How a PhD in Architecture Works and How It Can Help You


A doctoral degree is the highest degree one can get from a university. It is widely regarded as the pinnacle of academic achievement and the individual who holds one is considered an expert with absolute knowledge in his chosen field.

However, in today’s highly-connected world with all its intersecting fields of study and applications, many have questioned the utility of garnering so much knowledge in such a specific, highly specialized branch of study? Is it better to be an expert in one particular subject or is it better to know as much as you can in every field of relevance?

The old adage, “jack of all trades, master of none” doesn’t seem to ring true anymore in today’s cultural and societal context. But before we question the benefits of a Ph.D., let us have a look at it what it entails first.

How a PhD in Architecture Works and How It Can Help  

What Does A Ph.D. in architecture entail?

The title of “doctor ” or Ph.D. is awarded to a candidate who came up with an original design portfolio or a dissertation after conducting thorough and rigorous research, usually under the supervision of an academic, who is a recognized specialist in his field.

Architecture as a discipline encompasses several smaller sub-disciplines such as urban design, landscaping, interior design, etc. and the like. A Ph.D. generally challenges one set of beliefs or an established practice and improves upon it, or seeks to disapprove it altogether.

Hence, in the acquiring of a PhD, one generally needs to consider a wide range of perspectives and the cultural and historical context that led to the birth of that perspective.

So what attracts someone to do a Ph.D. in the first place?

The most common reasons students cite when pursuing a Ph.D. involves reasons or personal affinity or of passion towards a certain field of study and their eagerness to contribute something new to that topic.

Although these reasons sound academic oriented, there are also many professional/career-oriented incentives as well. And by that, we do not mean becoming a professor of architecture.

The first and foremost is, that you become an expert through the entire breadth and depth of your area of study and if one requires help or consultation in that area, they would be hard pressed to find an authority figure more suited than you. In the same time, you acquire skills that are precious for the architectural profession such as project management, leadership, teamwork and how to measure it, and also communicative abilities, because Ph.D.’s are well versed in their presentation skills.

You’re also well versed in writing exceptionally descriptive and comprehensive essays. Although more often than not, you would be hard pressed to find the time and locate the resources to write them, the pressures of academic life being what it is.

Sometimes, you might need a little external help and in times like these, the best books for architecture are a must yet the internet is often your best friend. These days you can actually buy custom essays online, specific, high quality essays written by experienced writers; a splendid convenience that allows you to focus more on research and less technicalities.

But Does It Really Make You A Better Designer?

An architect, by its very definition, should be able to conceptualize and create buildings and contribute to society by the creation of better, more aesthetic and more functional buildings, landscapes, towns, and cities — a designer.

Does a great teacher of architecture make for a good designer? Does in-depth knowledge of how and why architecture is the way it is make you better at conceptualizing new stuff? Do the demerits of a Ph.D. surpass the merits?

These are the questions we need to answer. Let’s take an in-depth look at the main critical arguments against pursuing a Ph.D. in architecture!

1. Ph.D.’s know a lot about a little but not enough about everything

In today’s world, the biggest of projects are undertaken by teams, with professionals of multiple disciplines. The success of a project depends on how well the team can collaborate and rally information in a mutually understandable way among all the team members.

To give you an example, in the construction of a factory, you would need a designer/ architect, an expert on the laws behind urban planning and the rules about what you can and cannot do, an industry specialist who knows about the product the factory will produce, an expert on the environment who will ascertain the amount of damage done to the environment.

Even within the core architectural team itself, you will have an expert in production lines, an expert in landscape design, an expert in building construction, etc.

In such a diverse team, one might question what is the utility of an expert in a very tiny field. Having a Ph.D. definitely does not mean you will have detailed knowledge about all these sectors.

But what it might mean is that because of your research-oriented skill set, you’ll be able to anticipate problems better and think of practical solutions faster. It’s not a substitute for experience, but if you come across a problem stumping everybody else in the room, you’re more equipped than others to solve it.

If the job itself is to investigate a problem and fix it, it would definitely require an expert or maybe multiple. People who hold a Ph.D. have a very specific skill set – the ability to investigate a problem in a rigorous fashion and develop the discipline to keep up a long and focused investigation. The new generation of architects apply this skill set to independent ventures, or in different scenarios like improving the efficiency and functionality of a previously existing structure.

However, it is important to note that, no jobs on the market are currently asking applicants to hold a Ph.D. degree. However, you can use it to enhance your application and make you stand apart from the rest of the crowd. In such a scenario, a Ph.D. does hold inherent value, but it’s up to you to make the best possible use of it.

2. Creativity does not stem from knowledge

Before we discuss our above statement, we must take a look at the current pedagogical systems in place in most universities today. Journey to any university today, and you’ll find one of two things.

Either the educations system is the same as it has been forever and it hasn’t kept up with the times. The curriculum has no space for new technological developments and has made no effort to include them in the course, nor made provisions for learning them in optional electives.

While this is not the case in most premier institutes, the premier ones suffer from a far more significant problem.

In most premier institutes, tutors and lecturers are regarded as superstars and intellectual stalwarts in their own right, and what they say is the law. Hence, they have full authority over what they teach and how they teach, lending little to no attention to established, well-defined practices of yesteryear.

Lecturers pursue their own interests without regards to the bigger picture. It does seem, that now, more than ever, in a world which is becoming increasingly more divided into its opinions and philosophies, that lecturing has become more frivolous than ever.

So, the problem with backdated course curriculums is that they don’t take into account the current social landscape and are stuck in an idealized past. And the problem with the more modern ones is that the course curriculum stems from a highly individual worldview, that of the lecturer’s.

However, the real problem is still the same. A syllabus and what it teaches is always restricted to the current epoch and the lecturer’s whims and fancies. It does not foster creativity or bolster the ability to conceptualize as you’re simply reading a book and then critically analyzing that.

Most people are of the opinion, that in order to become a better architect, i.e., a better designer you need to adopt a hands-on approach. An apprentice style situation is ideal, where you get to learn at the hands of the proverbial master. You learn by observation and from example. Inspiration is often highly personal, and it will only bloom when it has a personal touch. An apprenticeship (read internship in today’s parlance) under a skilled practitioner is the best way to learn.

Also, from observing someone else at work, you get to have a pretty good idea of the new technological developments because you get to see them in practice. You get to use them yourself. Often the invention of new technologies opens up a world of possibilities you could not have thought of before. However, the door to that world remains closed unless you use that product itself. Think photoshop and digital image processing software and its impacts on the fine arts industry.

A doctoral education does not bridge the gaps between the theoretical aspects of architecture and its day-to-day practice. Can there be an educational qualification, which justifies someone as a good architect? Or is the degree just a tool to further enhance skills the individual already had in him?

3. The age of the individual genius is over

Schools and course curriculums are forever struggling to keep up with changes and innovations in the sector. These include the increasing usage of new materials and modes of manufacturing, assembly, construction , as well as new software and tools proliferating novel methods of analysis to things which were previously hard to analyze. These include analyses of structural stresses, ambient and environmental conditions (light levels, air movement, wind pressure, temperature, humidity and the like) and also movement patterns of pedestrians and vehicles which are of utmost importance in designing traffic systems.

All this complexity, a complexity that is increasing day by day, is way beyond the intellectual capacity of any one human being. No matter how well read you are or how good you are, you cannot be in two places at once, where the work is already happening and where new development is being done.

As a result, the age of the individual genius is over, a pursuit academics have long sought after. Today, the world belongs to collaborators who can effectively collaborate with people of diverse professionals and learn from them. The world belongs to team leaders, individuals who without having expertise in specific fields can command and lead professionals from those fields and get the job done.

An academic’s focus on independent research and original thesis and findings comes in stark contrast to jobs that require collaboration and large teams of people. Most academics just aren’t qualified to lead such teams.

4. Analyzing is just as important

While most practitioners whine about students unprepared for real-life jobs, the fact remains that analyzing remains just as important as the execution of a project. Some would argue even more so.

The planning stage of a project requires a fair amount of analysis itself. Although the execution stage can comprise of a diverse group of people, the planning stage usually has like-minded individuals with a similar area of expertise. While planning, one also needs to do a good amount of research to understand which methods work best, which methods are most suited for the current project being undertaken and which methods are doomed to fail. Only after proper planning has been done, can you go forward with the execution.

Once the execution is concluded, again, an analysis needs to be done – did the project turn out the way it was supposed to, did we spend more or less money on the project that we had initially estimated (if so, why) and how can we make this process more efficient in the future. Basically, ask yourself, what did we learn from doing all this.

Doing an apprenticeship won’t help you in this regard. However, writing lab reports, conducting academic presentations, and doing comprehensive, exhaustive reviews on literature for years on end will be an immense help.

We had touched on this previously as well when we talked about developing the discipline necessary to conduct a long and thorough review of something.

Final words

Thus it would seem, getting a Ph.D. in architecture would train you to have a different skill set than a designer, but those skills are certainly just as valuable and have just as much commercial capital in the real world.

A designer learns to think with their fingers and utilize muscle memory, drawing on unconscious bodily knowledge.  An academic, on the other hand, will think with their heads and will draw on conscious knowledge which has been acquired over years of rigorous research.

The reason for this incongruity is that design and the study of architecture are essentially two separate subjects, but they are so intertwined it’s hard to separate them.



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