PhD in Design and Computation

The PhD program is broadly conceived around computational ideas as they pertain to the description, generation, and construction of architectural form. Issues range from the mathematical foundations of the discipline to the application and extension of advanced computer technology. The mission of program is to enhance and enrich design from a computational perspective, with clear implications for practice and teaching.

Faculty, research staff, and students work in diverse but overlapping and mutually supportive areas. Work on shape representation, generative and parametric design is directed at a new computational basis for design. Work on digital modeling and rendering seeks to extend the possibilities of visualizing design ideas and un-built work, as well as to improve architectural design practice where designers and technical collaborators are geographically separated. Work on rapid prototyping and CAD/CAM technologies aims to expand design possibilities through the physical modeling of design ideas, and to revolutionize the construction and building phase of architectural practice.

Research employs computational media for the representation and use of design knowledge. Faculty, research staff, and students associated with the group combine education in architecture and urban design with education in computer graphics, art, mathematics, and other fields.

The minimum residency requirement for the PhD degree is two years and it is expected that most students will take no more than five years to complete the degree.

Faculty Advising

Each student will be assigned a faculty advisor in Computation upon admission. The advisor will consult on the student's initial plan of study and on the choice of subjects in subsequent terms. He or she will assist the student in selecting an advisory committee and subsequently a dissertation committee. Often, but not always, the faculty advisor becomes the dissertation committee chair if the student so desires.


Admissions for PhD in Design and Computation

Admission to the Department of Architecture for the PhD program in Design and Computation is by competition among applicants for an average of two or three places available with a five-year funding package each year. It is based on a careful examination of the applicant's previous academic record including relevant samples of completed academic and research work, a statement of purpose, and letters of recommendation. The applicant should demonstrate superior intellectual achievement, and the ability to initiate and carry through to completion independent academic work in the Computation area. Successful applicants will have previous degrees in architecture or a closely related discipline. The applicant is encouraged to discuss his or her academic goals with a faculty member in Computation prior to submitting an application.

Deadline and Submissions

Online Application

Application Fee



Statement of Objectives

English Proficiency Requirement

The minimum IELTS score required for PhD applicants in Design and Computation applicants is 7 and the minimum TOEFL score is 600 for the paper-based test; 250 for computer-based test; and 100 for the Internet-based test. While either test score is accepted, the IELTS score is preferred.

Graduate Record Examination

The Graduate Record Examination (GRE) is not required for the PhD in Design and Computation application.


A portfolio is strongly suggested for PhD applicants. Research papers or a portfolio of the applicant's work (maximum of 30 pages) may be uploaded to the Architecture Graduate Application to aid the admissions committee but are not required.


Because of the small size of the program, interviews with faculty are highly recommended, but not required. It is advantageous for applicants to meet with the Computation faculty member doing research most closely aligned with the research interests of the applicant. Faculty members have varying schedules, and travel when school is not in session. Thus it is best to contact the faculty member directly at least two weeks prior to an intended visit.

Decisions and Notifications



Degree requirements for PhD in Design and Computation

It is the student's responsibility to fill out the appropriate section of the Report of Completed Design and Computation/PhD Requirements upon completion of the requirements listed below. This document is submitted to the degree administrator and kept in the student's official departmental file. The degree administrator informs the MIT registrar that the degree requirements have been fulfilled.

Subject Work

PhD Students are expected to complete at least 144 units of subject work while in residency at MIT. This is usually accomplished over two years by enrolling in an average of 36 units per term-the equivalent of three or four subjects. In those special cases where the student is awarded advanced standing at admission, the unit requirement is lowered accordingly. The only specific subject requirement is 4.581 Proseminar in Computation. All other subjects are selected in consultation with the faculty advisor and may be taken outside of the Department of Architecture. Registration in 4.THG, Graduate Thesis, does not count toward the 144-unit requirement.

PhD students in Design and Computation are expected to enroll in 4.581, Proseminar in Computation, during their first year in residence. The Proseminar is meant to provide a rigorous grounding in the field with a focus on specific research topics related to architecture and design practice.

Major and Minor Fields

Major and minor fields must be approved by the student's advisory committee. Normally, the minor field requirement will be satisfied by outstanding performance in three related subjects (not less than 27 units). The major field requirement is satisfied upon successful completion of the general examination.

General Examination

The general examination is given after required subject work is completed and is taken no later than the third year of residency. The general examination is meant to show broad and detailed competence in the student's major field of concentration and supporting areas of study. The content and format of the general examination are decided by the student's advisory committee in consultation with the student. The committee evaluates the examination upon completion and may 1) accept the examination, 2) ask for further evidence of competence, or 3) determine that the examination has not been passed. In the event that the general examination is not passed, the committee may allow the student to repeat the examination or may recommend that the student withdraw from the PhD program.

Dissertation Proposal

The PhD dissertation is a major work that makes an original scholarly contribution. It is the main focus of the doctoral program in Design and Computation, and it serves as the primary indicator of a PhD student's ability to carry out significant independent research.

The completed dissertation must be presented orally in an open meeting of the faculty of the department; at least three faculty members must be present. After the presentation, the dissertation is either accepted or rejected.

A dissertation committee of three or more people approves the dissertation topic, and supervises the research and writing of the dissertation. The student's advisor is always a member of the dissertation committee and typically serves as its chair. The chair must be a member of the Computation faculty. When specialized guidance is necessary, one of the three members of the dissertation committee may be selected from outside the Department of Architecture. Approval of the dissertation topic is gained through a proposal submitted by the student to his or her dissertation committee. An oral examination in which the student meets with the dissertation committee to discuss the proposal should be planned for the third year of residency and marks the formal acceptance of the topic. Students who are preparing their thesis proposals will often register for Preparation for Computation PhD Thesis (4.589) that same term. Once the proposal has been approved, the student may register for Graduate Thesis (4.THG). The student may be asked to present his or her dissertation proposal in the class Research Seminar in Computation (4.582). The student is responsible for arranging meetings with the committee members on a regular basis, no less than once a semester.

Dissertation Defense

An oral defense of the completed dissertation in front of the student's dissertation committee is required. The committee may accept the dissertation at the oral defense or may ask for revisions. The PhD is awarded after two copies of the defended, approved, archival-ready dissertation have been submitted to the Department of Architecture at its headquarters. The copies must be submitted by the Institute deadline for doctoral theses as published in the MIT Academic Calendar. Students must adhere to the Specifications for Thesis Preparation published by the Institute Archives. Download Thesis Committee Guidelines here.

Nonresident Research Status

Students are expected to carry out thesis research while in residence at MIT. It is rare that a PhD candidate in Design and Computation will need to apply for nonresident status. However, should a student who has completed all requirements except for the dissertation need to continue thesis research in years beyond the awarded funding, he or she may opt to apply for nonresident research status with the permission of the dissertation advisor.

English Proficiency Requirement

All students whose first language is not English are required to take the English Evaluation Test (EET) prior to registration at MIT. Even students who satisfy the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) or Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) requirement for admission may be required to take specialized subjects in English as a Second Language (ESL), depending on their EET results. These subjects do not count toward the required degree credits but will prove valuable in helping students develop the skills necessary to write a dissertation.