M.S. AAD Policies and Rules

1. Curricular Options

The M.S. AAD program has two distinct curricular options, one that is completed in three semesters, and one that is completed in four semesters. Both options have the same initial summer and fall semesters. After the summer semester in New York City, the program continues in Ithaca where the three-semester option consists of two additional design studios, six elective classes, and a final project; while the four-semester option requires one additional design studio, seven elective classes, and a two-semester thesis.

2. Admission to the Three- and Four-Semester Options

All applicants to the M.S. AAD program apply to the three-semester curricular option. Students may also indicate their interest in, and preference for, the four-semester curricular option during the application process. Students interested in the four-semester option must be accepted and matriculate in the three-semester option. Such students may formally apply to the four-semester option at the end of the initial fall semester and are notified of their acceptance status before the start of the spring semester.

3. Financial Aid

Outstanding applicants will be considered during the admissions process for scholarships that offer partial tuition, named awards that provide additional support, and a limited number of partial teaching assistantship positions within the Department of Architecture. These assistantships offer both a stipend and partial tuition remission.

4. Sequence and Credit Hours

Students are encouraged to follow the semester-by-semester required curricula. Required nonelective studio or thesis classes must be taken in sequence during the semester indicated. Required elective classes not satisfied in the specified semester must be taken in subsequent semesters, together with all other required elective classes.

Students may not take more than 20 credit hours per semester. Students who wish to take fewer than 12 or more than 20 credits in any given semester must submit a petition to the M.S. AAD committee requesting permission.

5. Major Concentrations, Minor Concentrations, and Territories of Investigation

All students in the M.S. AAD program have a major concentration in advanced architectural design within the Graduate Field of Architecture. Learn more about Cornell's unique organization of graduate education, consisting of graduate fields and special committees.

Students in both the three- and four-semester curricular options select a specialized territory of investigation (TI) chosen from among the following four options: Architecture and Discourse; Architecture and Ecology; Architecture and Representation; and Architecture and Urbanism. TI elective classes may include designated classes within the Department of Architecture, as well as nondepartmental classes that are either designated by the M.S. AAD committee as appropriate for particular TIs or approved by the student's advisor or special committee chair. In addition to their major concentration in advanced architectural design, students in the three-semester option also have a minor concentration in advanced architectural design.

In addition to their major concentration in advanced architectural design, students in the four-semester curricular option select a minor concentration — consistent with their territory of investigation — from among the hundreds available at Cornell, either within the field of architecture (i.e., advanced architectural design, theory and criticism or architecture, urban design, building technology and environmental science, computer graphics, history of architecture, and history of urban development), or outside the field of architecture (e.g., sociocultural anthropology, photography, studio art, East Asian literature and culture, biological engineering, structural mechanics, transportation systems engineering, human-computer interaction, comparative literature, sustainable design studies, human factors and ergonomics, feminist, gender, and sexuality studies, visual studies, and other possibilities found within graduate fields throughout the university). Students in the four-semester option choose TI (and open) electives during the fall semester and choose minor (and open) elective classes — consistent with their territory of investigation — during the final spring and fall semesters. Minor electives must be approved by the student's special committee. A list of graduate fields and their available concentrations can be found on the Graduate School website.

6. Advisors and Special Committees

All students matriculating into the M.S. AAD program will be assigned a two-member special committee consisting of graduate faculty representing the advanced architectural design concentration; this assignment will take place before the third week of classes. For students who are admitted into the four-semester curricular option, the appointed special committee may be replaced by a new special committee selected by the student (with the consent of the faculty members selected) as soon as the student has identified a minor concentration, but no later than three months prior to the student's final examination at the end of the second fall semester. The new special committee must include a committee chair representing the concentration of advanced architectural design and a minor member representing the minor concentration area.

7. Design Studio and Thesis Classes

All M.S. AAD students take the first two design studio classes, Design A and Design B, during the summer and initial fall semester. Students in the three-semester option complete their design requirement by taking Design C in the spring semester and submitting a final project (in lieu of a thesis) that is reviewed by the M.S. AAD committee. Students in the four-semester option satisfy their design requirement by completing a two-semester thesis in advanced architectural design during the spring and second fall semester. The final thesis is reviewed by the student's special committee.

Design A, B, and C

All M.S. AAD students take both a specialized design studio (Design A) during the initial summer semester in New York City as well as topic studios offered in the department of architecture during subsequent semesters in Ithaca (fall and spring for students in the three-semester option; fall only for students in the four-semester option). Topic studios investigate advanced programs in architectural design and include upper-level students from Cornell's two professional degree programs (B.Arch. and M.Arch.) as well as post-professional M.S. AAD students.

Final project

Students in the three-semester option enroll in ARCH 8903 Projects in Advanced Architectural Design during their third semester in order to prepare a final project (in lieu of a thesis). The final project consists of documentation drawing on work from the student's three design studios and TI elective coursework that demonstrates expertise in the student's TI. The final project is supervised and reviewed by the student's special committee and approved by the M.S. AAD committee.

Students must submit their final project in a format that has been approved by the field to the Graduate School prior to the conferral of the degree. Final projects will be archived by the Cornell Library.


Students in the four-semester option enroll in a two-semester thesis in advanced architectural design. The thesis is comprised of two 9-credit independent study classes under the supervision of the student's special committee. The thesis is presented to the special committee in two parts: first, as a "defense," or final (oral) exam, which covers the topic of the master's thesis and often takes the form of a design presentation and critique; and second, as a thesis book, which includes an abstract not to exceed 600 words, and which conforms to the requirements of Cornell's Graduate School.

Students must submit their thesis to the Graduate School prior to the conferral of the degree. Theses will be digitally archived by the Cornell Library.

8. Elective Classes

TI electives

All students are required to take TI electives as specified in the curriculum. TI elective classes are those that have been designated or approved as being appropriate for the various TIs.

Minor electives

Students in the four-semester program are required to take minor electives as specified in the curriculum. Minor elective classes are selected by the student, in consultation with the student's special committee, as being appropriate for the student's minor concentration.

Open electives

All M.S. AAD students select open electives from any department in the university. Open electives must be 3000-level or higher. Students must petition to take introductory or lower-level classes below the 3000-level. Students in the three-semester option are required to successfully complete two open electives. Students in the four-semester option are required to successfully complete three open electives.

Auditing classes

Classes completed with an audit grade cannot be applied toward any curricular requirement.

9. Good Academic Standing

To be in a good academic standing, a student must:

  • Follow the prescribed M.S. AAD curriculum outlined in this catalog;
  • Successfully complete the minimum number of academic credits specified for each semester with minimum course grades as stipulated below;
  • Earn a minimum semester grade point average (GPA) of 2.300;
  • Earn no letter grade lower than C in design.

10. Academic Review

At the end of each semester, the M.S. AAD committee reviews the record of each student who is not in good academic standing and selects an appropriate action from among those described below:

  • The student is issued a warning. This means the student's performance does not meet expectations. Unless improvement is shown in the subsequent semester, the student may be required to withdraw from the program.
  • The student is placed on a required withdrawal. The student may not re-register in the M.S. AAD program, is dismissed from the graduate school, and is permanently prohibited from continuing studies in it.

The above actions are not necessarily sequential. A student may be placed on a required withdrawal if performance during that semester is deemed to be deficient.


A student who has been placed on a required withdrawal from the M.S. AAD program has two weeks from the time of being notified of the decision to appeal in writing. The appeal, addressed to the director of the M.S. AAD program, should explain any extenuating circumstances that contributed to the student’s academic performance. The decision of the M.S. AAD committee on the appeal is final. No further appeals will be considered.

11. Advanced Standing

There is no advanced standing, or credit for classes taken elsewhere, in the M.S. AAD program. All students must complete all curricular requirements at Cornell AAP's New York City and Ithaca campuses during the semesters specified.

12. Independent Study

Students wishing to pursue an architecture department independent study course must complete an Architecture Independent Study form, endorsed by a faculty member in the department, and submit it to the architecture department office in accordance with enrollment deadlines. Independent study classes of 3 or more credits can be applied toward open elective requirements or when approved by the student's advisor or special committee chair, for TI or minor elective requirements. Contact the graduate programs coordinator in the Department of Architecture for additional information and the required form.

13. Grades

All required TI and minor electives, as well as design studio classes, must be taken for a letter grade. Open electives can be taken under the letter or satisfactory/unsatisfactory (S/U) grading basis. A letter grade of D- or higher or a grade of S or SX is required for an elective class to be applied toward the open, TI, or minor elective requirement. A grade of C or higher is required for a design studio or thesis class to be applied to toward the design studio or thesis requirement. Students who fail to maintain these grade standards are not in good academic standing.

14. Studio Attendance and Culture

All students are provided with workspace and are expected to be present during regular class hours for instruction and criticism. The department's Studio Culture Policy is available on the architecture department website.

15. Leaves of Absence

Cornell's Graduate School Code of Legislation stipulates that a "leave of absence can be granted for personal or health reasons. Leaves run for a period of up to 12 months and may be renewed annually to a maximum of four calendar years." Detailed information about leaves for reasons related to personal issues, health, or parental accommodation can be found on the Grad School website.

16. Petitions

Students may request to deviate from the curriculum or other program requirements by submitting a petition to the M.S. AAD Committee in accordance with enrollment deadlines.