The Top 10 Schools

When it comes to architecture school, anyone with a degree in the subject already knows the drill: late nights and a lifetime's start on caffeine (or stronger stimulants). Of course, that's not the picture painted by the schools' literature and websites. These materials all tout what must be today's Big Three descriptors: sustainable, digital, and interdisciplinary. (“Those are pretty standard buzzwords,” admits University of Michigan dean Doug Kelbaugh.) We've tried to scratch beneath the surface of the top programs—both undergraduate and graduate—by talking to deans and directors and even by perusing Archinect's School Blog Project ( to get a feel for what's really going on at these elite institutions. Here's what we found.

1. VIRGINIA POLYTECHNIC INSTITUTE AND STATE UNIVERSITY, BLACKSBURG, VA.;School of Architecture + Design; College of Architecture & Urban StudiesDirector: Scott Poole
Prominent Alums: Suzanne Lovell, Lee Polisano (president, Kohn Pedersen Fox)
Bragging Rights: At Virginia Tech, freshmen in architecture, landscape architecture, industrial design, and interior design are intermingled in studios where together they learn basic design for the entire year. Furthermore, Poole says, “We put our most experienced teachers with the freshmen.” 

William Staffield

2. CORNELL UNIVERSITY, ITHACA, N.Y. College of Architecture, Art & Planning
Dean: Mohsen Mostafavi (outgoing)
Prominent Alums: Edmund Bacon, Peter Eisenman, Arthur Gensler, Richard Meier
Website Buzzwords: “simulacrum,” “evocation”
Bragging Rights: Cornell's four-year course in architecture was the first in the nation when it was established during the 1870s, and the current five-year program dates to the 1920s.

3. SYRACUSE UNIVERSITY, SYRACUSE; N.Y.School of Architecture
Dean: Mark Robbins
New Building: The Warehouse, Gluckman Mayner Architects, 2006
Prominent Alums: Bruce Fowle, Richard Gluckman, David Rockwell
Website Buzzwords: “rigorous,” “dialogue,” “integrated”
Town and Gown: Fourteen building projects are currently under way in the 140,000-person city of Syracuse. Last summer there was enough going on for students to stick around and work with faculty. “That was an old tradition of the school that hadn't happened [in many years],” according to Robbins.

Department Head: Henri de Hahn
Bragging Rights: A recent, unrestricted $60 million bequest by an anonymous donor who once attended (but did not complete) the architecture program figures to transform it in as-yet-unknown ways.

Andrew Higley

5. UNIVERSITY OF CINCINNATI, CINCINNATI, OHIO.; College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning
Interim Dean: Robert Probst
Notorious Building: the Aronoff Center for Design and Art, Peter Eisenman, 1996
Bragging Rights: UC's co-op program puts students to work. When you call the college and are put on hold, a recorded student enthuses, “Having real work experience will look so sweet on my résumé!”

Dean: Frederick Steiner
Prominent Alums: Michael Dennis, Reed Kroloff, Craig Dykers
Bragging Rights: While every school is jumping on the green bandwagon, Steiner notes that Austin was an early incubator. “The Austin Green Building Initiative laid the groundwork for LEED and involved our faculty, students, and alumni,” he says, adding that first-year architecture students have the best academic credentials of all incoming UT freshmen.

Head: Laura Lee
Prominent Alum: Roger Duffy (design partner, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill)
The Campus: Carnegie Mellon's architecture school shares a turn-of-the-century Henry Hornbostel building with art, design, drama, and music. The newest venture at CMU is a six-story structure dubbed “Building as Power Plant.” “We're proposing a building that's not only zero-energy, but will actually provide power to the campus,” says Lee. It's slated to finish in 2010.

Ray Streeter

8. KANSAS STATE UNIVERSITY, MANHATTAN, KAN.;Department of Architecture; College of Architecture, Planning and Design
Department Head: Peter Magyar
Bragging Rights: The college's quarter-century–old, award-winning journal Oz proves that there's whimsy in the heartland.
Expiration Date: K-State's time on this list will be short-lived. The undergraduate architecture program is being phased out as of 2011.

9. PENNSYLVANIA STATE UNIVERSITY, STATE COLLEGE, PA.;Department of Architecture; School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture
Department Head: Daniel Willis
New Building: Stuckeman Family Building for the School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture, Overland Partners, 2005
Bragging Rights: Visiting lecturers often comment on the high level of craft in student work, according to Willis.

School of Architecture
Dean: Thomas Hanrahan
New Building: Higgins Hall Center Section, Steven Holl Architects, 2005
Website Buzzwords: “conceptual possibilities,” “flexible typologies,” “complex ecology of interests”
Snack-Food Disaster: In 1996, a vending machine caught fire during a renovation of Pratt's existing, Victorian architecture school building, prompting Hanrahan to hire Holl.
The Campus: Hanrahan recently put his own stamp on the Pratt campus, designing the brand-new Juliana Curran Terian Design Center Pavilion with his partner, Victoria Meyers.

Michaele Pride

Director, School of Architecture and Interior Design

University of Cincinnati
Craig Cameron Olsen Michaele Pride Director, School of Architecture and Interior Design University of Cincinnati

Michaele Pride
Director, School of Architecture and Interior Design, University of Cincinnati

For Michaele Pride, social responsibility is paramount to the practice and study of architecture: “We're not doing our job if we're not responding to issues and questions that are in our own backyard.” As a student at Arizona State University and then at Harvard University, she researched the sociopolitical realities of urban design. She put that research into practice for seven years as principal of the Los Angeles firm re: architecture and led the volunteer efforts of the design community in L.A.—her hometown—following the riots of 1992.

When she had the opportunity to move to Cincinnati in 2003 (from Lexington, Ky., where she had directed the University of Kentucky's Downtown Design Center), Pride jumped at it. “It's significant for me that the school ties to the profession,” she says. “Having been a practitioner myself, I was drawn by the curriculum, the faculty, and the co-op program.”

The University of Cincinnati was the birthplace of cooperative education in 1906. Today, undergraduate students in architecture complete six quarters of professional work experience before graduation. Not surprisingly, they emerge highly employable: According to the website of the College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning, of which Pride's school is a part, more than 800 U.S. architecture firms rank Cincinnati as their first overall institution for recruitment. The graduate program at UC has long been a staple of DesignIntelligence's best schools list, but this year is the first since 2004 that its undergraduate program cracks the Top 10.

Pride believes that the school's continued strength relies on preparing students for an ever-shifting workplace. “If we focus on imparting a set of skills, those skill sets will rapidly be outdated,” she says. “The most crucial thing we can do is help our students to leave here asking the right questions.”  -- Elizabeth A. Evitts



Based on responses from 45 accredited B.Arch. programs nationwide
Catalogtree B.ARCH. STUDENTS AT A GLANCE STATISTICS FROM THE NATIONAL ARCHITECTURAL ACCREDITING BOARD Based on responses from 45 accredited B.Arch. programs nationwide


Top Three Emerging Concerns in the design professions

  1. Sustainability in Education and Practice
  2. BIM and Other Project Delivery Models
  3. Integrated Practice

Most Important Teaching Approaches (ranked in order of importance)

  1. Practice Application
  2. Theory
  3. Technical Training
  4. Internships/Co-ops