Studio Culture Policy


In 2005, the National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB) issued an additional condition for accreditation: Studio Culture. Each accredited school of architecture is now required to have a written policy addressing and shaping its studio culture.

This new condition was inspired by the American Institute of Architecture Students Studio Culture Task Force report, released in December 2001, which encouraged the profession to be more explicit about the pedagogical benefits and purpose of the most unique and memorable aspect of architecture education.

Subsequently, the AIAS created another task force to address both the positive and negative aspects of studio culture and issued its report in 2002. In that report, the writers call for explicit policies to support the positive aspects of studio culture, while curbing some of the more unhealthy practices. The positive values identified by the report include optimism, respect, sharing, engagement, and innovation — values that are shared and supported fully by the Department of Architecture at Cornell University.

The NAAB Studio Culture condition (condition five) reads:

  • The school is expected to demonstrate a positive and respectful learning environment through the encouragement of the fundamental values of optimism, respect, sharing, engagement, and innovation between and among the members of its faculty, student body, administration, and staff. The school should encourage students and faculty to appreciate these values as guiding principles of professional conduct throughout their careers.
  • The [school's Architecture Program Report] (APR) must demonstrate that the school has adopted a written studio culture policy with a plan for its implementation and maintenance and provide evidence of abiding by that policy. The plan should specifically address issues of time management on the part of both the faculty and the students. The document on studio culture policy should be incorporated in the APR as Section 4.2.

Overview: The Studio

Historically, the European tradition has greatly influenced American architectural education and the studio model. Looking to Europe for a standard, American architects and students of architecture in the 19th century saw the prestigious Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris as the model for architectural education. The Ecole's philosophy was imported to the U.S., and many architecture schools in the early part of this century had Paris-trained faculty. The foundation of the Beaux Arts system was the "design problem," assigned to the student early in the term and carefully developed under close tutelage. It began as an esquisse, or sketch problem, and ended with a charrette. Charrette, French for "cart," refers to the carts in which the finished drawings were placed at the deadline hour for transport to the "master" for critique. The Beaux-Arts teaching system relied heavily on knowledgeable teachers and "learning by doing." The competition was intense, and the end results were exquisitely drawn projects in traditional architectural vocabularies, generally developed on the basis of "good taste" and intuition. The style was predominantly neoclassical and the preferred program/building type was the monument. Projects were ultimately judged by a jury of professors and guest architects, who mostly used the same criteria by which students designed — "good taste." Most schools of architecture still use a "jury" or "final review" system today.

The architectural design studio today is unique in higher education, as it is at the same time a pedagogical method and a spatial concept. It is a group of people working together, generally in a large flexible space led by an instructor, wherein investigations take place, and students learn through doing, through making, and also through critique, through understanding, and through the recycling of ideas. The studio as a creative space is essential to architectural education.

Essential Components

  • Studio pedagogy: The department believes in and supports the pedagogical benefits and purpose of the studio teaching method: problem-based learning, and learning by doing.
  • Studio space: The inherent flexibility of the traditional studio space promotes interaction between students and faculty, as well as the opportunity for students to share in, learn from, and contribute to each other's work.
  • Studio culture: The predominating attitudes and behavior that characterize the functioning of a group in the studio context, in this case, the architectural community at Cornell AAP (students, faculty, administration, staff, and visitors).
  • Studio extensions: Extension of the traditional studio space includes fabrication and shop facilities, library, computer labs, review, and exhibition spaces.

Fundamental Values

It is expected in the Cornell AAP architecture community that students and faculty alike understand and share fundamental common studio values of:

  • Optimism for working towards a better world and a better-built environment
  • Respect for one another and respect for each other's work, efforts, goals, and differences
  • Sharing knowledge, ideas, and assistance
  • Engagement in studio, professional practice, and extended communities of creative practices
  • Innovation in studio projects, critical thinking, and alternative teaching methods

Program Philosophy

If one could identify a singular philosophy for the architecture program at Cornell AAP, it would be that architecture is a conceptual problem-solving discipline. The goal of the program is to produce conceptual thinkers, versed in the skills, history, theory, and science of their field. The program is oriented toward developing the student's ability to deal creatively with architectural problems on analytical, conceptual, and developmental levels. The core of the program consists of a sequence of courses in architectural design. Parallel sequences of studies in theory and history, visual representation, culture and society, environmental sciences, structures, and building technology provide a basis for the work in design. The intention has always been to instruct architecture students in issues of basic and more sophisticated formal principles, developing in them an aptitude for functional and programmatic accommodation, structural and technological integration, and materials and methods of construction. Rather than train architects who think of buildings as autonomous objects frozen in an assigned ideology, our goal is to produce architects who are capable of making independent judgments rooted in an ever-changing context of architectural thought.

Studio Philosophy

Our studio is a creative and inclusive space that encourages dialogue, collaboration, creative thinking, innovation, and a "learning by doing" pedagogy. The design studio is a professional working environment in which students and faculty work together to ask questions, identify contemporary and emerging issues, and make proposals that explore architectural concepts and ideas. These are further developed through criticism and discussion among colleagues, faculty, and visitors.


The Department of Architecture at Cornell AAP believes in and supports the value of the design studio model. Studio learning encourages dialogue, collaboration, innovation, and "learning by doing" pedagogy. The design studio is an environment where students and faculty work together to ask questions and to make proposals that explore architectural concepts and ideas. They are further developed through criticism and discussion among classmates, faculty, and visitors. Studio learning offers both intensive one-on-one as well as collaborative instruction that develops the student's critical thinking skills and spatial and material sensibilities. The design studio offers a synthetic form of education where project-based learning becomes the foundation for developing an understanding of and commitment to architecture's fundamental mission — to improve the quality of our built and natural environments.

Time Management

Time management is paramount to a learning and professional working environment. The department supports its students and faculty in leading healthy, balanced lives, as well as having regard for each other's well-being. Each student works differently but should strive to work intelligently and efficiently, not necessarily longer, in studio. Students are expected to be present during the entire studio period. Although studios are open 24 hours, working late should neither be romanticized nor be an indication of productivity.

  • Classes: The department values all of the classes in its curriculum, and students are encouraged to distribute their efforts appropriately to all academic courses.
  • Coordination: Through Year Coordinators, the department makes every effort to avoid conflicting deadlines for required architecture classes within any given year cohort. Deadlines for architecture electives and out of department classes must be handled and anticipated by the student on an individual basis.

Design Process

The department acknowledges the value of design intention and process as well as product. The department encourages grading for studio classes that affirms the values of respect for a student's ideas, the development of these ideas, and the ability to make ideas spatial and material (i.e., design product). The department encourages students to understand studio-based learning as a unique and valuable pedagogical model.


Grades are a measure of a student's overall performance in studio. Criticism, advising, and counseling are considered integral to a student's studio evaluation. Students should consider the design process as a learning experience that is equally as important as the final grade itself. Students should ensure academic integrity and proper citation of work when submitting projects.


Respect for the facility and its occupants (colleagues, staff, faculty, and visitors) is encouraged in all studio interactions. Civility, respect, and constructive feedback are critical at every level of design, research, and development to promote a collaborative, sharing environment. Respect for others' time and well-being is important when considering deadlines, meetings, reviews, and facilities usage.

Discrimination involving, but not limited to, such factors as race, color, creed, religion, national or ethnic origin, sex, sexual orientation, age, or handicap is not tolerated in studio. Sexual harassment is an act of discrimination and, as such, will not be tolerated. Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (Title IX) prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in educational programs and activities receiving federal assistance.


In addition to individual design projects, the department values team and group projects, particularly during phases of design research and development.

Interdisciplinary Learning

The department supports and encourages interdisciplinary activities through which students can acquire a broad range of skills and experiences in order to become effective designers and advocates for a productive built environment.


Faculty who teach studio are expected to have the ability to inspire students to learn, to engage students in critical thinking, to bring forward their particular expertise, and to convey a sense of optimism about the field of architecture.

Reviews and Critiques

The Desk Crit

The desk critique, or "crit," is a traditionally unique component of the design studio, where one-on-one dialogue between the student and studio instructor operates as a form of critical feedback on both the student's process and product. The studio instructor may often suggest revisions that he or she feels will help solve a particular aspect of a design problem. As a follow-up to the desk crit, the student is generally expected to more fully explore and test these options and suggestions by revisiting his or her solution. This iterative process of revisiting and revising alternative solutions is generally considered to be essential and fundamental to the design process. The studio instructor will critique the quality of the student's process of investigation and ability to reflect upon his or her own processes of design, as well as the student's ability to employ a variety of design strategies and thought processes. Faculty may employ this method of teaching in different ways, some on a daily basis, and some more occasionally in deference to more general group discussions: however, a general rule is that a student not present in studio during studio hours will not receive feedback.


Design studio reviews and critiques are essential elements of studio pedagogy, enabling and promoting interaction between students, faculty, and visiting critics. Reviews are both a means of assessing student work and an opportunity to facilitate discussion of greater issues and concerns relevant to the discipline. They should be seen as a unique learning experience in which architectural knowledge and experience is disseminated and exchanged — not just individual feedback. Public presentation and exhibition of design studio work is essential to studio pedagogy and vital to the development of effective verbal communication skills.

There are three types of reviews: working, preliminary, and final. Working reviews are more informal, where the studio critic and student/s meet to review and discuss work in process. With preliminary and final reviews, the student's more developed or final work is discussed and evaluated in open sessions that often include visiting critics. Students make brief oral presentations before the work is discussed. Occasionally there are closed reviews, where students' work is evaluated by the critics and subsequently discussed in an open setting.

Students and faculty alike are expected to arrive on time and remain engaged as active participants throughout the review process. The use of cell phones during reviews is strongly discouraged. Students should be prepared to both clearly and coherently present their own work and discuss the work of others in the studio. Instructors are responsible for informing the invited outside reviewers about project expectations and for advancing the school's commitment to a respectful studio culture that is consistent with the Studio Culture Policy. The department supports thoughtful and respectful dialogue, debate, and discussion during all reviews and presentations, and strongly discourages gratuitous personal criticism.

Unlike the majority of students throughout the university who finish the semester with scheduled final exams, the culmination of the architecture student's semester is the Final Review, a public event where faculty and invited external-to-the-studio critics discuss and critique final projects. Students are required to participate for the entire review and are encouraged to contribute comments. The Final Review period occurs at the end of every semester and is coordinated so as not to conflict with final exams. Work by every studio level is presented. Students are highly encouraged to attend all levels of Final Reviews to enrich their learning experience.


The department supports active and open dialogue in the studio, an environment in which diverse life experiences and opinions are shared. A culture of mutual respect and open inquiry supports a life-long learning process that begins in architecture school.

Plan for Implementation and Maintenance

Cornell AAP has long maintained the Student, Faculty, and Staff Handbook as a guiding document for the college community. This handbook has long served as a college-wide guiding handbook for studio culture (studio teaching, though somewhat different in nature, also exists in the departments of Art and City and Regional Planning in the college). In the spring of 2006, the department created a handbook for the then new M.Arch. program.

This Studio Culture Policy is seen as a document not only for the B.Arch. and M.Arch. professional programs, but also for the post-professional degree program, recognizing similar conditions within the three degree programs. It is not meant to replace or supersede either the Student, Faculty, and Staff Handbook, nor the M.Arch. Handbook.

Evolving Studio Culture: Review by Studio Culture Committee

Studio culture will inevitably evolve with shifts and changes in technology, in the profession, and in society. While continuing to embrace new technologies and new spatial configurations, the department must sustain and nurture a studio culture vital to the student experience. The policy must continually reflect changes while maintaining the integrity and professionalism that characterize the study and practice of architecture. Within the context of contemporary expanded studio culture in all of its diversity, connections to non-Western cultures, and diverse publics, sustaining a studio culture that emphasizes mutual respect, professionalism, and shared awareness and responsibilities will allow the school and the profession to evolve and shift in ways that will better serve the needs of the future.

The Studio Culture Policy will be reviewed by a Studio Culture Committee as needed and on an annual basis so as to maintain and further develop working principles for achieving the balance and integration of diverse goals and perspectives of the university, the college, and the architecture program.

The Studio Culture Committee is composed of faculty, student representatives, American Institute of Architecture Students student leaders, faculty program directors and coordinators, and alumni participants. The committee establishes a working mechanism for review and further development of the Studio Culture Policy.

Building Use Policies

Studio workspaces are for groups of people, and it is expected that individuals will respect the need of the group for a respectful and inclusive working environment.

  • Students may not display racist, sexist, or otherwise offensive material such as but not limited to any form of sexual harassment as defined by Cornell University policy.
  • The use of small or hidden video cameras or recorders is prohibited except with prior permission from the facilities office. Signs must be posted warning the public of their use and a student must be present to record any sound.

Proper facilities usage

Misuse of facilities will result in loss of studio and facility privileges. Students are responsible for all costs incurred for repair. Be considerate of spaces and their proper uses.

  • Sibley, Milstein, and Tjaden halls are open to the public every weekday from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. After 5 p.m. and on evenings and weekends, there is card access only. The Foundry is restricted to faculty and approved student users and Rand Hall is closed for construction until fall 2019. Each building has the following restrictions after hours and on weekends:
    • Milstein Hall: open 24/7 for architecture and AAP students with card access privileges
    • Sibley Hall: open 24/7, but labs and selected classrooms and review rooms are locked selected hours
    • Tjaden Hall: 24/7 for art students
    • The Foundry: access only for approved AAP or other Cornell students
    • Shop hours: Monday–Thursday, 8 a.m.–10 p.m. (art only 8 a.m.–12 p.m.); Friday, 8 a.m.–6 p.m. (art only 8 a.m.–12 p.m.); closed Saturday; Sunday 12–10 p.m.
  • Privilege of access may be revoked at any time for cause. All use of the architecture design studios is subject to the Studio Culture Policy.
  • Studio spaces are under 24/7 video surveillance.
  • The use of plaster, Rockite, accelerator, aerosol spray paints, hand-held torches, or toxic resins is only permitted in the spaces specifically approved for such use (The Foundry, Tjaden or Rand Hall shops/temporary Milstein Hall basement annex). The spray booth, located behind The Foundry, must be used for any project using spray paints and must be used according to posted instructions.
  • Proper use of studio space is expected. Students are responsible for all costs incurred for painting and/or repair. Misuse of space will result in the loss of studio privileges.
  • It is the student's responsibility to see that all materials are removed from classrooms (including review rooms) at the end of each class/review period and that no materials are left in public corridors, lobbies, stairs, or other paths of egress.
  • Bicycles are not to be brought into the buildings at any time.
  • All students enrolled in an architectural design studio are provided with drawer or locker space. Students furnish their own padlocks. At the end of each term, padlocks must be removed and drawers or lockers cleaned out; otherwise, padlocks will be filed off and personal materials left in drawers or lockers will be removed and discarded.
  • Only architecture students enrolled in design studio are provided with architecture studio space. At the end of the term, all personal and course materials must be removed from the buildings by the posted deadline or they will be discarded.
  • Studio fees: Each student is charged a fee each semester to help defray the continuing costs of refurbishing and replacing equipment.
  • Student mail: Mail for students received by the department office will be placed in student mailboxes in East Sibley Hall.
  • Smoking and the use of intoxicating liquors in the buildings is prohibited at all times.
  • Students may not use hot plates in the studios except with special permission.
  • No pets will be allowed in any areas of Sibley, Milstein, Rand or Tjaden halls, or The Foundry at any time except for of guide or assistance animals.
  • Personal speakers may not be played during scheduled studio or class times. Speaker volume must be kept to a minimum so as not to disturb others.

Note on Professional Accreditation

In the U.S., most state registration boards require a degree from an accredited professional degree program as a prerequisite for licensure. NAAB, which is the sole agency authorized to accredit U.S. professional degree programs in architecture, recognizes three types of degrees: the bachelor of architecture, the master of architecture, and the doctor of architecture. A program may be granted an eight-year, three-year, or two-year term of accreditation, depending on the extent of its conformance with established educational standards. Master's degree programs may consist of a preprofessional undergraduate degree and a professional graduate degree, which, when earned sequentially, constitute an accredited professional education. The preprofessional degree, however, is not, by itself, recognized as an accredited degree.

NAAB grants candidacy status to new programs that have developed viable plans for achieving initial accreditation. Candidacy status indicates that a program should be accredited within six years of achieving candidacy if its plan is properly implemented.

Equal Employment Opportunity and Non-Discrimination Statement

It is the policy of Cornell University to actively support equality of educational and employment opportunity. No person shall be denied admission to any educational program or activity or be denied employment on the basis of any legally prohibited discrimination involving, but not limited to, such factors as race, color, creed, religion, national or ethnic origin, sex, sexual orientation, age, or handicap. The university is committed to the affirmative action programs that will assure the continuation of such equality of opportunity. Sexual harassment is an act of discrimination and, as such, will not be tolerated. Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (Title IX) prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in educational programs and activities receiving federal assistance.

Cornell University is committed to assisting persons with disabilities who have special needs. A brochure describing services for persons with disabilities may be obtained from the Student Disability Services Office, Center for Learning and Teaching, 420 Computing and Communications Center, Ithaca, New York, 14853-2601. The Telecommunications Device for the Deaf (TDD) extension is (607) 255-7665. Other questions or requests for special assistance may be directed to that office.

Inquiries concerning the application of Title IX, affirmative action, sexual harassment, or persons with disabilities may be referred to the director of the Office of Workforce Diversity and Inclusion, Cornell University, 160 Day Hall, Ithaca, New York 14853-2801. The office telephone number is (607) 255-3976.

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