Fifth Year Thesis
"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 KSU. 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 KSU 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 KSU 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 KSU 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.
Process / Steps to Completion
Students entering Thesis Prep must successfully pass the Architecture Culture sequence, and fulfilled all requirements to co-register for ARCH 4014.
Students entering Thesis Research must successfully pass Thesis Prep and submit an approved Thesis Proposal in the Thesis Bazaar. Students must also have successfully completed ARCH 4014 maintaining a C average in the studio sequence.
Students registering for Thesis Studio must have an approved Theorem signed off by all Thesis Committee members members (Certificate of Theorem Approval) and a C grade or bettering in ARCH 4014.
Note: A student who does not successfully complete the Thesis in two years will have exhausted the statute of limitations and will have to start the process from the beginning with Thesis Prep.
Components of the Thesis
The Thesis is composed of four interrelated components, each with different intentions and goals that collectively contribute to the overall Thesis.
Thesis Prep- Spring Semester 4th year Link to Thesis Prep Page
A mix of different modes of research and creative interpretation, this course takes the student on a process of discovery with the intention of getting the student to learn and think independently and critically. Its goal is to develop an understanding that research is a mode of inquiry that implies not only the gathering of factual information, but also the explanation and interpretation of the implicit and explicit values, conventions and assumptions embedded in the built environment. Thesis Prep guides the student through a process of self-discovery, as a basis for understanding one's positions on contemporary socio-cultural issues. This process of discovery leads to the formulation of a Thesis Proposal that outlines the area of study, problem or project the student imagines pursuing as a Thesis project. It is understood that throughout the course of the Thesis the Thesis Proposal is a provisional document likely to evolve and change; within the context of this course, the Statement should not be understood as a definitive, binding concordance so much as a provisional work in progress.
Thesis Research- Fall Semester 5th year Link to Thesis Research Page
Thesis Research involves the construction of a critical context in which the Thesis Proposal is investigated by the student. Its goal is a well-researched, clearly articulated written and illustrated examination of the topic presented in the Thesis Proposal that is intended to develop the student's individual architectural voice. The Thesis Research culminates in Theorem that serves as the intellectual grounding of the work to be undertaken in the Thesis Studio the following semester.
Thesis Studio- Spring Semester 5th Year
The goal of the Thesis Studio is a demonstration of the Student's ability to apply critical thinking and design research skills to the development of a design solution that moves through conceptual, schematic, development and technical stages of an architectural application of the proposal. This architectural application may take the form of a building, urban or site response, detail, artifact or installation or other, and it is specified on the agreement of the Thesis Adviser and Student.
Final Thesis Submittal
The Student should register for Thesis Prep in the spring semester of 4th year. During the Thesis Prep Course the Student is advised by the faculty member assigned to the course. It is their role to help the student understand the nature of the Thesis and to assist in identifying a Thesis topic and develop the Thesis Proposal.
The Thesis Prep component is a process of discovery whose intention is to guide the student to learn to think independently, to learn how to see, how to analyze, and to express the social condition. The goal is to develop an understanding within the student that research is a mode of inquiry that implies not only the gathering of factual information, but also the implicit and explicit values, conventions and assumptions that make up the built environment.
Thesis Prep is also a moment where much of the student's latent qualities- as a person, a designer and citizen- reveal themselves. The pedagogy aims to uncover such potentials. In Thesis Prep, the student explores a range of research methodologies:
- Processes of seeing, documentation and mapping including existing conditions, memories invisible relationships.
- Ways of visualizing a problem.
- Processes of researching and identifying contemporary issues in architecture, technology, society and culture.
- Developing processes of constructing an argument using writing rigorously and poetically.
Research is a creative activity driven by a question and/or hypothesis that explores precedent, site, critical readings, and technique with the goal of formulating positions regarding architectural thinking and production.
This process may start with self-reflection as a means to enter into investigation and discovery or more universal issues. By beginning with introspection students learn to think both analytically and emotionally. Besides personally engaging each student in his/her project, the aim of this introspective process is for the student to problematize values and from that to consciously develop his/her own position on socio-cultural and architectural issues.
The Thesis Prep Deliverables
Working with the Thesis Prep faculty the student will develop a Thesis Proposal, a concise and specific statement, outlining an area of study, or a design problem that has consequences for contemporary architectural production. Students are encouraged to work with their Thesis Prep Faculty to identify a category, precedents and potential sites to be further explored. This will be the basis of further independent investigation as part of the Thesis Research and the basis of the Thesis Studio. Identification of the Thesis Category at this early stage is only preliminary and is not intended to be limited or determinative.
The culmination of Thesis Prep is the Bazaar, a week long display of posters and abstracts that provides the faculty with the opportunity to familiarize themselves with the various proposed Thesis Proposals emerging from the Thesis Prep course.
During the Bazaar faculty engage in a review of the Thesis Proposals and identify projects with which they would like to work. The Bazaar is "blind" meaning that the displayed information does not contain the student's name. Each Thesis Proposal is numbered and identifies the general type of thesis project being proposed.
Each Bazaar poster should be accompanied by copies of an anonymous small card (5.5" x 8.5" or smaller) which includes a brief abstract of the students Thesis Proposal; this is for faculty members to collect as reminders of your Thesis Proposal. In addition, faculty will be invited to leave comments and suggestions on titled blank sheets for your review.
On the final day of the Bazaar, a ceremonial event is set up in the Gallery for faculty and students. This event provides students with the opportunity to ask faculty questions regarding comments and suggestions left with their Thesis Proposal. The event also provides the student with an opportunity to better acquaint themselves with the individual expertise and interests of the faculty prior to making their final selections for Thesis Advisor.
The selection of Thesis Advisers and Committee Structure takes place after the close of the Thesis Bazaar. The process is outlined in the section entitled The Thesis Committee. Announcement of Thesis Advisers and Thesis Committees will be made by the Thesis Prep Faculty the following week
Evaluation and Progression to Thesis Research
To progress to Thesis Research all Students must have successfully completed ARCH 4014 maintaining a C average in the studio sequence. Additionally, students must also successfully pass Thesis Prep. This includes the submittal of an approved Thesis Proposal in the Thesis Bazaar that will serve as the basis of the work done in Thesis Research. The Thesis Proposal is not identical with the Theorem which serves as the deliverable for Thesis Research and constitutes the first part of the Thesis Book.
Thesis Research is an independent examination that begins with the Thesis Proposal developed in Thesis Prep. It is a demonstration of the student's ability to conduct effective research using largely secondary sources, combining knowledge from one or more fields and applying it to understanding what architecture has been, is, and might become.
Thesis Research involves the construction of a critical context in which the Thesis Proposal is further investigated by the student. This context contains; inquiry, exploration, attitude, analysis, problem solving, methodology and theorization that culminates in a proposal with architectural implications. It should document the critical thinking and design research that will serve as the basis of Thesis Studio. The work done as part of the Thesis Research culminates in the Theorem which constitutes part I of the final Thesis Book and should be properly documented as such including its eventual formatting appropriate to the Thesis Book Guidelines.
Thesis Research Deliverables
The goal of Thesis Research is the Theorem; a well-researched, articulately written and illustrated examination of the Thesis Proposal that is intended to develop the student's individual architectural "voice". The Theorem serves as the intellectual grounding of the work done in the Thesis Studio.
Working from theory, humanities, history, cultural criticism, philosophy, music, art, etc. the successful Theorem should challenge us to question our convictions about architecture, urban design and/or their related fields. A Theorem demonstrating such creative understanding would be able to sustain critique at various levels of interpretation and enquiry.
In addition to this critical context the Theorem should also include the following:
- Case Studies and Precedent Analysis- critical studies of precedents relevant to the basic idea of the Thesis. This may or may not be limited to architectural precedents. Precedents studies must include diagrammatic analysis of the key elements of the precedent significant to the Thesis. Photographs and plans do not constitute a precedent analysis.
- Site Context- including site selection and its significance to the proposed project and documentation of site such as existing conditions, topological surveys, geographical, natural and historical patterns, physical and social patterns, pedestrian and vehicular patterns and connections and site potentials and constraints relative to the Thesis.
- Site Analysis- critical and thoughtful analysis of contextual conditions of the site that can and should influence the Thesis. Methodologies of analysis can be diverse and should be relevant to the Thesis method and intentions but may include site 'Observations" such as: spatial analysis, isovists, physical character studies, material studies, context analysis, boundary, connection, relations patterns etc.
- Analytical Diagrams- these are diagrams that assist in translating the key ideas and premises of the Thesis into graphic forms applicable in the Thesis Studio. They should be understood as a means of understanding the main ideas and communicating them in a non-verbal manner.
- Program and Spatial Explorations- critical analysis of programmatic potentialities and implications of the Thesis Proposal. This should include the development of the 'program' for the Thesis, but also diagrams and 3D studies of organizational studies, spatial adjacency studies, connections and constraints, spatial patterns relative to the site and context.
- Study Sketches- the students own drawings and sketches that constitute part of the design process.
- Bibliography-. List sources of research, both secondary and primary. The bibliographical format shall be The Chicago Manual of Style.
Critical Thinking and Your Thesis
When engaged in Thesis Research the student should consider the following questions as a general guide.
- What is the purpose of your Thesis? Every foray into research has a purpose your thesis is no different. What do you hope to gain by engaging in this research? What are your goals and expected outcomes? Research is scholarly and so should your thesis be. Formulate your purpose in terms of architecture, design and society not in terms of your own self interest.
- What questions are you asking? Eventually you will want to formulate this as a question. All study is an attempt to find the answer to something. What is it that you are trying to answer? Your thesis should have one main directive question but that does not mean that there are not other sub questions that surround it or help to flesh it out. Can you list them? How do they serve the stated purpose?
- What is your point of view or basic assumption about the subject matter? No endeavor is completely objective and without a voice or point of view or perspective. To pretend that you do not opens oneself to academic critique and suspicion. Acknowledge your assumptions, put them out there. We do this for several reasons. First our research may in the end challenge those assumptions particularly when we cannot square our findings with them. This is not a problem in fact it is proof of good research in fact the purpose of research sometimes. Secondly it lays out our biases up front and gets them out of the way. A reader can now look at your work for its logical consistency without the baggage of your claims to be neutral or objective. It also helps to focus critique on the rhetorical argument and its logic and not on your point of view.
- What is your basic hypothesis? We shape out ideas and concepts about any subject based upon the facts and evidence we have collected. It is our experience that allows us to formulate an idea or concept that is the basis of our research.
- What previous research exists on the topic? This is a literature review, a summary of the content of existing literature relevant to the subject and your research topic. Has anyone attempted the same approach? This obviously implies that you have already done a literature search on the topic and are familiar with some of the more important works on the subject.
- What are the facts? All argumentation is based on facts either uncovered prior to research or during research. What are they? Clearly state the facts that you are basing the research on. This allows the reader to sink up with your thought process it also allows someone who knows additional facts or contradictory facts the chance to bring them to the table. For example, if your project is based upon previous research, but more recent research challenges this source it is better to know it up front.
- What is your Methodology? Describe how you will pursue your research, including the critical and theoretical basis of your investigation. This section conveys how you will develop your argument. Understand that the subject matter plays an important role in the methodology, areas of investigation related to the social sciences or philosophy might require different methods than those of the hard sciences which require more empirical methods.
- What precedents or case studies can you explore relevant to your subject matter? While it is basically assumed that precedent studies are architectural this is not always the case. In some instances the precedents may be related to the broader context of the Thesis, such as programmatic, organizational or institutional structures, sociological case studies, literary or musical structures, or artistic installations to name only a few.
- What are your anticipated findings? Discuss what you hope your work will establish in both confirming the research statement and its application in the concrete test. Indicate what findings might disprove your statement. How would your project, or architecture in general, be altered if you proposal were fully developed and to what purpose?
- What is your Thesis? Consequently, when your research is concluded you will derive interpretations from it. These form new or more detailed concepts of the subject matter at hand.
- What inferences, interpretations or conclusions are you deriving from your research? List them and explain them and their relevance. These should have consequences or implications. Tell your audience what you believe them to be.
Evaluation and Progression to Thesis Studio
The Architecture Program at KSU regards Thesis Research and the Theorem as an important phase of the Thesis process and a vital threshold in establishing whether the student has demonstrated the necessary critical thinking and design research skills necessary to proceed to the Thesis Studio.
During the fall semester the student will present their Thesis Research in three formal reviews attended by their full Thesis Committee. Those reviews will be scheduled around the following key dates in the Academic Calendar for each semester:
- Student Engagement Report
- Midterm Grade
- Finals Week
After each review the Thesis Committee members will provide the student with written comments and an evaluation of their progress in the form of an Evaluation Sheet. At the end of the semester the Thesis Committee, Chaired by the Thesis Adviser, will make an assessment as to whether the student's progress warrants their continuation into the Thesis Studio.
If the Thesis Committee determines that the student has not made sufficient progress the student will not be allowed to continue to Thesis Studio and will have to repeat the Thesis Research component of the Thesis process.
All Students registering for Thesis Studio must have an approved Theorem signed off by all Thesis Committee members and a grade of C or better in ARCH 4014.