MA Programme Description


RIBA Part 2 credited since 1983

First Year

As MA students, the Programme encourages you to pursue a personal line of enquiry during your time here. First-year students work on a live project in term one, and a studio project in terms two and three that also forms the basis for the Technical Studies course. The first-year projects respond to the Architectural Design Studio (ADS) thematic through their own brief developed out of their research, but within a defined scope established by the ADS tutors. Throughout the term tutors provide support and criticism as the projects develop. 

In addition to the ADS design teaching, students have complementary studies. First-year students will take Media Studies, part of the School-wide offer, which exposes students to a diverse range of contemporary and historical design and representation methods spanning architecture, visual arts and science. 

First-year students also engage in the technical stream of courses to understand the integral relationship between technical innovation and design experiment. Students will develop a working knowledge of and technical skills required to engage with the construction and engineering challenges associated with building design, structural systems, thermal comfort and issues of sustainability. This is through the technical development and resolution of the independent studio project and is extended into a full technical study resulting in the Comprehensive Design Project (CDP) demonstrated in the Technical Studies Journal. 

Second Year

In the second year, students take a number of units in the first term in preparation for the Independent Research Project. Second-year students work within the thematic and contextual frame of the ADS briefs, to develop a design brief from their research, a clear research question, and a design response in their thesis project. 

The Strategic Design unit includes a synopsis of student research, a clearly identifiable research question and methodology, and a project brief and thesis that supports a strategic outline design and plan. 

The History & Theory Studies (HTS) unit offers MA students a cultural framework aimed at helping them to find a personal position with respect to the field. The lectures alternate between sessions held by the course tutor and sessions held by invited guests. 

The unit builds a systematic understanding of the history of modern architecture, providing a methodology for students to investigate their own individual research themes. The lectures construct a shared vocabulary able to provide the School’s diverse student body with a common critical background. 

The other assessable component of second-year studies is Professional Practice, which is delivered through a series of lectures along with supporting tutorials and preparation of a case study. 

The final two terms of study in the MA Programme are dedicated to the Independent Research Project, which is tutored through the ADS. Students are required to develop a sophisticated, innovative and creative design response to the thesis question as established in Strategic Design. 

Critical & Historical Studies

The RCA provides a unique environment for postgraduate art and design students to reflect upon their own practice, and to engage with students from their own and other disciplines. The role of Critical & Historical Studies (CHS) is to support the studio programmes in enabling these critical engagements to take place. The courses offered by CHS to first-year, studio-based MA students propose an intellectual framework within which they can begin to establish a coherent relationship between theory and practice.

In the autumn and spring terms there are a series of College-wide seminars and lectures. The autumn term series will relate to your particular discipline, whereas the spring term series will be more broad-based and cross-disciplinary in nature.

In the spring and summer terms, a CHS tutor will give you individual tutorials to support the development of a dissertation which is submitted at the end of the summer term. The dissertation should be between 6,000–10,000 words in length – this is a major piece of work and you will not be able to submit for the Final Examination until you have passed this assessment.

For more information see Critical & Historical Studies College-wide Programme.

This programme description is taken from the 2018/19 Programme Specifications. While we try to ensure that all Programme information is correct, some things may be subject to change and/or outside of our control. 

RCA Ranked World’s Top Art & Design University for Fifth Year

In February, the RCA was named the world’s leading art and design university for the fifth consecutive year.  

The RCA leads the table of 200 of the world’s top universities for the study of art and design in the 2019 QS World University Subject Rankings, ahead of much larger institutions around the globe.


240 credits
Two-year programme