Architectural Studies (ARCH) is an honors major. The two main requirements to major in ARCH are a minimum number of relevant courses and a capstone project.
With regard to coursework, students must take and successfully approve a total of nine architecture or architecture-related courses. Those courses should combine introductory, intermediate, and advanced topics. Students make a decision as to what courses to take in consultation with their major advisor.
Normally, during the senior year ARCH students work on an honors thesis. The process toward that thesis involves two steps. Students first enroll in ARCH 498, a capstone course, during the first semester of senior year, which is generally the Fall semester. In that course, each student independently explores a topic of their choice and takes the first steps towards developing this topic as a thesis.
Generally speaking, theses in Architectural Studies fall into two large categories, theory and design. With regard to theory theses, by the end of the Fall semester students are expected to have written two or more chapter drafts as well as to have developed a general outline of the thesis. They would have identified the relevant background literature and would have defined an overarching research question. In general, towards the end of the Fall semester, a student’s work should show promise that it can become a successful honors thesis.
When it comes to design theses, students are expected to define the architectural, planning, or other project they plan to work on, during the Fall semester. They are also expected to carry out a study of precedents to inform their design decisions. The precedents study includes a survey of previous design or other work done in the general area that the student is investigating. Also, as in the case of a theory-based thesis, during the Fall semester students identify the relevant background literature that contextualizes their work. Last, they start to design, taking their design to a broad scale that shows the building or setting’s location and orientation, general massing, and technology. During the second semester of senior year (generally Spring), this design is taken to a more detailed scale, including for instance details about fenestration, exterior and interior design, and construction.
Towards the end of the Fall semester, both the theory and design students present their projects to the Architectural Studies faculty. The faculty members, in consultation with the student’s capstone project advisor, make a decision as to whether the project is promising enough to become an honors thesis. If the answer is affirmative, the project continues in the Spring semester as an honors thesis. If not, the student is required to finalize their work as a term paper or a one-term design project. The student will earn a grade for the capstone course, with that completing their Architectural Studies requirements. In that case, the student graduates “rite” or without an honors designation. On the other hand, students themselves can decide whether they graduate rite. That is, they can decide on their own that they do not intend to pursue their capstone project as a thesis, even if it qualifies for it.
Should the project continue as an honors thesis, the faculty make a decision as to the level of honors, if any, only after the student submits their completed thesis towards the end of the Spring. Although typically a promising capstone project becomes an honors-worthy thesis, it is possible that, for example, during the inter-semester break the student does not make as much progress in the project as expected. If, despite its being a promising project, the capstone project does not fully consolidate as a successful thesis, the student then might still graduate rite.
To work on their theses during the Spring, students register for ARCH 499, the Senior Honors thesis course requirement. They also register for the Five College Senior Capstone Studio, which is regularly taught at Hampshire College. This studio brings together Architectural Studies and other students pursuing architecture or design-related capstone-level work at Amherst, Hampshire, Mount Holyoke, and Smith Colleges, as well as UMass Amherst. The Five College Studio provides students with a peer-reviewed environment and a sense of community, that of the Five College Architectural Studies program. The studio also provides students with a collaborative environment that mirrors that of the architectural profession, where design work is regularly carried out as a collaborative endeavor. The students also receive guidance from the faculty member in charge (generally Professor Thom Long) on visual communication skills and how to develop an architectural project for a public presentation.
Students must fulfill the senior year requirements outlined above in addition to any other courses they may still be required to take in order to fulfill their major and graduation requirements. Thus, in the Fall, students must register for ARCH 498 and three other classes. In the Spring, they must register for ARCH 499, the Five College Capstone studio, and two other classes.