Major Explorations: Architectural Studies

Welcome to Architectural Studies

One of the unique features of Architectural Studies is that it is the product of a rich liberal arts philosophy. Amherst's curriculum allows students to explore Architectural Studies from a creative, historical and theoretical perspective.

About the Major

Advisory Committee:  
Professors Nicola Courtright (Chair 20/21), Ronald C. Rosbottom (on leave spring '21), Samuel Morse (on leave 20/21), Professor Laure Katsaros (on leave spring '21); Associate Professor Heidi Gilpin (on leave spring '21); Assistant Professor Yael Rice, Assistant Professor Dwight Carey, Assistant Professor Gabriel Arboleda.

Amherst College participates in the Five College Architectural Studies (FCAS) major with the unique requirements indicated below.

Like the FCAS major, Amherst’s ARCH major firmly places the study of architecture in the liberal arts by encompassing the history, theory, philosophy, design, and science of the built environment. The major draws on resources and faculty from a range of disciplines across the colleges, which include art history, cultural studies, history, literature, economics, urban studies, visual and media arts, gender studies, physics, sociology, and environmental studies. With the guidance of their Amherst advisor, Amherst students create an individualized course of study that may include, among others, sustainable design, urban planning, and architectural history, theory, and criticism.

An Amherst student wishing to pursue this major will meet with one of the faculty members on the College’s Architectural Studies Advisory Committee to discuss his or her interests, intentions, and coursework options. Following this discussion, the student will submit a proposal Amherst Architectural Studies major form to the Chair that identifies a focus within the major, courses already taken, and those planned. This proposal will be shared with the other faculty in the program.

Once the student’s proposal has been approved, he or she will meet at least twice per semester with his or her Amherst faculty advisor to discuss continued progress in the major. Amherst students, preferably before senior year, will be required to take four foundational (normally 100 level) courses focused on architectural history and design, and five intermediate (normally 200 and 300 level) courses in which they develop their particular field of concentration.

The Amherst ARCH major requires nine (9) courses plus one (1) capstone course, for a total of ten (10) courses.

A capstone project is required for all majors to be completed in the first semester of the senior year (ARCH 498). A proposal for the capstone project is due to the department in the second semester of the junior year. The project should be focused on one issue in the area most compelling to the student, often found in the pathway students charted in the proposal for the focus in the major: a design project; research in the history of architecture, housing, and urban development; theory or criticism; visual and spatial perception; or a combination of these areas.

The department, in consultation with the student, will appoint the capstone project’s advisor and two other readers (one is the Chair of the ARCH program). In the first semester of the senior year the department will discuss the project together with the student at two points: at the beginning, to help a student chart a path, and at the end, when the student presents the results of the semester’s work. These presentations will constitute the comprehensive requirement for the major.

In consultation with the department, the senior’s capstone course may be turned into an honors project that would be eligible for Latin honors in the second semester (ARCH 499). Any students continuing on to honors should also sign up, in addition to the honors course, for a 5-College design capstone course if available, normally taught at Hampshire College (Architecture and Design Concentrator Studio, HACU 0307). In effect, the student will thus take two (2) courses in the second semester to develop the honors project to its conclusion.

A selection of possible courses to fulfill the Architectural Studies major can be found on the Curriculum tab under Courses. Please also search the Five College Catalog for related courses, and discuss your options with the Chair and your major advisor.


By vote of the faculty, all classes during the spring 2020 semester will be treated as though the flexible grading option (FGO) had been elected. The FGO enables students to decide whether or not to keep a grade they earned in a course after the grade is posted, or in the case of any passing grade, to elect to receive a (“P”).  Students who are not in their final semester at Amherst now have until June 15, 2020, to decide whether or not to keep the grade they earned in each course they are taking this semester, or in the case of any passing grade, to elect to receive a pass (“P”) in each course.  Second-semester seniors now have until May 22, 2020, at 5 p.m., to decide whether or not to keep the grade they earned in each course they are taking this semester, or in the case of any passing grade, to elect to receive a pass (“P”) in each course.  In cases in which students are granted extensions this semester, they will have five days after the grade is posted to decide whether to keep the grade that they earned in the course, or in the case of any passing grade, to elect to receive a pass (“P”) in each course. (There are no extensions for graduating seniors.)

Given the grave emergency posed by COVID-19 and the virus’s impact on all of us, for courses taken in spring 2020, the Architectural Studies Program has decided to accept courses toward the major for which students have earned a grade of Pass.