Best architecture courses in the US (undergraduate)

There’s no shortage of excellent architecture courses in the USA, but finding the right one for you can be tricky. To make things a little easier, we profile 10 of the best undergraduate* courses in the US and ask what makes them stand out – and more importantly, why you might want to study with them.

*Look out for our upcoming feature on the best postgraduate architecture courses in the US.

Main picture: Milstein Hall, home to the Department of Architecture at Cornell University's College of Architecture, Art, and Planning

California Polytechnic State Univ., San Luis Obispo

With some 1,500 students 'Cal Poly's' College of Architecture and Environmental Design (CAED) is the largest programme of its kind in the US with seven degree programs in five related departments: Architectural Engineering, Architecture, City and Regional Planning, Construction Management, and Landscape Architecture.

The college estimates that one in 20 architects in the country is a Cal Poly graduate, as are one in five in California.

True to its polytechnic nature, the college in general has a 'learn by doing' philosophy, and this is no more apparent than on its architecture and design courses.

Cornell University

Cornell University_architecture

Currently with 493 undergraduate students from 30 different countries, Cornell University's architecture course is proud of its diversity - it also has an excellent gender balance with 216 male and 277 female students.

'Cornell Architecture has a rich legacy and enduring track record of nurturing excellent and well-rounded architects -- in practice and academia,' says. Assistant Professor Caroline O'Donnell. 'We have fabrication facilities that are second to none, and a well-established presence in Ithaca, New York, and in New York City.

According to O'Donnell, Cornell's courses are at the forefront of the digital revolution, and incorporate new digital techniques and technology through design, seminars and faculty and student research. 'Our digital fabrication facilities are incredible and students move seamlessly between digifab and more traditional fabrication tools,' says O'Donnell.

Rice University

'You can't even begin to change the world without knowing how, without knowing why, and without knowing what.' That's the battle cry of the architecture school at Rice University at Houston, Texas, which prides itself on turning out students for whom the fine details are just as important as grand, world-changing visions.

To prove this point, students at Rice recently completed a project to design a floating city that it says is now being considered by one of the world's largest oil companies as a way to house offshore oil workers.

The faculty says: 'We recognise that the challenge we face as a school of architecture is to help students navigate these waters, to learn how to target what's relevant and what's not, and, most importantly, how one can, through architecture, advance a tomorrow that is better than today.'

University of Texas at Austin

University of Texas at Austin

Offering both professional (five-year) and pre-professional (four year) courses, the architecture programme at the University of Texas at Austin has consistently ranked in the top 20 courses in the US, with DesignIntelligence recently ranking the school the secon best in the country for student satisfaction and naming assistant professor Cisco Gomes one of 2014's 30 Most Admired Educators.

The Bachelor of Architecture is a first-professional degree that is evaluated and accredited by the National Architectural Accrediting Board and contains the required academic coursework to pursue internship and, eventually, licensure.

The Bachelor of Science in Architectural Studies is a pre-professional degree that contains part of the coursework required for licensure, but must be followed by a professional degree in architecture in order for one to pursue licensure.

As well as courses in straightforward architecture, the University of Texas at Austin also offers courses in Architectural History, Community and Regional Planning, Historic Preservation, Interior Design, Landscape Architecture, Sustainable Design, and Urban Design.

Virginia Tech

Founded in 1964, the College of Architecture and Urban Studies (CAUS) is among the largest of its type in the US. The architecture course is also consistently ranked as one of the best.

Director of the School of Architecture Henri de Hahn says: 'While there are many institutions that deliver a stellar architectural education, at A+D we believe that we are heir to a polytechnic tradition that enables our students to develop a balanced approach to design issues, one that finds its locus between art (i.e., poetics) and science (i.e., the demonstrable).'

The ambitious focus of the course is to prepare students not be 'model employees' but to practice 'as the next leaders of our century'.
de Hahn says: 'Through close collaboration with advisory boards, alumni, industry leaders, visiting professors, and national and international architectural offices, we are able to keep abreast [of] the rapid changes that our profession is experiencing, and this since the digital revolutions. An informed folding-in of best practices allows our curriculum to be a living organism while maintaining fundamental questions regarding our discipline.


Syracuse University

Offering one of the most distinguished undergraduate architecture programmes in the US, the course at Syracuse University is consistently ranked among the best Bachelor of Architecture programmes in the country. Having run for some 150 years, it is also one of the longest established.

Although it offers a postgraduate course, the school is predominantly undergraduate, with 555 out of 700 architecture students taking the undergraduate course.

The course is also very cosmopolitan, at least by US standards. 'Out of a 555 undergraduate students 168 are international students,' says Timothy Stenson, associate professor and Undergraduate Program Chair.

After three years studying a core curriculum that includes architectural design underpinned by courses in history and theory, students typically spend one or two semesters studying at one of the university's global campus programmes in Florence, London or New York City before completing a year-long research and design project in their fifth and final year.

University of Southern California

University of Southern California_architecture

The undergraduate architecture course at USC allows students can study minors combining their interest in architecture with fields such as business, history, fine arts and urban planning.

At the end of the third year, the foundation programme culminates in a studio project helping students to summarise what they have learned before they move on to the more independent studies of the advanced programme.

According to the university, this special 'integrative semester' is also 'a transition to a more knowing and mature commitment to becoming an architect'.

Designed to encourage students to complete their basic education in architecture and to develop their own interests and their own professional directions, the advanced programme includes elective opportunities inside and outside the School of Architecture.

The programme culminates with the Fifth Year Comprehensive Studio, part of the last semester of study. This final semester allows students to explore individual interests. During this time they also develop a comprehensive architectural proposal that demonstrates the full range of skills and knowledge. The proposal is required for the completion of the first professional degree.

The course also offers students the opportunities to study in semester-long Global Studies programs in locations such as Spain, China, Italy, and South America

Auburn University

Auburn, in Alabama, prides itself on its ability to take students with little or no background in art and design and shape them into the leading designers and architects of tomorrow.

Entry to its Pre-Architecture, Pre-Landscape Architecture or Pre-Industrial Design programs is by SAT or ACT score only, so no portfolio of architecture or design work is necessary.

Auburn also offers a course in Interior Architecture.

Southern California Institute of Architecture

Southern California Institute of Architecture

One of the few independent architecture schools in the US and the only one on our list, the Southern California Institute of Architecture offers both undergraduate and graduate programs.

Located in a quarter-mile long former freight depot in the artist's district in the heart of Los Angeles, SCI-Arc is distinguished by the vibrant atmosphere of its studios, providing students with a uniquely inspiring environment in which to study Architecture.


Rhode Island School of Design

Rhode Island School of Design_architecture

While most of the courses on our list are run by respected and established universities, students on the Bachelor of Architecture course at Rhode Island School of Design also benefit from being in an educational environment that's dedicated to creativity.

'RISD's Architecture program has the distinct advantage of being integrated into a college known for the breadth and depth of its fine arts and design offerings, meaning that students benefit from a strong visual and humanities-based education within a progressive professional curriculum,' says the university.

All freshman applicants apply to RISD as opposed to a specific department and begin with a required year of Foundation Studies. Students select a major midway through the first year but don't begin those programs until sophomore year.

This article is based on the DesignIntelligence 'TOP 20 PROGRAMS 2014'. To buy a copy of DesignIntelligence America's Best Architecture and Design Schools 2014 go to:

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