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MPhil in Architecture and Urban Design

Course Description

This two year course uniquely combines a professional course; that is, an ARB/RIBA Part 2 course with a Cambridge Master’s degree in Philosophy. It provides advanced teaching, research and practice opportunities in environmental design, including the social, political, historical, theoretical and economic aspects of architecture, cities and the global environment.

The course is a hybrid of independent research through design and a structured technical learning resource. It is designed for mature students that join the program with a distinct area of interest and provides guidelines to their scientific research, access to specialists of various fields relevant to their studies, and a matrix of deliverables that foster an informed body of work underpinned by a sophisticated set of design and presentation techniques.

The main outcome is a design thesis consisting of a detailed design proposition, supported by a written argument of up to 15,000 words. This is preceded by four essays or design exercises equivalent of 3,000 - 5,000 words. The course is closely connected with research interests within the Department’s Martin Centre for Architectural and Urban Studies. A number of the academics and researchers teach and supervise on the course.

Key benefits

- In the 2014 Research Excellent Framework, Cambridge Architecture’s research work was ranked 1st in the UK, achieving the highest proportion of combined World Leading research. 88% of the research produced by the Department was rated as World Leading or Internationally Excellent (Unit of Assessment 16: Architecture, Built Environment and Planning). This consolidates our top ranking established in the previous Research Assessment Exercise of 2008.

- Ranked 1st for Architecture by the Guardian's 2015 University Guide.

Visit the website: http://www.graduate.study.cam.ac.uk/courses/directory/aharmpaud

Course detail

The programme propagates a twofold understanding of environmental design and mediates between its technical/architectural, and social/political aspects. Both trajectories are studied within a specific geographic area/region, its local set of conditions and global entanglements setting the parameters for each student’s research. Based on the area/region’s characteristics, students speculate on the expansion and adaptation of one of its specific traits and its environmental performance. The outcome of this first part of the course is an experimental adaptation of an indigenous typology, producing a speculative environmental prototype. This prototype is examined scientifically and tectonically, using real and virtual modelling alongside various other media and serves a particular demand and a specific set of site conditions. Complementing this tectonic first part, the design direction of the second part of the course is broader in scale and highly speculative in nature. It draws upon the technical findings of the initial research, but focuses on the socio-political conditions and cultural traditions shaping the area of focus in order to build a set of far-reaching proposals. Together, both parts of this research through design result in a heightened understanding of the performance/efficiency/specificity of a certain environmental issue and the environment it is embedded in.


The course is structured by two terms focusing on design and detailed technical analysis (residence in Cambridge), an interim field work period (elsewhere), and a third term focusing on regional analysis/research (residence in Cambridge). These complementary term components, together with the practice placement, provide an opportunity to explore distinct interests within design practice in various settings, whilst offering a sound framework to pursue meaningful research.

Candidates are free to choose a geographic area/region of their interest that frames their study throughout the programme. Following an initial familiarization with their chosen specific locality and a global assessment of the given environment at hand, students are expected to identify a technical/architectural issue that is indigenous or characteristic to the area/region of interest and holds potential to develop.

The focus shall be primarily with issues of contemporary construction, not excluding the consideration of historical or traditional building methods that are still prevalent. More generally, candidates develop an understanding of the complexity of environments and their various aspects being inseparable from, and integrated with each other. More importantly, however, students will develop highly particular areas of expertise that they may draw on for the remainder of the course.

The programme positively encourages students to develop complex architectural proposals that meet RIBA/ARB criteria for Part II exemption and to acquire knowledge and develop and apply research skills in the following areas:

- role of environmental and socio-political issues in architecture and urban design
- The wider environmental, historical, socio-cultural and economic context related to architecture and cities
- The building science and socio-political theories associated with architecture and urban design
- Modelling and assessment of building and urban design
- Monitoring and surveying of buildings and urban environments
- Human behaviour, perception and comfort, and their role in building and urban characteristics
- Research methods and their application through academic and design methods.

In so doing, the candidates develop the following skills:

Intellectual Skills

- Reason critically and analytically
- Apply techniques and knowledge appropriately
- Identify and solve problems
- Demonstrate independence of mind

Research Skills

- Identify key knowledge gaps and research questions
- Retrieve, assess and identify information from a wide range of sources
- Plan, develop and apply research methods
- Apply key techniques and analytical skills to a new context
- Report clearly, accurately and eloquently on findings

Transferable Skills

- Communicate concepts effectively orally, visually and in writing
- Manage time and structure work
- Work effectively with others
- Work independently
- Retrieve information efficiently
- Assimilate, assess and represent existing knowledge and ideas


The design thesis represents 60% of the overall mark and consists of a:

- written dissertation of not more than 15,000 words (20%). The word count includes footnotes but excludes the bibliography. Any appendices will require the formal permission of your Supervisor who may consult the Degree Committee. Students submit two hard copies and one electronic copy of their thesis for examination at the end of May.

- design project (40%) submitted for examination at the end of July in hard and electronic copy.

Candidates present their design thesis to examiners at an Exam Board held at the end of the second year. Students must remain in or be prepared to return to Cambridge to attend the examination.

- Four essays or equivalent exercises of 3,000 - 5,000 words, including footnotes/endnotes but excluding the bibliography, on topics approved by the Course Directors will be presented for examination. The first three of these essays are submitted during Year 1; one at the beginning of the Lent (Spring) Term and two at the beginning of the Easter (Summer) Term. The remaining essay is submitted at the beginning of the Easter (Summer) Term in Year 2.

The first essay constitutes an essay or equivalent (5%) and an oral presentation (5%), the second is a pilot study (10%) and the third is a design submission (10%). The final essay is a project realisation essay (10%).

- The course requires regular written, visual and oral presentations in the Studio. Effective communication of research findings and design concepts are an important criterion in all areas of the students' work, and assessed at all stages.

- A logbook of work and research carried out during the fieldwork period will be presented at the beginning of the Easter Term of Year 2 for assessment. The logbook is not awarded a mark.


To continue to read for the PhD degree following the course, MPhil in Architecture & Urban Design students must achieve an overall average score of at least 70%. Continuation is also subject to Faculty approval of the proposed research proposal, and, the availability of an appropriate supervisor.

How to apply: http://www.graduate.study.cam.ac.uk/applying

Funding Opportunities

Candidates for this course (which is not considered to be a 'research track' masters course) who are considered 'Home' for fees purposes are not eligible for most funding competitions managed by the University. Home students usually fund themselves and take out a loan from the Student Loans Company (see: http://www.slc.co.uk/).

General Funding Opportunities http://www.graduate.study.cam.ac.uk/finance/funding

Visit the MPhil in Architecture and Urban Design page on the University of Cambridge website for more details!

(Student Profile)

Bob Muhia

The University of Cambridge is an ‘experience’ you will never get anywhere else in life. My time in Cambridge has exceeded all my expectations, from the city itself, the learning you get from expertise across a very wide range of disciplines, college life, student life in general and the unique academic atmosphere in the department.

Coming to the Department of Architecture is not just about learning to be a better architect or researcher, far from it. You will be pushed and challenged to the limits by your professors, distinguished visitors and your peers, who help you grow tremendously not only as an academic but also as a person and a critical thinker.

I am delighted that I considered applying to The Department of Architecture to take the multi-disciplinary course of the MPhil in Architecture and Urban Studies. The opportunity to learn and associate with academic staff who are leaders in their field worldwide is an experience that I will forever hold dear and special in my heart.

(Student Profile)

Theodora (Theo) Bowering

Having practiced architecture for over six years, I decided to return to academia to develop my knowledge of architecture and urbanism with a focus on issues of ageing. The University of Cambridge, the Faculty of Architecture and the MPhil in Architecture and Urban Studies have offered an excellent environment for this study due to the accessibility of a breadth of disciplines, the expertise of the Centre for Conflict Studies and the incredibly supportive staff. My interest in ageing framed the year's work including courses on the socio-politics of architecture, conflict and film and ethnographic fieldwork in London; culminating in a twenty-thousand word dissertation. Overall, it is an incredibly intense and rewarding year that has challenged me to engage with critical discourses, as well as giving me a platform from which to develop a PhD proposal.

(Student Profile)

Kanchane Gunawardena

I joined the MAUS programme as an architect-planner with the aim of exploring a long-standing interest in urban climate risk management, while also hoping to further my research skills to read for a doctorate.

The flexibility of the programme enables the reader to focus their work in either of the specialist subject streams or to take an integrated approach. I have taken the latter path with consideration given to both the core environmental aspects, as well as the socio-political drivers that influence my topic. The introduction to the use of the moving image in particular was an unexpected methodology that has potential value to my future experiments. I have also acquired core knowledge of state of the art simulation practices and statistical tools that are invaluable to my future research ambitions.

The department is resourced well in both expertise and material facilities. Its personalised attention, ensures that each member of the cohort is guided and supported in their individual paths and will present individual and diverse topics as their final research output. I have enjoyed my experience with the MAUS cohort, and look forward to furthering the research experience I have gained at the department.


Entry Requirements

Applicants for this course should have achieved a UK High II.i Honours Degree. Candidates accepted for this course will usually have a Part 1 qualification/Bachelor's degree prescribed by the Architect's Registration Board (ARB) and The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) at a first class or high 2i level (at least 67%/3.6/4.0 GPA). Candidates are encouraged to take a year out but this is not mandatory.

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