Studio Culture Policy


In 2005, the National Architectural Accreditation 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 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 which are shared and supported fully by the Department of Architecture at Cornell University.

As stated in the 2014 Conditions for Accreditation:
I.1.2 Learning Culture: The program must demonstrate that it provides a positive and respectful learning environment that encourages optimism, respect, sharing, engagement, and innovation between and among the members of its faculty, student body, administration, and staff in all learning environments, both traditional and nontraditional.

  • The program must have adopted a written studio culture policy3 and a plan for its implementation, including dissemination to all members of the learning community, regular evaluation, and continuous improvement or revision. In addition, the plan must address the values of time management, general health and well-being, work-school-life balance, and professional conduct.
  • The program must describe the ways in which students and faculty are encouraged to learn both inside and outside the classroom through individual and collective learning opportunities that include but are not limited to field trips, participation in professional societies and organizations, honor societies, and other program-specific or campus-wide and community-wide activities.

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. Essential Components are:

  • 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.


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

The Department supports its students and faculty in leading balanced lives. The fact the architecture studios are open for student use twenty-four hours a day should not be interpreted falsely. Not only at Cornell, but in architecture schools across the country, the romance of the "all-nighter" is pervasive. Students are encouraged to work intelligently and efficiently, not necessarily longer, in studio. Rational use of time in developing work habits is encouraged. The "tradition" of all night work is discouraged, as an indication of poor planning. As studios are open 24 hours, this temptation may exist, but the Department prefers to not allow this to become overly romanticized. The result is generally counterproductive. The Department values all of the courses in its curriculum. Students are encouraged to distribute their efforts equally to all academic courses. Through year coordinators, the Department makes efforts to avoid conflicting deadlines for architecture courses. Deadlines for out of College courses not maintained by the Department must be handled individually.

Design Process

The Department acknowledges the value of design intention and process as well as design product. The Department encourages grading for studio courses 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 (product). The Department encourages students to understand studio-based learning as a unique and valuable pedagogical model which promotes open-ended questions, for which there may be no "right" or "wrong" answers.


Grades are one measure of a student's performance in studio. Criticism, advising, and counseling are considered integral to a student's studio evaluation.


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 quality 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 Critique

The desk critique, or "crit," is a traditional unique component of design studio, a one-on-one dialogue between the student and studio instructor which acts as a form of critical feedback on both the student's process and product in addressing assigned design problems. The studio instructor may often suggest revisions that he or she feels will better solve a particular aspect of the 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 process of revisiting and revising alternative solutions, a recycling of ideas, is generally considered to be essential to the design process. The studio instructor will generally critique the quality of the student's process of investigation and ability to reflect on his or her own process of designing and employing design strategies and thought processes. Faculty may employ this method of teaching in individual ways, some on a daily basis, and some more occasionally in deference to more general group discussions, but a general rule is that a student not present in studio during studio hours will not receive desk criticism.


Design studio reviews and critiques are essential elements of studio pedagogy, enabling and promoting interaction between students, faculty, and outside visitors. Reviews are simultaneously a means of assessing student work and an opportunity to facilitate discussion of greater issues and relationships, and should be seen as a unique learning experience in which a wealth of knowledge and experience is disseminated, and not as individual evaluations. Public presentation and exhibition of design studio work is essential to studio pedagogy, and vital for the development of effective verbal communication skills. Reviews may take on different formats: working, preliminary, and final. Working reviews are open, where the critic and student meet to review and discuss work. Preliminary and final reviews may be open or closed. In the closed review, the student's work is evaluated in closed session without oral explanations by the student. The work is subsequently discussed in open session with the student. A modified form of the closed review is one in which students make brief oral presentations before jury deliberation in closed session.

In general, students and faculty alike are expected to arrive on time and remain engaged as active participants throughout the review process. Students should be prepared for the clear and coherent presentation of their work and be prepared to discuss both their work and the work of others in the studio. Instructors are responsible for informing invited outside reviewers about the expectations communicated to the students for the project to be reviewed, and the expectation that reviews will reflect the school's commitment to studio culture policy; regarding respect and values, instructors and visitors are discouraged from employing gratuitous personal criticism. The Department supports thoughtful and respectful dialogue, debate and discussion during all reviews and presentations.

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 usually the Final Review, a public event in which faculty and outside critics discuss and critique final projects, and students respond. The "Final Review" period occurs at the end of every semester, is coordinated so as not to conflict with final exams, and work by every level of studio is presented. Students are highly encouraged to attend all levels of Final Reviews to enrich their exposure and 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.

Evolving Studio Culture: Review by Studio Culture Committee

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. Studio culture will inevitably evolve with shifts and changes in technology, in the profession, and in society. An obvious example is that the desk in the studio now includes the laptop computer, which, together with wireless technology, can be used anywhere, expanding and changing the spatial nature of the traditional studio. 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. Through sustaining a studio culture that emphasizes mutual respect, professionalism, and shared awareness and responsibilities among students, faculty, staff, and administration, the school and the profession will be able to evolve and shift in ways that will better serve the needs of the future.

The Studio Culture Policy will be reviewed and revised on an annual basis, 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.

Building Use Policies

1. The five College buildings — Sibley Hall, Rand Hall, Tjaden Hall, The Foundry, and Milstein Hall — are open every day, 24 hours per day, to AAP students engaged in regular College work. This privilege may be revoked at any time for cause. For all other activities and for outsiders, the buildings are open at the following hours: 7 a.m.–5 p.m., Monday–Friday. All use of the design studios is subject to the Studio Culture Policy.

2. The use of ungrounded extension cords (2-wire) is prohibited, as well as the joining of one extension cord to another.

3. The use of small or hidden video cameras for installations is prohibited except with prior permission from the Dean's office and Department head. Signs must be posted warning the public of their use.

4. The use of plaster, aerosol spray paints, hand-held torches, or toxic resins is absolutely prohibited — except in the spaces specially provided for these purposes in the Foundry, Tjaden, or the Rand Hall shop. The spray booths in Rand and Tjaden must be used for any project using spray paints and must be used according to posted instructions.

5. 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 loss of studio privileges.

6. It is the student's responsibility to see that all materials are removed from classrooms (including review rooms) at the end of each class period, and that no materials are left in public corridors, lobbies, stairs, or other paths of egress.

7. Bicycles are not to be brought into the buildings at any time.

8. All students in architectural design 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.

9. Architecture students enrolled in design studio are provided with 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.

10. Studio Fees: Each student is charged a fee each semester to help defray the continuing costs of refurnishing and replacing equipment.

11. Student Mail: Mail for students received by the Department office will be placed in student mailboxes in East Sibley Hall.

12. Studio workspaces are for groups of people, and it is expected that individuals will respect the needs of the group for a good working environment.

13. Smoking and the use of intoxicating liquors in the buildings is prohibited at all times.

14. Students may not use hot plates or other appliances in the studios except with special permission.

15. Students may not display in studios pictures, calendars, cartoons, or other material with sexual content that is or may be a form of sexual harassment as defined by Cornell University policy


16. No pets will be allowed in any areas of Milstein, Sibley, Rand, the Foundry, or Tjaden at any time, with the exception of guide or assistance animals.

17. Radios and personal stereos may not be played during scheduled class time.

Note on Professional Accreditation

In the United States, most registration boards require a degree from an accredited professional degree program as a prerequisite for licensure. The National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB), which is the sole agency authorized to accredit professional degree programs in architecture offered by institutions with U.S. regional accreditation, 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. Doctor of Architecture and Master of Architecture degree programs may require a preprofessional undergraduate degree in architecture for admission. However, the preprofessional degree is not, by itself, recognized as an accredited degree.

Cornell University, College of Architecture, Art, and Planning, Department of Architecture offers the following NAAB-accredited degree programs:

Bachelor of Architecture (B.Arch.)

176 undergraduate credits

Next accreditation visit for the B.Arch.: 2016

Master of Architecture, Professional (M.Arch.)

114 graduate credits

Next accreditation visit for the M.Arch.: 2021

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