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What is the Thesis Project?

"The Thesis project is of major importance to the education of an architect. Students have to define their interests and their questions about architecture through the definition of a theme, a site and eventually a program. These projects are not always or necessarily meant to be problem solving proposals, but rather the place where critical issues can be made explicit and tested. What unifies the Thesis projects is that they are all based on philosophical and conceptual values and beliefs, and in that respect it is the hope of a teacher that this will be an experience that will inspire the students for a search that will last a lifetime."
Diana Agrest, The Cooper Union


The Thesis is the last major step toward graduation with a first professional degree from the Architecture Program at SPSU. It provides an opportunity for the student to systematically explore a coherent line of investigation of issues relevant to the field of architecture. Such investigation is based on philosophical and conceptual values and beliefs developed and articulated through rigorous and critical research. The Thesis is an intellectual position laid down or to be advanced. It is the first stage of the dialectic- discussion, that is, discussion and reasoning by dialogue as a method of intellectual investigation. The Thesis demands that a student take a position and have something to say that is relevant to the discursive field that it inhabits and/or its wider cultural context.

In the field of architecture such intellectual positions have implications that result from a critique and re-examination of the role of architecture as a critical participant in the conditioning of public and private space and the human condition. Thus, while the Thesis originates in a determinate intellectual position, it culminates in a designed artifact.

The Thesis Project as a Personal and Intellectual Position

The Thesis is largely an independent exercise allowing the student to explore his or her specific interests and to develop a unique voice. On occasion students may choose to engage in a collaborative exercise with the approval of their Thesis Committees. In either situation, the Thesis requires dedication, conviction and a commitment to a strong work ethic. The Architecture Program entrusts that the student is passionate about the Thesis and will maintain a professional commitment to its critical pursuit throughout its development. To ensure steady progress and maintain a manageable schedule, it is incumbent upon the Thesis Student to:

  • Establish regular meetings with the Thesis Advisor in order to ensure consistent rigor and progress toward completion. Meeting schedules between the student and the Thesis Advisor can be flexible as long it does not hinder the progress of the student. The student and the Thesis Advisor should establish a convenient schedule to review the project's progress and to exchange ideas.
  • Present material to the Thesis Advisor in a manner that effectively allows for reflection, critique and commentary in a timely fashion.
  • Document decisions and actions. Take notes at your meetings to keep track of advice, assigned tasks and agree upon time frames.
  • Provide outlines, summaries and drafts. These can be provided prior to a meeting for formal feedback regarding key ideas or strategies or for editorial review of text drafts.
  • Identify Action Agendas. These should be agreed upon with the Thesis Advisor to pace student progress, and to identify and frame goals for each meeting.
  • Engage with Committee members keeping them abreast of progress and utilizing their expertise where and when needed.
  • Present required information comprehensively and on time during timely Thesis reviews.
  • Regularly engage with the Thesis Committee members on matters of critical import to the development of the Thesis.
  • Submit all required documentation complete and on time.

Note on Collaborative Thesis Proposals:
The Architecture Program at SPSU recognizes that architecture is a collaborative enterprise and respects the desire of some students to engage in collaboration, but such collaboration does not relinquish any student from fulfilling the full requirements of the Thesis. The program recommends that students who wish to collaborate choose components of their Thesis such as site, program, client, etc. which they share but articulate independent projects conceptualized as distinct proposals. Each Thesis project submitted must independently fulfill the requirements for graduation.

Types of Thesis Projects

The Architectural Thesis may take numerous forms. The Architecture Program at SPSU has identified several possible categories of a Thesis project; listed below they are intended to provide the student and faculty with a general sampling of potential categories. Other options may be considered by the faculty.

  • Programmatic Concerns- Study of program and programmatic concerns including hybrid programs and new functional types.
  • Socio-Cultural - investigations that originate in contemporary social or cultural observations and /or problematics (such as homelessness, racial or class divisions . . . etc.) that should be probed for their architectural implications and seen in a rigorously researched historical context.
  • Historical- investigations that originate in historical analysis and study of architecture or issues and concerns related to it.
  • Tectonic/ Design Build- investigations that explore the implications of spatial, structural, technical, system or material selection and development on architectural expression, qualities, spatial arrangements and/or detailing.
  • Contextual Response- explorations that begin with a given site and its specific conditions that may be used to provoke productive spatial, programmatic or conceptual thinking in architecture and its related fields. This might include urban, suburban or ecological sensitive ones. It may encompass much larger spatial systems, as well as extra-spatial phenomena such as socio-cultural, historical, geological and ecological attributes.
  • Typological- Critical investigations into a given building type, its history and its potential transformations. Narrative Works- (literary or pre-existing text or work) - takes as its starting point a preexisting literary or artistic work which serves as the basis of both analysis and architectural exploration.
  • Multi-disciplinary Investigations- examines the relationship between architecture and other fields. Examples may include architecture and its relationship to philosophy, art, film, music etc.
  • Preservation/adaptive reuse- investigations that begin with an existing structure and propose critical and technical explorations for their adaptation or preservation.
  • Theoretical- begins with the examination and/or questioning of an architectural text, conception of space (Empathy, Isotropic etc.) diagrams, drawings, or architectural representation, in general.

The Architecture Program at SPSU regards Sustainability as implied in all categories. Issues concerning the environment and sustainability are part of architectural practice.

The Student should make a preliminary identification of the category of their Thesis at the end of the Thesis Preparation course to assist in assigning appropriate Thesis Advisors. Identification of the Thesis Category at this early stage is only preliminary and is not intended to be limited or determinative. The program recognizes that after research and investigation the Student may determine, with the assistance of their Advisor, the degree to which the project is best defined in terms of a specific category or multiple categories.