fourth term

Art, Culture and Technology Studio

Art, Culture and Technology Studio (4.390) is restricted to SMACT degree students and serves as the core of the curriculum. It is coordinated by an ACT faculty member and involves the participation of all faculty currently advising SMACT candidates. Students are expected to participate in all class meetings. Attendance at the ACT Lecture Series and other ACT events is expected.

SMACT Thesis

For requirements visit the ACT Website.

SMArchS

SMArchS degree requirement chart

The SMArchS degree may be pursued in one of six areas:

  • Architectural Design
  • Architecture and Urbanism
  • Building Technology
  • Design and Computation
  • History, Theory and Criticism
  • Aga Khan Program in Islamic Architecture

With one of these areas as an intellectual home, students are encouraged to explore connections in their research across these areas, and beyond to other programs and departments throughout MIT. See the SMArchS degree requirement chart for information on the degree requirements for each of the six areas.

SMBT

SMBT Requirements form

Residency

The minimum required residency for students enrolled in the SMBT program is three terms, one of which may be a summer term. However, many take two academic years to complete all the requirements.

Faculty Advising

Each student in Building Technology is assigned a faculty advisor at matriculation. The advisor weighs in on the student's initial plan of study and on each subsequent term's choice of subjects. This individual should be a faculty member with whom the student is in close contact; changes can be made to make this possible. The advisor monitors the student's progress through completion of the degree.

A Report of Completed SMBT Requirements form is kept by the degree administrator in the headquarters of the Department of Architecture. It is the student's responsibility to work with the thesis advisor to keep this report updated and on file.

Subjects and Credit Units

A minimum of 66 units of graduate-level coursework is required. Credit received for thesis (4.THG) registration does not count toward this minimum.

Subjects to be taken include:

  • 4.481, Building Technology Seminar, taken in the fall of the first year of registration. It is expected that the thesis proposal will be a product of this subject.
  • 2 subjects in a single field of specialization (major), chosen from thermal science, structures, materials, controls, lighting and systems analysis.
  • 1 subject from another field of specialization (minor) in Building Technology. Other fields may also be accepted for specialization with advisor approval.
  • 1 subject in applied mathematics.
  • Thesis registration, 4.THG, is allowed only if the thesis proposal has been approved and the Report of Completed SMBT Requirements has been submitted.

Thesis

A thesis is required for the SMBT degree. The topic is selected from a subject currently being investigated by the faculty, and research is carried out under the direct supervision of a faculty member in the program. This faculty member will be the student's advisor and must approve the thesis proposal prior to thesis registration. Thesis readers are optional.

The SMBT is awarded after two copies of the defended, approved, archival-ready thesis have been submitted to Department of Architecture headquarters by the Institute deadline for master's theses as published in the MIT Academic Calendar. Students must adhere to the Specification for Thesis Preparation published by the Institute Archives.

English Proficiency Requirement

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 Test of English as a Foreign Language (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 units but will prove valuable in helping students develop the skills necessary to comfortably write a thesis.

PhD- Building Technology

BT/PhD Requirements

It is the student's responsibility to fill out the appropriate section of the Report of Completed BT/PhD Requirements upon completion of the requirements listed below. This document is submitted to the degree administrator and kept in the student's official departmental file. The degree administrator informs the MIT registrar when the degree requirements have been fulfilled.

Qualifying Paper

The qualifying paper, which often emerges from the Building Technology Seminar (4.481), should demonstrate the student's potential for work at a high standard of scholarship. The paper must be completed and accepted by the dissertation committee before a student can continue to the general examination. Insufficiencies in the qualifying paper may require remedial subject work on the part of the student.

Dissertation Proposal

The PhD dissertation is a major work that makes an original scholarly contribution to the field of investigation. Most BT/PhD dissertation research will be a portion of a sponsored research project. The dissertation is the main focus of the doctoral program and the primary indicator of a PhD student's ability to carry out significant independent research. The Building Technology dissertation must result in advances in the state of the art that are worthy of publication in a respected technical journal in the field.

Approval of the dissertation topic is gained through a proposal submitted to the dissertation committee no later than the end of the second term of registration. Once the proposal has been approved, the student may register for Graduate Thesis (4.THG).

Coursework: Major and Minor Fields

Coursework is selected in consultation with the faculty advisor. A normal registration load is 36 units, which would be a combination of specific subjects and research. Though the core group of subjects will be within the department, students are encouraged to take outside subjects. Building Technology Seminar (4.481) is the only specific subject required for the degree and is taken during the student's first term. Typically a student's program will include at least five graduate subjects in the major field and three in the minor field. Preparation for Building Technology PhD Thesis (4.489) is used as registration for research until the dissertation proposal has been approved. After that point, Graduate Thesis (4.THG) is used as registration for research.

General Examination

The purpose of the qualifying examination is to determine whether the student possesses the attributes of a doctoral candidate: mastery of the disciplines of importance to building technology and ingenuity and skill in identifying and solving unfamiliar problems. The examination consists of two parts. (1) A demonstration of mastery in three areas through coursework and (2) a presentation of research as explained below.

Subject Area Mastery
Allowable subjects are listed in Discipline areas for the Building Technology PhD General Exam / Record of subject mastery. To pass the subject area mastery portion of the doctoral general exam, students must earn three As and one B (or four As) in at least four subjects chosen across three of the seven areas from Table 1. Substitutions of subjects not included in the table will be considered on a case-by-case basis and will require approval from all BT faculty.

Research Presentation
The research presentation exam will take place over 120 minutes, and should include a 45 minute formal presentation by the doctoral student, followed by 45-60 minutes of questions and discussion with all BT faculty. The research presented should be ongoing research or recently completed research carried out in Building Technology. The presentation should put the work in context, present research findings and propose future work. It will be evaluated both for intellectual content and for clarity of communication. The discussion portion of the exam led by BT faculty may cover both the presented work specifically as well as a broader range of related topics to gauge the student's familiarity with their research content.

Logistics
Examinations are offered in January (last week of IAP) and May (the week after final exams). Students must obtain permission of their advisor to take the exam. In case a student is working on a multidisciplinary research topic with a significant component falling outside the expertise of any BT faculty, an expert (ideally MIT faculty) representing the topic area should participate in the general exam. The advisor will invite this expert in consultation with the student. All students must complete the coursework and research presentation portions of the exam by the end of their fourth semester in the PhD program. Advisors of PhD students will submit to the BT faculty the proposed plan for coursework completion for each of their advisees at least three months before the research presentation. Students who do not pass may be invited to retake certain subjects or repeat the research presentation, or they may be asked to terminate their enrollment in the PhD program.

Dissertation Defense

A dissertation committee of three or more people, generally assembled in the first semester of registration, supervises research and writing of the dissertation. The student's advisor is always a member of the dissertation committee and typically serves as its chair. The chair must be a member of the Building Technology faculty. In special circumstances, one of the three members of the dissertation committee may be selected from outside the Department of Architecture. The student is responsible for arranging meetings with the committee at least once each term.

A final draft of the completed dissertation must be delivered to each committee member one month prior to the scheduled defense. The dissertation is presented orally in an open meeting of the faculty of the department; at least three faculty members must be present. After the presentation, the dissertation is either accepted or rejected.

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.

Nonresident Research Status

Students are expected to carry out thesis research while in residence at the Institute. It is rare that a PhD candidate in BT will need to apply for nonresident status. 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.

English Proficiency Requirement

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 International English Language Testing System (IELTS) or Test of English as a Foreign Language 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 but will prove valuable in helping students develop the skills necessary to comfortably write a dissertation. It is expected that required ESL subjects will be taken within the first year of the student’s program.

PhD- Design and Computation

Computation/PhD Requirements

It is the student's responsibility to fill out the appropriate section of the Report of Completed Computation/PhD Requirements upon completion of the requirements listed below. This document is submitted to the degree administrator and kept in the student's official departmental file. The degree administrator informs the MIT registrar that the degree requirements have been fulfilled.

Subject Work

PhD Students are expected to complete at 144 units of subject work while in residency at MIT. This is usually accomplished over two years by enrolling in an average of 36 units per term, which equals three or four subjects per term. In those special cases where the student is awarded advanced standing at admission, the unit requirement is lowered accordingly. The only specific subject requirement is 4.581 Proseminar in Computation. All other subjects are selected in consultation with the faculty advisor and may be taken both in and out of the Department of Architecture. Registration in 4.THG, Graduate Thesis, does not count toward the 144-unit requirement.

PhD students in Computation are expected to enroll in 4.581, Proseminar in Computation, during their first year in residence. The Proseminar is meant to provide a rigorous grounding in the field with a focus on specific research topics related to architecture and design practice.

Major and Minor Fields

Major and minor fields must be approved by the student's advisory committee, which is selected with the assistance of the advisor in the first year of enrollment. Normally, the minor field requirement will be satisfied by outstanding performance in three related subjects (not less than 27 units). The major field requirement is satisfied upon successful completion of the general examination.

General Examination

The general examination is given after required subject work is completed and is taken no later than the third year of residency. The general examination is meant to show broad and detailed competence in the student's major field of concentration and supporting areas of study. The content and format of the general examination are decided by the student's advisory committee in consultation with the student. The committee evaluates the examination upon completion and may 1) accept the examination, 2) ask for further evidence of competence, or 3) determine that the examination has not been passed. In the event that the general examination is not passed, the committee may allow the student to repeat the examination or may recommend that the student withdraw from the PhD program.

Dissertation Proposal

The PhD dissertation is a major work that makes an original scholarly contribution. It is the main focus of the doctoral program in Design and Computation, and it serves as the primary indicator of a PhD student's ability to carry out significant independent research.

The dissertation committee comprises a minimum of three members — one thesis advisor, who also serves as the dissertation committee chair, and two readers. The chair must be a permanent member of the Computation faculty and the student's advisor. The first reader must be a permanent faculty member of MIT. The second reader may come from Computation or may be a faculty member appointed from outside the department or the Institute. Students may add more members in consultation with their advisor. The student is responsible for arranging meetings with the committee members on a regular basis.

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 completion of the sixth semester of registration. The proposal should contain these elements:

  • General statement of scope of the thesis
  • Significance 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 thesis
  • Working bibliography
  • Resources for primary material
  • Plan of work, including a timetable

An oral examination in which the candidate meets with the dissertation committee to discuss the proposal marks the formal acceptance of the topic. The result of the defense can be that the thesis proposal is accepted, accepted with revisions or rejected.

Students will often register for Preparation for Computation PhD Thesis (4.589) in the term leading up to their proposal defense. Once the proposal has been approved, the student may register for 4.THG, Graduate Thesis. The student may be asked to present his or her dissertation proposal in the class Research Seminar in Computation (4.582).

Dissertation Defense

Students are advised to meet with committee members to obtain comments and guidance throughout the writing phase of the project. Regular contact with committee members during the process of drafting the thesis can ensure a student's readiness for thesis defense. The final draft should be submitted to committee members at least one month prior to the defense. The defense should be scheduled at least two weeks prior to the published Institute PhD thesis deadline.

The dissertation is defended by oral presentation in front of the dissertation committee. At least three faculty members must be present. If a member of the committee is not able to attend, 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. If rejected, the student must re-defend according to a timetable agreed upon at the defense.

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.

Nonresident Research Status

Students are expected to carry out thesis research while in residence at MIT. It is rare that a PhD candidate in Design and Computation will need to apply for nonresident status. 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.

English Proficiency Requirement

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 International English Language Testing System (IELTS) or Test of English as a Foreign Language (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 but will prove valuable in helping students develop the skills necessary to write a dissertation.

PhD- History, Theory and Criticism

Coursework

PhD students complete 204 units (not including registration in 4.THG) during their residency at MIT. This is usually accomplished over the first three 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
  • Nine subjects completed by the end of the second year: lecture, seminar and/or independent study—9 x 12 = 108 units
  • 4.683, Preparation for HTC Qualifying Paper = 15 units; taken in the 4th or 5th semester
  • 4.684 Preparation for HTC Major Exam = 27 units; taken in the 5th semester
  • 4.685 Preparation for HTC Minor Exam = 15 units; taken in the 6th semester
  • 4.689 Preparation for HTC PhD Thesis = 15 units; taken in the 6th semester

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. 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 and the definition of supervisory involvement.

Advancement to Candidacy:

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

  • Qualifying paper—register for 4.683 (15 credit units)
  • General exam: major field—register for 4.684 (27 credit units)
  • General exam: minor field—register for 4.685 (15 credit units)
  • Language requirement
  • Dissertation proposal—register for 4.689 (15 credit units)

Students are responsible for planning their hurdles in consultation with their advisor in a timely manner, in order to complete the planner for HTC degree requirements available from the HTC office (Room 3-305). The planner must be submitted in the fall of the second year, with updates submitted as needed. The sequence of hurdles completion can be determined by the student in consultation with his/her advisor. All pre-thesis requirements* must be completed and approved by the first week of the fourth year. Failure to complete pre-thesis requirements by the end of the third year (term 7) may result in the suspension 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 meet 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 communicates with 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 should also be read by a member of the HTC faculty to administer the grade. 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. Register for 15 credit units of 4.683 the term in which the qualifying paper is submitted.

General Examination: Major and Minor Fields

The fields of examination are set by mutual agreement between the student and their 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 require assurance that a graduate has areas of competency 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. Register for 15 credit units of 4.685 the term in which the minor is completed.

It is strongly recommended that work on the major 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. Register for 27 credit units of 4.684 the term in which the major is completed.

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 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 Global Studies and Languages department 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
  • Two years of university courses (two years minimum) have 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 204 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. Register for 15 credit units of 4.689 the term in which the dissertation proposal is submitted.

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).