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This rigorous one-year program equips students with tools for researching, chronicling, and interpreting all aspects of design. Each student is asked to identify an individual research territory to explore during the year. Through workshops, seminars, lectures, and site-visits, students learn about the issues and policies that shape the man-made environment; deploy research methods, reporting techniques, and theoretical models; while experimenting with media for communicating their research, such as writing, podcasting, video, exhibitions, and events.

The MA department has its own floor in Manhattan’s Flatiron District. Each student has a desk space within an open-plan, light-filled workspace. The program takes advantage of its New York location with frequent visits to the city’s design collections, archives, libraries, design and architecture studios, and behind-the-scenes access to new exhibitions, buildings, and urban planning ventures. With more than 30 guest lecturers and critics visiting the department per semester to supplement the core curriculum, the program connects students to inspirational mentors and helps them to forge relationships with potential employers and colleagues.


  • Successful completion of 30 credits, including all required courses, administrative requirements and the thesis project. Documentation of all thesis projects must be on file in the Design Research, Writing and Criticism Department to be eligible for degree conferral. 
  • A matriculation of one academic year. Students must complete their degree within two years, unless given an official extension by the provost.
  • Students are required to maintain a minimum grade point average of 3.0 (B) in order to remain in good academic standing.

Note: Departmental requirements are subject to change by the department chair if the chair deems that such change is warranted.


Fall Semester
DRG-5030    Research and Writing I
DRG-5060    History of Design, Architecture and Urbanism
DRG-5090    Contemporary Design, Architecture and Urbanism
DRG-5110    Cultural Theory and Thesis Development

Spring Semester
DRG-5535    Research and Writing II
DRG-5620    Media Workshop
DRG-5900    Thesis Research, Writing and Production

General Course Listing

Research and Writing I
Fall semester: 4 credits
This course offers tools and inspiration for probing journalism—covering reporting strategies, research methods, writing styles and ethics. How to create a compelling narrative, use language vividly and precisely, and structure different writing formats will be addressed, and students will research, report, write and edit news stories, features, profiles and reviews. Distinguished writers will visit the class to discuss their strategies and experiences. Students will learn how to initiate and develop story ideas and to pitch stories to editors. Structuring a story using a lede, nut graf and kicker will be explored. Particular emphasis is put on interviewing techniques, which play an important part in gathering information for all kinds of stories. Students will conduct several interviews and produce finished, written pieces, including profiles, reviews, news articles and short features.

History of Design, Architecture and Urbanism
Fall semester: 4 credits
This course aims to equip students with a working knowledge of design and its discourses during the modern era, from 1650 to the present. We will begin with design of the Enlightenment, followed by the impact of the Industrial Revolution on cities, buildings and objects. Then students will engage modernism and its legacy, both in hegemonic and in alternate, less-enfranchised manifestations. These historical wayposts will be considered through the traces of particular designs—including not only things that were constructed and manufactured, but also drawings and other images, as well as written texts that have engaged, provoked, prescribed, or proscribed the designs. These historical artifacts and the arenas in which they were produced will be filtered through a series of interpretive models, including Foucaultian analysis, orientalist critique, gender and queer theory, nationalist and subaltern criticisms, and other methods of analysis essential to contemporary understandings of the history of design.

Contemporary Design, Architecture and Urbanism
Fall semester: 4 credits
This course will provide an overview of some of the social, economic, political, institutional and personal forces giving shape to our contemporary designed environment—both in New York City and globally. Through seminars, a selection of walking tours, site walk-throughs and visits to some of the city’s design and architecture studios and planning offices, students will be introduced to the issues, controversies and development conflicts that impact the urban environment, and the protagonists who play a role in them. They will investigate how everything from the tallest skyscraper to the smallest bit of ephemera is part of the design ecosystem that is otherwise known as a city, and will also attend at least one local community board meeting to find out how urban design is affected by the political process. By the end of this course, students will be familiar with the work of a broad range of international designers, architects and urban planners, and will be conversant with many of the policies and processes that determine the material form of the 21st-century city.

Cultural Theory and Thesis Development
Fall semester: 4 credits
Through group meetings and one-on-one consultations, each student will choose a thesis topic that is innovative and rich enough to withstand extended inquiry. Students will be guided through the process of identifying problems, developing critical questions, conducting a literature review and embarking on primary research. This seminar also exposes students to key issues in cultural theory and criticism, with a view to the study and interpretation of designed space and objects. Special consideration will be given to the development of critical positions that serve as a lens for reading the complexity of the built environment within a larger context. Sessions will focus on key texts drawn from disciplines that include philosophy, critical theory, art criticism, cultural studies, anthropology and media studies. These readings offer different perspectives on cultural economies, politics and systems of meaning.

Research and Writing II
Spring semester: 4 credits
Working directly with primary sources, including correspondence, institutional documents and promotional materials, students will explore the interrelated processes of uncovering, collecting and categorizing data, and will test a range of methodologies derived from various disciplines. Students will visit a selection of New York’s most significant and esoteric public and private archives, collections and libraries, and be directed to vetted website resources. Through a series of workshops, students will experiment with different writing styles, and continue the work of honing a writerly voice and integrating personal experience with objective observation and research. With the shared goal of helping to foster public discussion about design through clear, engaging and illuminating writing, students will be introduced to the protocols and processes of various writing genres, such as criticism, features and online posts, as well as personal and academic essays.

Media Workshop
Spring semester: 4 credits
The media workshop is predicated on the idea that critical research and writing encompasses a rapidly expanding range of media and that a researcher, writer, editor or scholar working in the contemporary design and media landscape needs to be proficient in multiple media formats beyond the written text. Students will learn how to translate their thinking about design, architecture and visual culture into the form of a compelling radio podcast, video essay, exhibitions or event. The medium to be explored will be chosen by the department chair, and based upon student interest. By the end of this workshop, students will have produced several pieces for their portfolios.

Thesis Research, Writing and Production
Spring semester: 6 credits
The thesis consists of two essays and an applied essay, which together explore a particular research theme connected to design, architecture or visual culture and that makes an original and significant contribution to knowledge. Working in consultation with their thesis advisors, students will develop detailed research plans, identify useful archives and sources, and analyze the results of their research. They will also meet regularly with their advisors during the writing and editing phases. For the applied essay, students will pick a media format through which they wish to disseminate their research findings (i.e., blog, exhibition, radio program, organization, website, book, audio tour, or event). Students may work in collaboration with graduate students from other departments for the creation of their chosen project. Aspects of the thesis portfolio will be published as a print-on-demand book.


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