Doctor of Philosophy with a Major in Architecture

The program leading to the Doctor of Philosophy degree in the College of Architecture has been developed to enable students of exceptional ability to undertake advanced study and original research in the fields of study within the College of Architecture. Currently the program includes several areas of research emphasis:

  1. Design Computation
  2. Evidence-Based Design
  3. Building Technology
  4. History and Culture
  5. Organizational and Cognitive Performance

Design Computation: It is a commonplace that all aspects of our lives are affected by digital computation. Digital-based information technologies have affected how we think about ourselves and thinking in general. They have changed how every field practices. They have affected how people communicate and view the world (literally and metaphorically). Design Computation addresses the research interests of faculty at various levels within this broad spectrum. The research at Georgia Tech ranges from the details of development of new digital technologies, applications and digital standards to the extension of these capabilities to support collaborative and creative teamwork. It includes the development of new representations—graphical, mathematical, linguistic and logical—that provide new means to understand and act on design knowledge. It includes the study of thinking and cognition when augmented by our new computational environments. It also considers the larger palette of the impacts of these technologies and their new mindsets on the structure and cultural environment of contemporary design, from the small scale of fabrication and prototyping to integrated project delivery. We encourage interested parties to review the work of the associated faculty and determine the potential fit with their work and to communicate with them about potential collaborations.

Evidence-Based Design: Architecture reflects and creates human experience. It operates at multiple scales (from object, to room, to building and site, to city) and impacts individual experience and behavior, organizational functioning, and cultural patterns. A growing multidisciplinary area of evidence-based design is applying rigorous quantitative and qualitative research methods to understanding these relationships, teaching and applying results to design and solve important social problems. Evidence-Based Design draws on the research programs of faculty inside and outside the College of Architecture to create the critical evidence base and to apply it to emerging problems, from courthouses that are secure and reflect the transparency of United States justice, to buildings and sites that promote health and physical activity, to healthcare settings that are higher quality, safer, more efficient, and more patient centered.

Building Technology: The construction of commercial and residential buildings constitutes one third of all investment in the United States and buildings consume roughly 40% of all energy in the US economy. Innovations in materials, manufacturing, IT for building automation systems, solar and other renewable systems, LED lighting, and advances in the thermo-sciences need to be absorbed in the design and construction of new buildings and in the retrofit or rehabilitation of existing buildings. This requires a thorough understanding of their physical behavior, acquired through modeling and simulation. This enables us to study the effect of predicted behavior on technical performance and indoor environment and thus inform design decisions, at the product level as well as whole building scale. The technical performance of buildings is the result of the interplay of many components with complex physical behavior. Components and their assemblies are designed and their control orchestrated such that the performance targets of the overall system is reached. This involves the study of physical behavior of all interacting building components in various domains such as temperature, moisture, ventilation, light, and acoustics. It generates a need for constant discovery of new knowledge with respect to building performance in fields such as energy, sustainability, comfort, health, daylighting, productivity and other performance aspects. Advanced systems for optimal control, sensing, diagnostics and others, require our special attention as we move towards (net) zero-energy buildings. High performance buildings rest on the premise that we are able to design, verify, and guarantee the type of systems that meet the highest expectations of the client. In spite of advances, many significant challenges remain, e.g. to develop robust building design strategies that guarantee a required level of performance in the light of many uncontrollable uncertainties; optimal energy control and management strategies, especially at the interface of building and urban scale; flexible next-generation simulation tools that can be rapidly deployed in the simulation driven design process; efficient human centric control strategies; and many others.

History and Culture: The PhD Program in Architecture at Georgia Tech has a distinguished tradition of scholarship in the field of History, Theory, and Criticism. While still open to a large span of chronological periods, geographical areas, and methodological approaches, the newly reorganized research area of History and Culture aims to promote studies in specific and innovative areas of research for which the College of Architecture at Georgia Tech, and the Georgia Tech community as a whole, offer an unequalled pool of human and technical resources. The recent development of digital tools for design and manufacturing has prompted a new demand for critical enquiry into the history of the cultural technologies that have been, over time, instrumental to the evolution of the modern processes and methods of architectural design. This field of study includes the history and theory of instruments of quantification, drawing tools, notational systems and conventions, media and information technologies, and devices of visualization and representation; the history of the cultural and technical logics underpinning the quantification, design, and production of architectural form; and the history of the social organization of the design and production processes. Consequently, this research area promotes interdisciplinary studies that may relate to research in fields such as computational design, building technologies, morphological studies, as well as to the larger domain of media studies and to the history and theory of media and communication technologies; and it encourages proposals where research in any of the areas mentioned above may involve topical issues of architectural design, and where historical scholarship may inspire, derive from, or be brought to bear on, architectural practice.

Organizational and Cognitive Performance: Buildings and cities are designed to organize and make intelligible patterns of life, understanding, and feeling. This is their generic function, over and above the accommodation of the particular program that initiates their design. Good design is distinguished by the precision of intention and insight which it expresses relative to such generic functions. But as a profession we have few tools by which to measure good design. When it comes to the fundamental connection between the design of physical form and its intended outcomes or consequences, architectural practice often relies on folk theories. In studying the organizational and cognitive performance of buildings and cities, our first step is the development of rigorous comparative descriptions of built form that are adequate to the development of theories of function, perception or cognition, with the description of formal and spatial patterns, whether embedded in buildings and cities or arising from their use, is the distinctive domain knowledge that we bring to interdisciplinary inquiries. If, as architects, we are uniquely able to intuit the significant properties of form, then as architectural researchers we are uniquely qualified to develop rigorous descriptions of them and to embed these descriptions in computational models of form and function. Recent research contributions to better understanding how office design supports knowledge work, how museums support informal learning, how street layouts support vibrant urban cultures, development and changing patterns of land use over time, or how hospital design supports effective medical processes have all grown on this foundation. Another line of inquiry has explored how architectural works are able to engage the imagination and develop specific conceptual content through organization of space and visual form. This same foundation naturally supports contributions to design practice, whether through the formulation of a design concept, or through the evaluation of design alternatives.


PhD in Architecture: Major program requirements and key milestones

Course work associated with the major.
In their first two years students take a minimum of thirty-six credits in the School of Architecture, as follows:

  1. The core courses on Introduction to Architectural Research (six Credits)
  2. Five 3-credit courses in an area of research specialization within the School (twelve credits)
  3. An additional twelve credits at the 6000 level and above chosen in consultation with the advisor.

Qualifying paper.
In the second year of their studies students complete a qualifying paper, a paper of publishable standard that makes a contribution to knowledge.

Comprehensive examination in the architecture major
At the end of the second year of their studies students take a comprehensive examination covering both the core curriculum and their area of specialization.

Thesis topic proposal
In their third year of studies students are expected to defend a PhD topic proposal. Upon successful defense of the proposal they are admitted to candidacy and proceed to work on their doctoral theses. The development of a thesis topic normally requires students to register for at least six credits of COA8999.

Minor field of studies
In order to graduate students must also satisfy minimum Institute requirements regarding the minor field of study, as described in the relevant link provided in section 2 above. At this time (2010) students satisfy the minor by taking nine credit hours in related courses 6000 level and above, in a field of studies outside the School of Architecture to be determined in consultation with their advisor. This means that the minimum total number of course credits necessary in order to complete the program is fourty-five: thirty-six for the major and nine for the minor.

Doctoral thesis
The preparation of a Doctoral thesis normally requires a minimum of 12 credits COA9000. The defense of the doctoral thesis is the final step in the program. A successful defense results in the student being recommended for the award of the PhD degree.

Time to completion of degree
The minimum requirement to complete the PhD with a major in Architecture is seventy-two credits, which is equivalent to six semesters or three years of full time study. We strive to ensure that the average time required to complete the PhD degree is no longer than four years. However, students who teach or work as GRAs, particularly those who seek to build a strong record of research, publications and teaching, sometimes take longer.

For further details on the program, contact:

Academic Advisor
School of Architecture
Georgia Institute of Technology
Atlanta, Georgia 30332-0155
Phone: 404.894.3476