Started in 1981, the MA Architectural History at The Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL, is the UK's longest established and best known Masters course in the historical, theoretical and critical interpretation of architecture, cities, urban spaces, creative practices and of their representations.
Over the past 30 years the course has been continually developed and revised to prioritise the exploration of new and existing methodologies and critical theories as they might be applied to the study of architecture and cities. Rather than dealing with architecture exclusively through the work of famous individuals, landmark buildings, stylistic classification or normative categories, the course locates architecture within social, ideological, creative, political, material and technological, theoretical and urban processes. In doing so, it explores the boundaries of what might be regarded as constitutes legitimate architectural objects of study, and the effects of different modes of historical interpretations upon the discipline and beyond.
The MA Architectural History provides a comprehensive and intensive engagement with the subject, so that both the objects of study examined and the various methodologies used enable deep understandings of architectural knowledge. It examines architecture and cities from early-modern 16th century to contemporary 21st century contexts, with a particular emphasis on the last two centuries. Buildings, texts, architects, urban spaces, cities, films, drawings, maps, plans, paintings and other representations and creative practices are all critically interpreted. Five broad modes of architectural history organise these approaches: buildings and their historiography; histories and theories of cities and urbanisation; critical spatial practices (including site-writing); the history and theory of architectural technology, and histories of aesthetics, wellbeing and ecology.
The student cohort of c.25 comprises a dynamic mix of participants from the UK, EU, North and South Americas, the Middle East, Asia and Australasia. We welcome applications from architects who have already qualified or are in the process of qualification. We also welcome applications from graduates of other disciplines – such as history of art, the visual arts, history, journalism, geography or anthropology – who wish to develop a specialist knowledge of architectural history or further advance their spatial and design research interests.
Students are supported by a large group of staff with architectural history and theory expertise, and the course benefits greatly from its engagement with extensive graduate and research cultures in the Faculty and UCL, including the School’s large cohort of MPhil/PhD students in Architectural History and Theory and Architectural Design, and the cross-disciplinary UCL Urban Laboratory. Interaction between the MA cohort and the MPhil/PhD cohorts is strongly encouraged, as well as open exchange with the other taught research graduate programmes.
The programme’s international visiting architectural history professorship and its public research conference further extend students’ research and dissemination platforms. In addition, the School’s architectural history and theory team organise public lectures by distinguished visiting speakers, including the Situating Architecture Lecture Series, as well as PhD seminars and conferences on advanced architectural historical and critical methods. Students are therefore immersed in one of the world's largest and most innovative centres for architectural history and theory, and are able to engage in multiple seminars, research presentations and other events located in London.
Students also benefit from a large range of research, study and personal opportunities located in London: from the dynamism of the city itself as one of the foremost global centres of architectural and urban culture, to the use of extensive libraries and other research facilities, and the opportunity to enjoy the captial’s public exhibitions, conferences, lectures, film screenings, performances and other events.
The Programme is normally taught over a 12-month period, during which students must complete and pass 180 credits. 120 credits are completed in approved taught modules, and 60 credits are gained from the Dissertation module. Where relevant, students may replace 30 credits with another UCL department’s graduate module, with the permission of the Programme Leader and the respective Department.
Teaching modes: Seminars are the leading teaching mode (usually in groups of 15 students), together with: lectures, one-to-one tutorials, group-working, writing workshops, research seminars, film screenings, and reviews of student-work by Bartlett School of Architecture staff and visiting researchers; building and gallery visits in London and further afield, and an annual fieldtrip. Modules use these advanced-level teaching approaches to encourage innovative student-led work. The final Dissertation provides students with an opportunity to conduct their own original research into a specific subject of their own choosing.
Compulsory Modules (Term 1: each 30 credits, assessment coursework term 1) Critical Methodologies of Architectural History
Research and Dissemination of Architectural History
Option Modules (Term 2: each 30 credits, assessment coursework term 2)
Architecture in 19th-and 20th-Century Britain
Representations of Cities
Theorising Practices: Architecture, Art and Urbanism
History and Theory of Digital Design
Materialist Ecological Architecture
Multiple Modernities Architecture
Practices of Criticism
The following 15 credit options for students in other programmes are available:
BENVGAH8 - Materialist Ecological Architecture Part 1
BENVGAHA - Multiple Modernities Architecture Part 1
BENVGAHC - Practices of Criticism Part 1
Please contact the Programme Leader for further information
Dissertation Module (Term 3 and Summer vacation: 60 credits, assessment Dissertation)
Architectural History Dissertation (Report) with Oral
Please download the Programme Information Sheet for full module descriptions.
Critical Methodologies of Architectural History
This module reviews the range of methods and approaches open to the architectural or urban historian, critic and theorist, as well as the traditions from which each derives, and the controversies around them. Through a weekly lecture and seminar, students read and discuss works by a variety of architectural historians, e.g. Alberti, Banham, Colomina, Evans, Giedion, Forty, Hayden, Picon and Wölfflin. Texts by authors including, Braidotti, Douglas, Foucault, Freud, Latour, Said and Spivak on theories of history, aesthetics, materialism, subjectivity and technology are also studied. Seminars, readings and discussions therefore consider architectural history in relation to epistemologies, such as, biopolitics, semiology, psychoanalysis and postcolonialism.
Research and Dissemination of Architectural History
This module complements the more theoretical and historical modules of the MA Architectural History programme by examining some of the more practical aspects of research, development and application. The module investigates a variety of ways of working with, researching and communicating architectural history in order to allow different kinds of information, interpretations and audiences to be addressed. A series of weekly lectures and assignments explores alternative methods of researching (archives, photographs and imagery, oral history, internet and digital sources) and communicating (teaching courses, journalism, exhibitions, policy, sound and media broadcasting).
Architecture in 19th- and 20th-Century Britain
This module examines a range of built work in London and Oxford, and asks what kinds of historical and critical judgements can be developed from encounters with buildings. Each week fieldwork visits are followed by seminars in which the case studies are analysed in detail. Works studied in any one year might include projects such as: Barry's Reform Club, Butterfield’s All Saint’s Margaret Street, Unwin’s Hampstead Garden Suburb, Tecton's Finsbury Health Centre, Camden Council’s Alexandra Road Estate, Denys Lasdun’s Royal College of Physicians, and Jacobsen's St Catherine’s College Oxford. The module benefits from input by members of the world-renowned Survey of London team, now part of the Bartlett School of Architecture. Students on the module gain a specific knowledge of particular buildings and of the wider historical context in which they have been produced and interpreted. Students also gain greater awareness of the challenges and opportunities presented to architectural history by looking at the actual built fabric, as distinct from other available forms of evidence.
BENVGAH2 Representations of Cities
This module reviews the variety of ways in which cities have been conceptualised in recent urban and cultural theory. It introduces how the city and urban spaces can be understood as a set of differing cultural experiences: experiences of time, space, social identity, artistic interventions etc. Methodologically, the module introduces some of the main architectural and critical theories relating to the experience of the city, e.g.: Castells, Debord, hooks, Jacobs, Koolhaas, Le Corbusier, Lefebvre, Picon, Sassen, Simmel, Thrift, Whyte, Wirth and Zukin. In particular, social space is introduced as an important concept for mediating between different disciplines, and linking the intersection of buildings, cities and people. Topics range from architectural and urban modernism to Situationist practices, urban design, ghettos, globalization, sexualities, informational and digital cities. The module also makes extensive use of film to explore these ideas, Berlin: Symphony of a Great City and A Man With a Movie Camera to The Pruitt-Igoe Myth, The Fountainhead and Looking for Langston.
BENVGAH4 Theorising Practices/Practising Theory: Architecture, Art and Urbanism
Through discussions of, and engagements with, different texts and projects, and the production of a piece of site-writing (Rendell, 2005/10) in the form of an installation and/or artist’s book, this module examines the relationships between critical spatial practices (Rendell 2003/6) and theories through a transdisciplinary perspective. Using seminar, workshop and presentation formats, this module introduces a wide range of critical spatial practices, from the work of conceptual fine artists such as Robert Smithson and Roni Horn, to the projects of urban designers such as muf, alongside a diverse selection of critical spatial theories from Mieke Bal’s concept of ‘focalisation’ to Walter Benjamin’s ‘dialectical image’, from the literature of Italo Calvino and Gloria Anzaldua to the performance poetry of Caroline Bergvall. By referring to a particular set of texts alongside examples of practice – historical and contemporary – this module encourages a consideration of the differing ways theory and practice relate – through analogy, analysis, application, dialectics, deconstruction, reflection, relation, speculation – wondering collectively how we might write architecture and the urban realm differently.
BENVGAH6 History and Theory of Digital Design
This seminar assesses the present state of computer-based design by situating today's digital turn within the long duration of the history of cultural technologies. It describes the technical logics of hand-making, mechanical reproductions, and digital making, highlighting the differences between digital variability, manual and artisanal variations, and the mechanical mass-production of identical copies. Examples discussed include: identical reproduction crucial in architectural history, and particularly on the early modern invention of architectural notations and of architectural authorship (the rise of the ‘Albertian paradigm’ in the Renaissance), and the modernist principle of standardization in the 20th century. A brief history of the digital turn and of its theoretical and technological premises is outlined: from Post-Modernism and Deconstructivism and the Deleuzian ‘Fold’ to the spline-dominated environment of the 1990s; from free-form, topology and digital formalism to mass-customization, non-standard seriality to more recent developments in digital interactivity, participatory making and building information modeling (BIM). Lastly, it discusses the present state of digital design theory, particularly the issue of Big Data, its cultural and epistemological implications, and its consequences for the making of form (theories of emergence, self-organizing systems, form-finding, material computation, complexity, and discretization).
BENVGAH7 Materialist Ecological Architecture
This module examines the history and theory of materialist and ecological architectures from the early-modern period to the present day, with reference to architectural, philosophical, aesthetic and ecological sources. It begins by examining concepts of matter, nature, biology and culture including: 17th-c-18thc European aesthetics and empiricism. Students then discuss 19thc materialism, such as, Marx, Darwin and Howard, together with 20thc biological materialism (Bergson, von Uexkull and D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson). The seminar then develops to explore post-war cybernetic, scientific and landscape practices (e.g. Bateson, Buckminster Fuller, Carson, Banham and McHarg). Finally, the module examines ecological history and theory from the 1970s to our current context of climate-change politics, including: feminist eco-politics by Haraway and Bennett; theories of transversality and ecosophy from Guattari and Denes; biopolitical theories of human-nature (Foucault and Latour) and anthropocenic or posthuman ethics by Sloterdjik, Braidotti and Barad.
BENVGAH9 Multiple Modernities Architecture
This module questions conventional modernist historiography by exploring architectural encounters with modernity outside its dominant geographical, theoretical and professional territories. Students begin by situating current global modernist perspectives within a wider context, using the example of the West’s encounter with China and Japan from the 18thc to examine the architectural consequences for East and West. Seminars focus on specific sites of architectural production and urban development including: Russia’s initial attempt to open Manchuria; post-Meiji era Japan (the first non-Western country to modernise); Japan’s creation of Manchukuo in the 1930s; and the pursuit of a national architecture in pre-Communist China. In the second part of the term, Students then explore examples that possess modern characteristics but have been overlooked by conventional modernist readings owing to their cultural condition, geographical setting or their professional approach. Case studies include: the enduring global modernity of Shanghai; pre-and postcolonial modernisms in Africa and questions of modernist heritage; peripheral modernisms in Europe through the cities of Gdynia and Tel Aviv, and alternative modernisms in Britain through the architecture of Charles Holden and McMorran & Whitby.
BENVGAHB Practices of Criticism
This module explores interdisciplinary theories of criticism and the practice of criticism within architecture and its related subjects. Students examine how these approaches inform writing/practicing architectural historiography today. The module begins by addressing the intersection of architectural theory and history with the history of architectural criticism in the 'modern' to 'high modern' periods (1940-1980) including: post WW2 modernism within the British architectural press; the aesthetic, political and ideological motivations in architectural journal production through the work of Pigeon, Pevsner, Nairn, Nash, Piper, de Cronin Hastings. It then addresses Marxist criticism, structuralism, semiology and phenomenology within the architectural criticism of late modernism, including, Banham, Colquhoun, Frampton, Rowe, Tafuri. The second part of the seminar focuses on the postmodern turn and the contemporary period including the impact of architectural criticism (print and digital) in the late 20th and 21st centuries, and evolutions in critical theory, space and aesthetics from the 1970s to the present. It studies neo-Marxist, post structuralist, semiotic and feminist theory (e.g. Jameson, Kristeva, Marin, Rancière), to critique spatial practices as allegory, aesthetic, political unconscious, utopics. It concludes with recent reassessments of criticality in contemporary architectural and art criticism (e.g. Dovey, Foster, Heynen, Rendell, Stead): a so-called ‘crisis of criticism’.
15 credit options for students from other programmes:
Materialist Ecological Architecture, Multiple Modernities Architecture, and Practices of Criticism are also available. Students attend seminars from weeks 1-5. Please contact Dr Peg Rawes (firstname.lastname@example.org) for further information.
N.B. Please be aware that all option modules have limited enrolment and not all option modules run every year: please contact the Programme Leader, Dr Peg Rawes, for further information.
BENVGBE2 Architectural History Dissertation with Oral Examination
This module requires students following the MA Architectural History to submit a 10,000-word dissertation on a subject agreed with the teaching staff. Students choose a subject lying within the scope of the syllabus, making use of the techniques and methods taught in the course.
During this module, students also participate in the Programme’s field trip, dissertation review seminars with invited international critics, and develop their study into a publication for the Programme's end of year public research conference.
Examples of recent dissertation topics include:
Architecture in low-res/post-photographic images
British Council Offices
Rudolph Laban and Monte Verita
Geoffrey Bawa and Sri Lanka
Mortuaries in London’s East End
Post-war Italian economics and Americanisation: Rome’s ENI Building
Public Art in the GDR
Translations of Japanese Architecture
Travels of Eastonian Architects
Also see the Programme Information Sheet for showcase extracts of outstanding dissertations.
Programme Leader: Dr Peg Rawes
Programme staff: Professor Iain Borden, Dr Ben Campkin, Professor Mario Carpo, Professor Murray Fraser, Dr Barbara Penner, Dr Peg Rawes, Professor Jane Rendell, Dr Tania Sengupta, Amy Thomas and Dr Robin Wilson.
Contributing and affiliated staff: Professor Adrian Forty, and Professor Peter Bishop, Dr Edward Denison, Professor Jonathan Hill, Dr Adrian Lahoud, Professor Frédéric Migayrou; The Survey of London: Professor Andrew Saint, Peter Guillery, Harriet Richardson, Aileen Reid and Colin Thom
In addition, visiting professors, architects, critics and researchers regularly contribute to the programme, recently including:
Karen Burns (architect, RMIT Melbourne)
Sarah Butler (writer and literature activist)
Prof. Claire Colebrook (Penn State University)
Tom Dyckhoff (critic and broadcaster)
Sam Jacob (architect and critic)
Dr Kristen Krieder (poet and artist)
Prof. Stephen Loo (architect, University of Tasmania)
Professor John Macarthur (architect, historian, University of Queensland)
Dr William Menkin (architect, editor and critic, Pratt Institute/Architects’ Newspaper)
Marit Munzberg (graphic designer)
Lucy Musgrave (Founding Director of Publica)
Dr Emmanuel Petit (architect and historian)
Edmund Sumner (architectural photographer)
Please download the Programme Information Sheet for details of staff research interests.
A good second-class honours degree (or its equivalent) in an appropriate subject for entry onto the programme is required. In addition, you are expected to demonstrate some understanding of the issues facing historical and critical enquiry into architecture, and to give evidence of a high level of commitment to advanced study in the history and/or theory of architecture and cities. Please contact the Programme Leader if you have any questions about this information.
UCL’s Application and Entry page provides general information about how to apply, and Bartlett postgraduate specific information, including the Bartlett Masters Scholarships scheme can be found on the Faculty’s Postgraduate application pages.
Please download and read the Programme Information Sheet before applying.
Programme information sheet
The Programme Information Sheet below includes module descriptions, staff research interests, career opportunities, dissertation extracts and alumni testimonials. Please download and read it before making your application.
For more information about applying to study at The Bartlett, visit the Applying page.