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ADS4 field trip to Iceland, 2016


We inspire design innovation

Key details

  • 240 credits
  • 2 year programme
  • Full-time study

School or Centre

Expand the possibilities of your practice by developing a speculative, independent and critical ethos

Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) part II and Architects Registration Board (ARB) validated since 1983.

  • Previous RIBA validation: 2019
  • Previous ARB validation: 2016

The two-year programme conceives of architecture as a diverse and complex set of practices that move beyond traditional distinctions and limits in the field. A radical and innovative approach to pedagogy and research, as well as a commitment to an open-minded, experimental studio-culture, sets the RCA apart.

Teaching on the MA programme revolves around the Architectural Design Studio. Each ADS is understood as a platform for design research organised around important global challenges and opportunities such as ecology, housing, urbanism, mobility and manufacturing.

Explore further

Visit 2020.rca.ac.uk to view graduate work from the class of 2020, or view our online repository at Folios from MA Architecture

Catch the replays from our March 2021 Virtual Day.



The School of Architecture is based at our historic Kensington site.

View all facilities

Our studios are the heart of day-to-day activity for the School. Studios are purpose-designed for inspiration and interaction between students of different design disciplines. Studio workspace is provided for each student. In addition, you have access to wood, metal, plastic and resin workshop facilities, as well as contemporary digital fabrication equipment and a suite of bookable project and making spaces.

  • Reviewing work in the School of Architecture Studios (photo: Richard Haughton)

    Reviewing work in the School of Architecture Studios (photo: Richard Haughton)

  • Working on a piece in the School of Architecture Studios (photo: Richard Haughton)

    Working on a piece in the School of Architecture Studios (photo: Richard Haughton)

  • Working together in the School of Architecture Studios (photo: Richard Haughton)

    Working together in the School of Architecture Studios (photo: Richard Haughton)

  • Activity in the School of Architecture Studios (photo: Richard Haughton)

    Activity in the School of Architecture Studios (photo: Richard Haughton)

  • Students in the School of Architecture Studios (photo: Richard Haughton)

    Students in the School of Architecture Studios (photo: Richard Haughton)

More details on what you'll study.

Find out what you'll cover in this programme.

What you'll cover

As MA students, the programme encourages you to pursue a personal line of enquiry during your time here. Over the course of the year you work on a live project and a studio project that also forms the basis for the technical studies course. Your first year project respond to the Architectural Design Studio’s thematic through your own brief developed out of your research, but within a defined scope established by the ADS tutors. Throughout the term tutors provide support and criticism as projects develop. The year one studio work can be both individual and in groups, assessment at the end of the year is individual.

In addition to the ADS design teaching you

have complementary units of study. First-year students will take media studies, which is part of the School-wide offer, exposing you to a diverse range of contemporary and historical design and representation methods spanning architecture, visual arts, and science.

As a first-year student you will also engage in technical studies to understand the integral relationship between technical innovation and design experiment. You will develop a working knowledge of, and the 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.

In the second year, you take a number of units in the autumn term in preparation for the Independent Research Project. You work within the thematic and contextual frame of the ADS briefs, to develop a design brief from your research, a clear research question, and a design response in your thesis project. The Design Strategy unit includes a synopsis of your research, a clearly identifiable research question and methodology, a project brief and thesis that supports a strategic outline design and plan.

The History Theory Studies unit offers you a cultural framework aimed at helping you to find a personal position with respect to the field. The lectures alternate between sessions held by the unit tutor and sessions held by invited guests. The unit builds a systematic understanding of the history of modern architecture, providing a methodology for you to investigate your 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. You are required to develop a sophisticated, innovative and creative design response to the thesis question as established in the Strategic Design.

The core of learning on the MA Architecture programme is project-based and structured around Architectural Design Studios (ADS), with each offering you a unique set of concerns, methods and critical frameworks. Each ADS has approximately 16 students, with first- and second-year students working alongside each other.

Find out more about ADS themes 2020/21

Each Architecture student is assigned a practice mentor for a part of their studies. This enables students to map shared research themes as well as developing a greater understanding of the diverse range of industry activity.

Exposure to and understanding of the working methods, approach and environment of each practice supports students in being reflective on their own emerging practice methods.

The mentoring scheme offers students another voice on their student work but can also offer guidance on professional development and industry engagement.

This initiative recognises the value of the collaborative networks that drive our students and continues the tradition of linking architectural education with industry as first established by the Royal College of Art, as a direct descendant of the Government School of Design, in 1837.

The RCA Live Project is an integral component of the Architecture MA programme at the RCA. Every year, each Architectural Design Studio (ADS) undertakes a Live Project that provides a platform for testing the agency of architecture.

The Live Project provides MA Architecture students the opportunity to work with external partners and collaborators on the realisation of a project that has a real-world impact. Each project seeks to explore the boundaries of architectural practice, asking students to expand their individual design practice by developing complex briefs, testing sites, engaging with different communities, stakeholders and modes of fabrication.

MA Architecture is currently pursuing a diverse range of projects, including student build projects and prototypes, collaborative research with NGO’s and proposals for research projects and conferences. The Live Project is realised by MA Architecture students in their first year of studies.

The Live Projects expand on the success of the first built Live Project, the Healthcare Innovation Exchange (HELIX) Centre that opened in 2015.

Designed and constructed by Ralf Alwani, Joanna Hyland and Matthew Volsen, the HELIX Centre is a collaboration between the RCA and Imperial College. The Centre operates as a hub for promoting innovation in health-care design within the grounds of St Mary’s Hospital, London.

Other previous projects include such varied works as community practice in Wembley, pedestrian networks for TFL, street furniture next to the Thames in Lambeth and furniture for co-working spaces These past and current projects are all examples of the distinctive Live Projects produced by students.

Technical Studies forms part of the current Architecture MA programme at the Royal College of Art. The unit is driven by an experimental and interdisciplinary approach, which acknowledges the complex structural and environmental demands/drivers of architectural design.

The unit examines how the rapid development of new digital and material technologies – such as BIM technologies, Lidar scanning, robotic fabrication and photogrammetry – have allowed new models of analysis, simulation and forms of manufacturing and construction. The projected impact of climate change is examined through the use of bioclimatic design principles, energy-efficiency design tools and ideas of architectural self-sufficiency. Central to the programme is an understanding of how specific socio-cultural, economic and political factors of context and site can be key drivers in the evolution of the technical design of student projects.

The curriculum is intended to challenge conventional technical strategies in order to foster innovative, speculative and future design applications. Students develop digital and physical strategies for capturing and designing technical performance. Individual 1:1 material explorations provide a means to explore, test and experiment with the technical aspects of an architectural design. Students actively and directly analyse their environment – using tools such as FLIR thermal imaging systems and Karaba structural analysis software – to develop their expertise. Constant experimentation gives students a base on which to gain a comprehensive understanding and working knowledge of technologies and developments in construction, engineering and environmental practices.

Technical Studies in currently undertaken in the first year of the Architecture MA programme. The knowledge and experience developed within the unit allows students to formulate and materialise the ideas and concepts of their individual ADS design project.

History & Theory Studies is part of the Architecture MA programme at the RCA, and questions what it is to be an architect in the contemporary world.

Each year the History & Theory Studies unit investigates an academic theme as a means to allow each student to develop a critical understanding of history and the impact of architecture. This understanding is vital in encouraging students to intellectually contextualise and discuss their own design work. The History & Theory Studies unit is taught through a series of lectures from staff and guests, seminars, tutorials, conversations and archival work.

In 2017/18 the History & Theory Studies unit examined architecture through the lens of citizenship. To be an architect right now is also to be a citizen – an agent or a participant in political life. The ways we become citizens – perform as citizens, see and understand the world as citizens – is central to the History & Theory Studies unit. Architectural history is examined and discussed in relation to ideas of political subjectivity. Architecture and political subjectivity coexist: architecture is shaped by political subjectivity, while architecture also shapes political subjectivity, forcing us to move, behave and see space in particular ways.

In 2018/19 the History & Theory Studies unit will be undertaken by second-year MA Architecture students, with students working on a critical piece of writing based on their own research, alongside models, images and drawings used as complementary tools of developing an independent discourse.

Media Studies forms part of the Architecture MA, City Design MA, Environmental Architecture MA and Interior Design MA programmes at the RCA.

The unit examines how the analysis and use of media can help develop our critical understanding of spatial design. Students utilise a vast range of media and conceptual approaches – including photography, filmmaking, sculpture, graphic design, photogrammetry, performance and product design and fabrication – to explore and develop their work. This unit allows students to explore alternate forms of production that augment their design projects.

The intellectual premise of the Media Studies unit engages with the complex nexus of contemporary media culture. Today, images and media are agents in a negotiation between hegemonies, players on a stage of conflicts in ideologies, histories and public identities. These mediated struggles find their way into all facets of public life, including spatial design disciplines. Media Studies examines the indexical nature of media through the careful study of a series of interventions into the built environment. These examinations are fostered through lectures, seminars and workshops. The unit includes guest lecturers, workshop leaders and invited critics as a means to discuss and engage with the plurality of contemporary approaches to spatial media.

In the 2018/19 academic year, Media Studies will be undertaken by students from all programmes in the RCA School of Architecture.

All studio-based MA students follow a weekly schedule of Critical & Historical Studies (CHS), a College-wide initiative that provides you with the intellectual framework to build a coherent relationship between theory and practice.

CHS delivers exciting, thought-provoking and inspiring lectures by experts within the programme and high-profile visiting lecturers. You’ll have the opportunity to explore the theoretical background and aspects of your chosen discipline through a tutored dissertation process, as well as receiving individual tutorial support from our team of expert tutors.

View more CHS information


What you need to know before you apply

Candidates are selected entirely on merit and applications are welcomed from all over the world. The selection process will consider creativity, imagination and innovation as demonstrated in your portfolio, as well as your potential to benefit from the programme and to achieve high MA standards overall.

You should have achieved a high quality first degree in architecture (RIBA Part I) or an international equivalent degree or higher, and should have at least one year’s work experience in a design office. If you wish to gain exemption from RIBA Part II, you must have completed your RIBA Part I satisfactorily.

What's needed from you

Your portfolio is a showcase of your work as an artist or designer and can be made up of images, videos or writing examples. Your portfolio helps us to better understand your application and allows you to show evidence of your ability and motivation to undertake a given programme.

Generally, we’re looking for you to demonstrate your:

  • Creativity, imagination and innovation
  • Ability to articulate the intentions of the work
  • Intellectual engagement in areas relevant to the work
  • Technical skills appropriate to the work
  • Potential to benefit from the programme

The MA Architecture programme prioritises innovation and experimentation and we are looking for students with a strong sense of curiosity, independence and agenda who want to be challenged. The majority of our students come from undergraduate studies in architecture but this is not essential and we enjoy a diverse community of students. We also strongly encourage a minimum of one year’s work experience (in a related field) before entering into masters studies.

We would like you to submit a ONE SINGLE COMPILED PDF PORTFOLIO with no more than 5 projects of maximum 10 pages per project – this should be a carefully considered document. Video/media files can be embedded or uploaded separately.

The portfolio can be evidenced through any media from drawings, images and models to film and writing, but the work must be succinct, dense and well curated and clearly articulate your interest in and intentions for the MA Architecture programme. Remember we will be viewing the document on screen so consider your layout to suit this.

In curating your portfolio it is important to prioritise student and independently led work, professional work is only of interest if it was an exceptional experience. All projects should be accompanied by a concise written description and images and content carefully selected to both communicate a coherent project trajectory and also demonstrate skills and aptitude.

Your portfolio should communicate who you are and your potential. It is important to choose the best projects that truly represent your interests, that unpack issues that are important to you or that you may wish to pursue in your masters education. Work should be well presented both visually but also in depth of content and communication. Fundamental to any work included in the portfolio should be: research, rigour, invention and visually and materially rich design exploration and representation.

Impress us!

If you are not a national of a majority English-speaking country you will need the equivalent of an IELTS Academic score of 6.5 with a 6.0 in the Test of Written English (TWE). Students achieving a grade of at least 6.0, with a grade of 5.5 in the Test of Written English, may be eligible to take the College’s English for Academic Purposes course to enable them to reach the required standard.

You are exempt from this requirement if you have received a 2.1 degree or above from a university in a majority English-speaking nation within the last two years.

If you need a Student Visa to study at the RCA, you will also need to meet the Home Office’s minimum requirements for entry clearance.

Find out more about English-language requirements

Fees & funding

For this programme

Fees for new students

Fees for September 2021 entry on this programme are outlined below. From 2021 onward, EU students are classified as Overseas for tuition fee purposes.

£9,750 per year
£19,500 total cost*
Channel Islands and Isle of Man
£14,500 per year
£29,000 total cost*
Overseas and EU
£29,000 per year
£58,000 total cost*


New entrants to the College for MA, MRes, MPhil and PhD degrees will be required to pay a non-refundable deposit in order to secure their place. This will be offset against the tuition fees for the first year of study.

Overseas and EU

* Total cost is based on the assumption that the programme is completed in the timeframe stated in the programme details. Additional study time may incur additional charges.



Scholarships are awarded for a specific programme and entry point and cannot be deferred without consent from the academic Programme and scholarships panel.

More information

External funding

There are many funding sources, with some students securing scholarships and others saving money from working. It is impossible to list all the potential funding sources; however, the following information could be useful.


Tuition fees are due on the first day of the academic year and students are sent an invoice prior to beginning their studies. Payments can be made in advance, on registration or in two instalments.

Start your application

RCA students at work (photo: Richard Haughton)

Change your life and be here in 2021

The Royal College of Art welcomes applicants from all over the world.

Before you begin

Make sure you've read and understood the entrance requirements
More information about entrance requirements
Check you have all the information you need to apply.
Read our application process guide
Visit our applications portal to get started

Ask a question

Get in touch if you’d like to find out more or have any questions.

Email us at
[email protected]
RCA Kensington cafe