PhD in History + Theory of Architecture and Art

HTC currently offers two tracks of study within the PhD program: History and Theory of Architecture and History and Theory of Art. Degree requirements and admissions procedures for both tracks are the same.

The program in History, Theory and Criticism (HTC) draws upon the unique range of disciplines and professions within the Department of Architecture. The program emphasizes the study of Western (nineteenth and twentieth centuries) and Islamic art, architecture and urbanism, and methodological issues that inform or link historical and practical work. HTC was founded in 1975 as one of the first PhD programs in a school of architecture. Its mission is to promote critical and theoretical reflection within the disciplines of architectural and art history. HTC differs from other programs in that it has art historians on its permanent faculty. Visiting scholars are annually invited to teach, supplementing the core faculty.

Continuous registration is required until completion of the dissertation. Generally all subject work is completed by the end of the second year of residency and all other requirements, except for the dissertation, are completed by the end of the third year. The final two years are devoted to dissertation research and writing culminating in a defense at the conclusion of the fifth year.

Islamic Architecture and Urbanism

Within the History + Theory of Architecture PhD track, there is a concentration in Islamic Architecture. The History, Theory and Criticism Section at MIT is one of the foremost Ph.D. programs in architectural history and theory in the US. Its mission is to encourage advanced historical research and to promote critical and theoretical reflection within the disciplines of architectural and art history. The concentration on Islamic architecture and urbanism is an integral part of the HTC section. Usually, one student a year is admitted to work on an Islamic subject and is funded through the Aga Khan Program endowment. Students are expected to fulfill all HTC requirements before embarking on their thesis project.

Research projects vary in scope, method, and range from the classical period to the present. Recent Ph.D. topics include: architectural sensibility in eighteenth century Istanbul; planning colonial Beirut; Hasan Fathy's environmental concerns; the evolution of the Shrine of Shaykh Safi al-Din Ishaq in Ardabil, Iran; architecture and nationalism under Shah Muhammad Reza Pahlavi in Iran; Umayyad settlements in the Levant; and the villas of 10th century Cordoba.

Faculty Advising

Each student will be assigned an HTC faculty advisor upon admission. Generally it is the same faculty member designated to supervise research work. The advisor will consult on the initial plan of study and on each subsequent term's choice of subjects. He or she will monitor the student's progress through each phase of the degree and will assist the student in selecting a dissertation committee. This committee should be in place by the end of the fourth semester of residency.


Admissions for PhD in History, Theory and Criticism

Admission is based on an examination of applicants' graduate academic records and samples of their work. Many of our applicants already have a master's degree, although this is not a strict requirement. However, unlike other institutions, successful completion of the PhD program does not confer a master's degree for partial coursework.

The applicant's statement of purpose and letters of recommendation are very important. Previous academic work should demonstrate the applicant's intellectual and scholarly goals and achievements.

Four funded applicants are accepted each year in the Department of Architecture's PhD program in HTC. Successful PhD applicants are admitted with funding packages through MIT and the Department of Architecture (one in art history and two in architectural history). One additional architecture (or art) history placement is funded by the Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture. Candidates should expect to complete the degree in six years.

Applicants do not need to obtain an academic advisor from the HTC faculty in order to apply to the program. Faculty advisors are assigned to students once admissions decisions have been made.

Deadline and Submissions

Online Application

Application Fee



Statement of Objectives

English Proficiency Requirement

The minimum IELTS score required for PhD candidates in History, Theory and Criticism is 7.5 and the minimum TOEFL score is 650 for the paper-based test; 280 for the computer-based test; and 115 for the Internet-based test. While any of these test scores are accepted, the IELTS score is preferred.

Graduate Record Examination

Portfolio / Samples of Work

All applicants should submit evidence of recent work: scholarly and/or professional. Writing samples should illustrate research interests and capacities. For some PhD applicants, a portfolio can be submitted when it reveals the potential student's intellectual direction, or is otherwise indicative of scholarly interests and abilities.


Interviews with faculty in person or by phone are highly recommended, but not required. Because of the diverse background of our applicants, it is advantageous for them to discuss their interests with at least two members of the HTC faculty; applicants are also encouraged to sit in on an HTC class if an in-person visit is possible. Faculty schedules vary so it is best to contact the HTC office directly at least two weeks prior to an intended visit or phone appointment. Please send an email to listing the names of the HTC faculty with whom you would like to meet, the date(s) that you are available, and any classes you might like to attend. Members of the Admission Committee cannot see candidates after February 1.

Decisions and Notifications



Degree requirements for PhD in in History, Theory and Criticism

It is the student's responsibility to plan appropriately and fill out the HTC degree requirements planner available from Anne Deveau in the HTC office (Room 10-303). The planner is submitted in the fall of the second year, with updates submitted as needed. Additional paperwork is submitted upon completion of the following:

  • Qualifying paper
  • General exam: major and minor field
  • Language requirement
  • Dissertation proposal
  • Dissertation defense

Copies of these documents are submitted to the Department of Architecture degree administrator by the HTC office and filed in the student's official departmental file. The degree administrator informs the MIT registrar that degree requirements have been fulfilled.


PhD students complete 144 units (not including registration in 4.THG) during their residency at MIT. This is usually accomplished over the first two years of residency by enrolling in an average of 36 units per term, the equivalent of three subjects. The breakdown of required subjects follows:

  • 4.661, Methods Seminar, is taken each fall term for first two years—2 x 12 = 24 units
  • A minimum of six lecture or seminar subjects—6 x 12 = 72 units
  • 24 additional units of either lecture or seminar subjects or via enrollment in independent research studies with HTC faculty—2 x 12 = 24 units
  • 24 units devoted to independent thesis research in preparation for the general exams or dissertation proposal (enrolled under the thesis advisor or under others with consent; 4.689, Preparation for HTC-PhD Thesis, is often used for this purpose)—24 units

Independent study may be taken with advisor approval after the first year of residency. No more than one independent study project may be taken per term, and no more than 12 units may be devoted to any one research project. One independent study project may be devoted to minor exam preparations. Registration for an independent study project requires completion of a departmental Independent Study Project form. All required credits must be completed and incompletes resolved by the end of the fifth semester. Candidates failing to make satisfactory progress will receive a warning to that effect.

Qualifying Paper

The paper must be the result of a seminar or directed research taken during the student's HTC study at MIT and may not be in the area of the proposed thesis. The professor of the class administers the paper, but if this faculty member is outside HTC, the paper must also be read by a member of the HTC faculty. The paper should be appropriate for publication in a scholarly journal. Since this requirement should be completed before the general exams, the paper topic should be discussed with the advisor no later than the third semester.

General Examination: 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 fields of examination are set by mutual agreement between the student and the advisor. The purpose is to demonstrate the breadth and depth of the student's critical awareness of the discipline in which he or she works. Most universities, research institutions and other potential employers must be assured a graduate has areas of competence beyond his or her specialization.

The major exam is a three-hour written test covering a historically broad area of interest that includes components of history, historiography and theory. Preparation for the exam will focus on four or five themes agreed upon in advance.

The minor exam may cover a different time period from the major exam, or it may have a theoretical focus that complements the historical focus of the major exam, or it may cover in depth a topic within the field covered in the major exam. The minor exam may be a three-hour written test, or it may take the form of preparation of materials for a course: specifically, a detailed syllabus, a bibliography, an introductory lecture and one other lecture.

Although it is possible for one professor to give both exams, such an arrangement limits the student's exposure to the faculty. With approval, a faculty member outside HTC may administer the minor exam. But, an HTC faculty member must also read the exam.

Topics and examiners should be finalized no later than the fourth semester. One exam can be taken as early as the end of the fourth semester.

Language Requirement

Because of the foundational role French and German have played in the discipline of art and architectural history, successful study or testing in these two languages constitutes the usual fulfillment of this requirement. For students working on topics for which there is another primary language, a substitution may be approved. The MIT Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures administers graduate language examinations.

The language exam can only be waived under the following circumstances:

  • The student is a native speaker of the language needed
  • A university course (two years plus) has been completed for a language not administered by the language department, and a “B” or better average grade was maintained

Credits accumulated from language subjects taken to fulfill this requirement cannot be used toward the 144 credits of coursework required for the degree. It is recommended that students complete their language requirement by the end of the fourth term.

Dissertation Proposal

The dissertation committee is comprised of a minimum of three members; two must be MIT faculty members. The chair must be a member of the HTC faculty and the student's advisor. The third member may come from HTC or may be appointed from outside the department or the Institute. Students may add members in consultation with their advisor. A dissertation advisor should be selected by the end of the fourth semester.

Formal approval of the dissertation topic is gained through a proposal, which the student submits and defends to his or her dissertation committee prior to drop date of the sixth semester of registration. The proposal should contain these elements:

  • General statement of scope of the thesis
  • Significance of the thesis
  • Survey of existing research and literature with critical comments and an assessment of the extent to which this material will be utilized
  • Method of the thesis work
  • Outline or brief sketch of the thesis
  • Working bibliography
  • Resources for primary material
  • Plan of work, including a timetable

An oral examination in which the candidate meets with the dissertation committee to discuss the proposal marks the formal acceptance of the topic. The proposal is defended by the conclusion of the sixth term. Once the proposal has been approved, the student may register for 4.THG, Graduate Thesis. Download Thesis Committee Guidelines here.

Dissertation Defense

Regular contact with committee members during the process of drafting the thesis can ensure a student's readiness for thesis defense. Students are advised to meet with committee members to obtain comments and guidance throughout the writing phase of the project. The final draft should be submitted to committee members at least one month prior to the defense. The defense should be scheduled at least two weeks prior to the published Institute PhD thesis deadline.

The dissertation is defended in front of the dissertation committee. If a member of the committee is not able to attend, he or she must contact the committee chair with comments and questions. That member must also inform the committee chair of a vote.

The result of the defense can be that the thesis is accepted, accepted with revisions or rejected. If the thesis is accepted with revisions, the student makes the necessary changes to the document and submits them within an agreed time frame to all or some of the committee members. If rejected, the student must re-defend according to a timetable agreed upon at the defense.

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.

Thesis Research in Absentia

Acceptance into the program is granted with the presumption that students will remain in residence at the Institute while completing the degree. However, on occasion, work away from the Institute may be essential for such tasks as gathering data. Students who have completed all requirements except for the dissertation may therefore apply to take one or two semesters in absentia. A proposal for thesis in absentia, which outlines work to be accomplished, should be delivered to the director of HTC no later than the drop date of the semester prior to the one in which the student plans to be away. Both the HTC faculty and the dean of the graduate school must grant approval. Students must return to regular registration status for the final term in which he or she submits the dissertation and graduates.

Nonresident Research Status

Students are expected to carry out thesis research while in residence at the Institute. 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.