Program details

The Master of Science in Architecture (MS in Arch) provides the infrastructure for students to pursue advanced research under the guidance of a faculty member, resulting in a thesis. The program is open to applicants with professional undergraduate or graduate degrees in architecture or other related design fields, or for applicants with non-professional degrees in various fields depending on the research area proposed by the applicant within their application.


The MS in Arch program is a 30-credit research degree with a required graduate thesis. An MS in Arch student designates a professor to supervise their studies and to advise them in formulating a course of study in accordance with the research proposed within the application to the program.

As a research degree, this program is not subject to accreditation by the National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB), and is an accredited Iowa State University program by the Higher Learning Commission.

Learn more about architecture accreditation

This degree program has been officially designated as STEM degree program, which refers to the academic disciplines of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). STEM major designation is determined by the Office of the Senior Vice President and Provost and the Iowa Board of Regents.

With this designation, international students are eligible to extend their F-1 visas for up to three years after graduation to work in the United States.

Application requirements

Anyone applying for admission to the Master of Science in Architecture program must complete the Iowa State University Graduate College online application. As part of the application, you will be asked to provide:

  • Official academic transcripts
  • Three letters of recommendation from individuals from your educational or professional background who can most directly speak about your ability to complete graduate level course work and teaching duties
    • You will be asked within the application to provide the names and email addresses for your three references; when you submit the application, the three individuals will receive an email notification from ISU Admissions with a link to the recommendation form
  • A statement of academic and personal interest including your career goals and reasons for applying for the program (500 word maximum)
  • Digital portfolio (PDF or website), including five examples of your creative work
    • Upload to the application as a PDF, maximum size of 20MB
    • If your portfolio is web-based, upload a PDF document that indicates the website where your portfolio may be viewed
  • English Proficiency Exam (international applicants only)
  • Financial statement (international applicants only)
  • A research proposal following the directions below

Consideration date

The priority application submission date is January 4, and applications received after the deadline will be reviewed only as program resources permit.

Research Proposal

Prior to submitting the application for admission, applicants should send a 500-1000 word outline of their research proposal to Dr. Doug Spencer, director of graduate education for the Department of Architecture, at

The outline should include the research question to be addressed, the methods, means, and goals of the research to be undertaken, identification of existing literature, agenda, and timeline of research. Also include previous study, work, research and publication in the area. Please do not contact faculty directly with your inquiry before undertaking this process. 

Once the outline is received, the applicant will be advised of any faculty suitable and potentially available to undertake supervision for the proposed topic prior to the formal application procedure. Applicants may then submit a finalized research proposal with their application and, once accepted, designate a supervisory professor.

The research outline and proposal should fall within one of the following study areas:

This research group engages with the multiplicity of contemporary theoretical debates about the material and immaterial effects of experimentation in architecture. The work encompasses the widest possible range of ethical, political, scientific, environmental, and other approaches to spatial and material practices within and outside of the academy.

By exploring both products and processes, faculty in this area investigate and speculate about historical, contemporary, and future construction methods and material practices, interrogating how they are culturally, aesthetically, and environmentally situated. As the production of knowledge can itself be a transformative endeavor, these scholars question, test, and challenge established histories, norms, and conventions in order to further embolden the discipline’s generative and constitutive power to imagine the world anew.

Associated research includes a broad range of inquiries and speculations: texts, material studies, images, drawings, exhibitions, and built works. Hybridized methods support explorations into the possibilities of analog and digitally fabricated 2D and 3D outputs, installations, and full-scale assemblies in fabrication laboratories and alternative making spaces on and off campus. Faculty in this area are widely recognized through their national and international research, exhibition work, lectures, workshops, and publications.

This area of study is focused on the understanding and interpretation of architecture and urbanization within the larger social formations in which they are embedded.

Our research is informed by a wide range of theoretical positions and methodological approaches, including studies of space and spatiality, critical theory, political geography, postcolonial theory, feminism, new materialism, anthropology and cultural studies. We study architecture and urbanization as existing within a dynamic, mutually constitutive relationship with the social, the cultural, the political, the economic, the ecological, and through self-organizing and emergent systems. We are especially interested in architecture’s entanglement with different political ideologies, including those of liberalism, neoliberalism, Marxism, capitalism, communism, and nationalism.

Faculty in this area are widely recognized through their research, curatorial work, international lecturing, and publications, covering a range of topics, including histories of urbanization, critical theories of architecture, histories of global socialism and the socialist city, and complex adaptive systems (CAS). With all its variety, our research nevertheless converges around a few common themes. One concerns the problems of housing and urbanization on a planetary scale, engaging a range of methods—from empirical and practice-based, to theoretical and historical. Another point of convergence is the architectural and urban history of Central and Eastern Europe.

As climate change brings with it pressures on plant, animal and human relationships, ecological systems respond unpredictably. A new dialogue is needed where we re-establish contact with innovation and experimentation and examine technical, performative and aesthetic concerns. We need to include in our conversation not only advances in building technology, and the digital tools to predict building performance, but social and cultural questions interrogating the field as it is presented to us in the form of design tools and aspirations.

Work in this research concentration includes: building energy performance evaluation; post-occupancy evaluation; comfort; natural ventilation and air flow, energy efficiency, urban climatology; and integrated design. It also engages with perception, materialism, visual, spatial and narrative theory, working to identify and include valuable interdisciplinary discourses currently outside the field.

Faculty in this area are widely recognized through their national and international research, lectures, workshops, and publications.

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