Ph.D. track in History and Theory of Architecture

Posted By: 

The Ph.D. program consists of the History and Theory track and the Computation and Energy track. The interdisciplinary nature of the program stresses the relationship of architecture, urbanism, landscape, and building technologies to their cultural, social and political milieu. Supported by strong affiliations with other departments in the humanities, sciences, and social sciences, the programs have developed a comprehensive approach to the study of the field. Students interact with their peers to sustain individual projects in a context of collective research. The fields of study are normally, but not exclusively, selected within the history and theory of one of these primary areas: architecture, urbanism, landscape, and engineering/building technology, or within the scientific study of computation and technology.


Program Committee

Beatriz Colomina, History and Theory, Chair, Director of Graduate Studies, Ph.D. Program

Lucia Allais, History and Theory

M. Christine Boyer, Urbanism

Axel Kilian, Computational Design

Forrest Meggers, Energy and Environment

Spyridon Papapetros, History and Theory

The History and Theory Track

During the first year of residence, a two-term pro-seminar introduces students to historical research and methodological approaches and guides the development of individual research proposals.

The course requirements for each student are set by the Ph.D. Program Committee according to the student’s previous experience, specialized interests, and progress through the program. For the first two years, each student engages in course work and independent study and is required to take a minimum of four classes each term, including required language and independent reading courses, for a total of 16 courses. The minimum number of courses shall be reduced by one when a student is an assistant in instruction (AI), which is considered an intrinsic part of a scholar’s training. This will not reduce the number of required papers; the AI assignment replaces an audited course.

After their first or second year of doctoral study, students are encouraged also to apply for assistantships in instruction, which are considered an intrinsic part of a scholar’s training. If the student is hired as an Assistant-in-Instruction, the minimum number of courses the student must complete that particular semester will be reduced to three. This will not reduce the number of required papers (9), so the AI assignment replaces only an audited course.

Recommended Sequence (Four courses per semester minimum load)

  Fall Spring
First Year ARC 571 ARC 572
  Two courses for credit One course for credit
  One audited course Two audited courses
Second Year Two courses for credit Two courses for credit
  Two audited courses Two audited courses


Language Requirement

A student must satisfy the program requirement of a reading knowledge of two languages other than English before the end of the second summer in residence. These languages should be relevant to the general history of the discipline (French, German, Spanish, or Italian) or specifically relevant to the student’s area of research. A student’s native language should not count if it is not relative to his or her proposed area of research. In order to receive credit for each language, students must pass a reading comprehension exam in the appropriate language department at Princeton University. A grade of “high pass” in a summer language course at Princeton may also be used to fulfill the language requirement. Students who are native speakers of the language may waive the exam requirement.

Pre-Generals Requirements

Each year in mid-May, Ph.D. students are expected to present a one-page progress report to the Ph.D. Program Committee. The purpose of these oral reviews is to give feedback to the student and to keep all members of the Ph.D. Committee informed about the work of all students. The annual progress report submitted by the student should list the courses taken for grades or audits, papers completed or in progress, grades received, and a description of how course work relates to the field(s) of concentration. The report should also describe any conferences attended, lectures given, teaching or research assistantships completed, and language requirements met. For second-year students, the report should incorporate a prospectus on the materials to be included in the general examination dossier. The prospectus must include a list of the six papers, including the professor, course number, and term taken. In addition, this prospectus must explain the major and minor fields of concentration that these papers reflect.

General Exam

The general examination is designed to ascertain the student’s general knowledge of the subject, acquaintance with scholarly methods of research, and ability to organize and present material. The components of the general examination are assembled sequentially during the student’s period in residence, according to a program overseen and approved by the Ph.D. Program Committee. The general examination is normally taken upon completion of two years of course work (preferably in the fall of the third year in residence).

Students begin this process by requesting that the examination be held and submitting a list of suggested committee members. The next step is the preparation of a dossier of six papers to be presented by the student, including at least one research paper in the area of the dissertation topic and a short (one or two pages) outline of the intended dissertation topic The research paper must clearly define the field of research; it must comment on the state of existing research in the selected field and explain the contribution to the field that the paper is making. It must make a coherent statement about the archival sources or theoretical objects under examination and the methodological approaches taken. The research paper is either devoted to archival research, or encompasses an original theoretical exploration. An annotated bibliography must be included.

Apaper in the generals package can be replaced with an annotated bibliography accompanied by an introductory essay.. The bibliography will outline a focused historico-theoretical field in the area of the intended dissertation.

The general examination itself is conducted in two parts: a satisfactory oral defense, and the acceptance by the committee of the dissertation proposal, followed by a public presentation. The oral defense is scheduled after the examination committee has read and reviewed the papers, and confirmed that the language requirement is satisfied and that no incompletes or failing grades remain on the student’s record. Following the successful completion of the oral defense, and within a period of two to three weeks, the student selects a primary dissertation adviser from among the Ph.D. Program Committee to guide the dissertation research. The assignment of the advisers is subject to approval by the Ph.D. Program Committee. The student works with the dissertation adviser to develop a detailed proposal that clearly defines the field of research, comments on the state of existing research in the selected field, and explains the contributions to the field the dissertation will make.

The student presents the dissertation proposal by the end of January, if the oral defense took place in the fall, or by the end of April, if the oral defense took place in the winter. After the successful public presentation of the proposal, the examination committee discusses the proposal and other relevant aspects of the program with the student. Successful completion of the two parts of the general examination signals the transition to supervised independent scholarly work on a topic of the student’s choosing.

Qualifying for the M.A.

The Master of Arts (M.A.) degree is normally an incidental degree on the way to full Ph.D. candidacy and is earned after a student successfully completes the general examination. It may also be awarded to students who, for various reasons, leave the Ph.D. program, provided that this requirement has been met.


Teaching experience is considered to be a significant part of graduate education. It is recommended that Ph.D. candidates assist with course instruction for at least one term.

Post-Generals Requirements

Post-generals Ph.D. students are expected to continue to present a one-page progress report to the Ph.D. Program Committee each year in mid-May. The purpose of these reviews is to give feedback to the student and to keep all members of the Ph.D. Committee informed about the work of all students. The report should also describe any publications, conferences attended, lectures given, teaching or research assistantships completed. The report should include progress on the dissertation, dissertation writing, funding applications, etc. At least one new dissertation chapter must be submitted each of the post-general years.

Dissertation and FPO

Advisers read and comment on initial drafts of the student’s dissertation, consult on methods and sources, and approve any changes in the dissertation outline stemming from research discoveries and shifting emphases. It is often recommended that additional readers from inside or outside the School review sections of the research. The research toward a dissertation normally includes at least one year spent on archival research.

The Ph.D. is awarded after the candidate’s doctoral dissertation has been accepted and the final public oral examination sustained.

Recently Completed Dissertations: The wide range of possible research topics is illustrated by the following dissertations.