Taught course

Architecture and Urban Design

University of Cambridge · Department of Architecture

Entry requirements

Applicants for this course should have achieved a UK high 2:1 honours degree, or equivalent.

Months of entry


Course content

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. Eighty-eight 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.

This two-year course uniquely combines a professional course – that is, an ARB/RIBA Part 2 course – with a Cambridge Master of Philosophy degree. It provides advanced teaching, research and practice opportunities in environmental, 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 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 dissertation consisting of a detailed design proposition, supported by a written argument of up to 15,000 words. This is preceded by four essays of 3,000–5,000 words or equivalent design submissions. The course is closely connected with research interests within the Department’s Martin Centre for Architectural and Urban Studies. A number of academics and researchers teach and supervise on the course.

This is a course that enables each student to identify a unique dissertation topic and to test the possibilities of using a set of design proposals as a research methodology. This course provides a platform for bringing together the research interests in Cambridge with its studio objectives. The means by which this happens is continually evolving and places the debate about the relationship between research and design at the centre of the school. Each project is an individual exploration of contemporary issues in the built environment consolidating months of research, discussion and interdisciplinary collaboration in a design proposal.


The course is structured in two parts: the residential period dedicated to the intensive study of the cultural, theoretical, and technical factors shaping each dissertation topic, explored through a rigorous set of design tests and culminating in a full written dissertation and project portfolio; and the second, a fieldwork period (after two terms of study) in which the implications of outline proposals are examined on-site, or within a professional context. These components provide an opportunity to explore distinct design approaches in various settings while offering a sound framework to pursue meaningful research.

Students are free to choose a geographic area or region of their interest that frames their study throughout the programme. Following an initial familiarisation with their chosen specific locality and a global assessment of the given environment at hand, students are expected to identify a technical or architectural issue that is indigenous or characteristic to the area or region of interest and holds the 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, students 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 2 exemption. Please see the following link for further details.

Learning Outcomes

The course provides an opportunity to explore distinct interests within various settings while offering a sound framework to pursue meaningful research. It delivers intensive teaching in the qualitative and quantitative aspects of architecture and urbanism, in parallel with supervised design development, case study analysis, and essays in cultural and technical aspects of the subject.

During the fieldwork period, students will have engaged in a rigorous research exercise and produced a well-resolved and argued design at strategic, building and detail design scales.

Contemporary issues in architectural research and its relationship to practice, relating to the dissertation topic is captured in a "project implementation" essay submitted at the end of the fieldwork period.

Qualification, course duration and attendance options

  • MPhil
    full time
    22 months
    • Campus-based learningis available for this qualification

Course contact details