Architectural History and Theory depicts and explains the how, where, when, and why in an architectural and historic context. Theory of Architecture was introduced by Vitruvius, a 1st-century architect-engineer famously known for his Vitruvian man. He used it to describe practical constructs of buildings and even the architecture of the world and us, humans.
A structure can only be designed and constructed by a continuous process of critical interpretations, creative dialogue with the architect, and imagination. Such an analysis provides a guide in terms of functionality, use of materials, technological innovations, creative outlook, and a brief picture of the era it was elevated in.
The subject of Architectural History and Theory underwent many modifications during and after the Industrial revolution. From the critical analysis of the Crystal Palace to Frank Gehry’s deconstructivism to theories on planning for a pandemic, the study of architectural history and theory have come a long way. In this way, courses and degrees dedicated to this study have risen. Mode and methods of teaching and philosophes of the colleges mentioned below may differ but the need to understand the past and predict the future remains the same.
1. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), United States
Program: The History, Theory, and Criticism of Architecture and Art (HTC)
Duration: 2 Years
MIT is one of the oldest institutes for research studies. In subject rankings from QS World University Rankings for 2020, it has been named the top university in the world for “Architecture/Built Environment. The master of science in Architecture Studies (SMArchS) is a program on advanced research and analysis in architecture. Exposure and guidance in a wide range of theories, historical data, and discussions alongside diverse students and faculty are provided. Students with a professional degree as well as those interested in graduate studies can apply here.
The HTC program consists of two areas of studies:
- The History, Theory, and Criticism of Architecture and Art
- Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture
For further details: https://architecture.mit.edu/discipline/history-theory-and-criticism
2. The University of Sydney, Australia
Sydney School of Architecture
Program: Postgraduate Research Degree – Architectural History and Theory
Duration: 1-2 years for international students / 4-2 years for domestic students
In 1918 the university approved a proposal for the School of Architecture within the Faculty of Science. It was enacted by Leslie Wilkinson in 1920. The university offers a research degree- MPhil or Ph.D. in any one of their research areas:
- Architectural Design
- Architecture History and Theory
- Architectural Science
The research and curriculum in the school look at the bigger picture. It tries to understand real-world problems from all perspectives, combining the expertise and talents of scholars from many disciplines. The course is supported by a diverse community of researchers and practitioners, many of whom have taken national and international leadership roles in their fields. To be eligible for admission the student must have a bachelor’s degree with first-class or second-class honors or a master’s degree.
3. University of Washington, United States
College of Built Environments
Program: MS Architecture in History and Theory
Duration: 2 Years
MS in Architecture stream in Architectural History and Theory offers a chance for architects as well as recent graduates in disciplines of art, history, and other qualified fields to pursue this pregame. The specialty of this course is that it applies a historic and critical lens on locations outside its perimeter thus giving a chance to produce a wider range of research.
For example, the architecture of colonial and post-colonial regions of Africa, Japan, South Asia, and the Middle East is studied. Research is done on the history and theory of architecture, applying a variety of historical and critical lenses. With certain common course subjects, the program requirements will be tailored as per individual specializations.
For further details: https://arch.be.uw.edu/admissions/ms-arch/ms-arch-history-and-theory
4. University College of London (UCL), England
The Bartlett School of Architecture
Program: Architectural History MA
Duration: Full-time: One academic year / Part-time: Two years / Flexible: Two to Five years
Architectural History MA at The Bartlett is the UK’s longest established degree since 1981 in the subject of history and architecture in depth. Over the years, the course has been evolved in the exploration of old and new critical theories and methodologies.
The program expands on architecture in social, political, and urban processes rather than the conventional way through it. An added advantage of this program is the choice of Modules. With few compulsory modules, one can choose their interest of study among history and theory of digital age, 17th and 19th century London, global architecture, practices of criticism, materialist ecological architecture, and others.
“Studying Architectural History at The Bartlett didn’t teach me what such-and-such architect was building in 1867 and 1868, or whether rococo followed mannerism or vice-versa. You learn that along the way, and, in any case, that’s what books and archives are for. No, instead, what is so inspirational and what was so pioneering about the program is that it teaches you a way of thinking about architecture and the built landscape”
Tom Dyckhoff, writer, historian, and broadcaster
Architectural History MA alumnus
5. University of Edinburgh, United States
Edinburgh School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture (ESALA)
Program: Postgraduation in Architectural History and Theory
Duration: Full-time- 1 year / Part-time- 2 Years
Edinburgh School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture (ESALA) offers a unique set of courses in Architectural courses right from the undergraduate level to the graduate and research level. This program offers lectures and knowledge from leading scholars in their resplice fields. Theories, interpretation, and analysis of it ranging from the middle ages to the 21st century will be delivered, discussed, and visualized. As the course is set in the heart of a UNESCO World Heritage Site, hands-on exploration and exposure to rich architecture and heritage is an added advantage.
During the course, degree students have an option to choose elective courses from Archaeology, Art History, Conservation, History, Literature, and many others. Such flexibility makes the program apt for students who want to pursue positions within the fields of architectural history and theory.
For further details: https://www.eca.ed.ac.uk/study/postgraduate/architectural-history-and-theory-msc
Program: Under graduation in Architectural History and Heritage
Duration: Full-time- 4 Years
The Architectural History and Heritage program is the only full-fledged undergraduate program in history and theory in the UK. This program is especially for those who are interested in pursuing a specialization in architectural history.
The four years helps gain knowledge in general about architecture and urbanism, and also in-depth about architectural theory and history. It develops a wide understanding of the built environment, including heritage and conservation. The program offers hands-on experience and an internship in the third year with a partnered organization.
6. Carleton University, Canada
Program: History and Theory of Architecture
History and Theory of Architecture is an excellent opportunity to move towards a career in heritage conservation, architectural criticism, and theoretical practice in architecture. The students at their primary level are exposed to historic understating in architecture and develop an eye to interpret art, architecture, and visual phenomena. It not only gives a hand on experience in understanding local scape but also teaches modes of architectural history and theory representation in different cultures.
The program is included in the Arts departments for a barrier-free atmosphere in the exploration of theories and history, rather than just restricting it to the design and built environment.
“The Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences and its members have become an educational family to me. I have spent many hours in the St. Patrick’s building, and let me tell you, it never gets boring. You will always find something or somebody interesting. Whether it’s a guest lecture from Rome or simply a friend from class, St. Patrick’s becomes like a second home. I encourage anybody interested in pursuing a deeper knowledge of Architecture and Art to be a part of Carleton’s experience”
-Jana Nitschke, History and Theory of Architecture Student
For further details: https://admissions.carleton.ca/programs/history-and-theory-of-architecture/
7. University of York, England
Department of Arts and History
Program: MA History of Art – Architectural History & Theory
Duration: 1 year full-time / 2 years part-time
According to the department, “Architectural History & Theory will change the way you think about Architecture.” Furthermore, the university’s campus is a huge source of beauty and inspiration for studies and research.
The flexibility of the course is exceptional in historic and theoretical approaches with detailed option modules. Learning to read and view architecture through a critical lens beyond the practice of constructs of a building is taught in the course. There will be an in-depth exploration of architecture about social, economic, political, and religious views.
With a wide group of experts in architectural history and theory, they have developed partnerships with leading galleries, museums, and country houses that may offer placement opportunities and privileged access to collections.
8. Centre for Environmental Planning and Technology (CEPT), India
Program: Postgraduation in Architectural History & Theory
Duration: Full-time- 2 Years
CEPT is the only Architectural faculty that offers India’s only program in Architectural History & Theory. This program is built for students who are interested in critical research, analysis, and write about architecture from different ways globally and especially in the South Asian context. Interactive studios and the inclusion of local culture in student projects and research make it more than just lectures, presentations, and books.
The program enables a future in publishing, architectural history and criticism, emerging heritage concerns, and the rapidly expanding education sector. With multiple courses in architecture, experienced mentors, and massive research in fields of urban design and theory, the campus offers a diverse environment and much-needed inspiration and knowledge during the course.
For further details: https://bit.ly/3gWDbu3
9. University of Pennsylvania, United States
Stuart Weitzman School of Design
Program: History and Theory II
Duration: 12 weeks
The school unites architecture, landscape architecture, fine art, planning, historic preservation, and other degrees. It is well known for its research and work in heritage preservation. The History and Theory program has twelve theoretical frameworks in architectural history and theory.
It explores urbanism, landscape, and infrastructural developments that contribute to contemporary modernity. It is also integrated with the Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees. The course is active and interactive throughout the three months and is hosted by one of the best theorists, Joan Ockman who has taught since the 1980s in various schools.
For further details: https://www.design.upenn.edu/architecture/graduate/courses
10. RICE University, United States
RICE School of Architecture
Program: Foundations in the History and Theory of Architecture
Rice School of Architecture offers Foundations in the History and Theory of Architecture on both graduate and undergraduate levels. This course is required for students in both, undergraduate and graduate-level architecture programs.
Enrolment of other students for this specific course of Architectural History and Theory is welcomed but may be limited based on the availability and approval of the instructor. Irrespective of these limitations RICE School of Architecture has the best theorists and researchers like Scott Coleman, Christopher Hight whose interests lie in digital theory, and a few others.
For further details: https://arch.rice.edu/
These being the best of programs and colleges based on their research and publications, student recommendations, and university rankings. Though with new perimeters connecting global culture, Architectural Theory and History remains ever-evolving and devolving, the subject in itself has a vast perimeter of topics.
Aspirants who are looking for a specific specialization in research, writing, or history can look into Politecnico Di Milano University which offers one of the best Architectural History Programme and also into London Metropolitan University that provides a flexible and interactive MA degree in Architectural History, Research, and Writing.
The constant rise in scientific innovations, design ideas, types of styles in architecture, socio-economic, and health concerns of the world increases the need to keep evidence through the critical interpretation of global architecture and engineering and human life. Architectural Theory and History will act as the archives of future generations.