University of Virginia: School of Architecture

Ph.D. Program in the Constructed Environment

Type: News

Ph.D. in the Constructed Environment

The Ph.D. in the Constructed Environment is a new multidisciplinary degree supporting advanced research in topics that engage one or more of the School’s four disciplines: architecture, landscape architecture, urban and environmental planning, and architectural history.

Click the headings below to read more.

Applications for Fall 2015 are available. Visit the Admissions webpages for links to the begin or return to an application as well as for frequently asked questions.

See Graduate Record

Program Overview

The constructed environment encompasses both the human-made physical world, and the social relationships that shape its history, theory and development. The Ph.D. program has been developed to respond to the wide range of problems and potentials of emerging phenomena across the constructed environment. Examples range from environmental sustainability and global infrastructure, to affordable housing and the rise of the megacity to the implications of digital production and new forms of materiality. Such phenomena are not limited to single disciplines, but require a broader multidisciplinary approach. The goal of the PhD in the Constructed Environment is to create a program that can identify, research and address such multidisciplinary concerns.

Students in the program work closely with advisors and other students in investigations that encompass environmental, economic, social, ethical, esthetic, and historical issues. The focus of individual study may span a broad range of scale, from building components and systems, to buildings, landscapes, cities, and regional and global infrastructural systems such as water, transportation and information, including the policies or practices that define these. The program prepares students for careers in academia, as well as research-oriented organizations in the public and private sectors.


For more information, contact:

Nana Last, Ph.D., Associate Professor and Program Director, Ph. D. Program:

Kristine Nelson, Director of Admissions and Financial Aid:


Applicants are required to hold a masters degree or equivalent. In addition to conventional application materials such as GRE scores and transcripts, applicants to the PhD program are required to submit the following items:
•    Sample of academic writing. This should be a substantial paper, report, or thesis produced during the applicant’s academic career, preferably at the graduate level.
•    One-page statement identifying the topic of intended research. This item serves two purposes: first, to ensure that a student enters the program with a sense of direction, and have knowledge and experience relating to their topic of interest; and second, to assist in matching applicants with advisors. As a student progresses in the program, it is possible, even likely, that the research topic will shift from this initial statement; it is not strictly binding, but it should indicate the overall direction of interest.
•    List of prospective advisors: As with the abstract described above, this list facilitates the process of matching applicants with advisors. Prospective applicants are encouraged to contact prospective advisors to discuss research interests.

The application also requires the following items:
•    Application for Virginia In-State Educational Privileges
•    Official transcripts
•    Official GRE scores
•    Official TOEFL scores (if an international applicant)
•    Three letters of recommendation
•    Resume or CV
•    Graphic portfolio. Note this item is optional, but is encouraged for applicants whose background and intended research area includes significant visual or spatial design.


A minimum of 72 credit hours is required for completion of the program, including 48 hours of coursework, to be completed in full-time residence at the University, during the first four semesters of the program. Working closely with their advisor, students will design a curriculum that provides sufficient breadth and depth of knowledge. The curriculum consists of five areas: (1) core courses, (2) methods courses, (3) specialization courses, (4) dissertation hours, and (5) non-coursework requirements.

Core Courses – 18 credit hours
Core courses are designed to allow students to develop the critical thinking necessary to evaluate the value of specific research questions and to provide links between research questions and the methods used to explore them.  The courses train students to identify and evaluate different critical frameworks in ethics, politics, and aesthetics to understand their interrelations and to identify their most prominent proponents.

•    Theories of Knowledge about the Constructed Environment: 3 credits
•    Ethics, Politics, and Aesthetics: 3 credits
•    Research Colloquium: 3 credits for each of four semesters

Methods Courses – 9 credit hours
The specific methods courses a student takes depend on the nature of their topic and their research model. The disciplines of the School encompass methods based on three fundamental research models: social sciences, humanities, and engineering. Those pursing a social sciences model using demographic data sets, common in planning-related topics, would take methods courses in statistics and data analysis. Those pursuing a humanities model of critical analysis, common in topics relating to architectural history and architecture, would take seminars on research methods related to their interest. Those pursuing an engineering model of developing improved technologies and processes, common in architecture and landscape architecture, would take technical background courses needed to analyze and develop the technology of interest.

Working closely with their advisor, students will select a series of methods courses – appropriately sampled from introductory-, intermediate-, and advanced-graduate coursework – that is best suited to acquiring the knowledge necessary for completing the dissertation. The methods courses included in an individual curriculum are subject to approval by the Ph.D. Committee.

Specialization Courses – 21 credit hours
Working closely with their advisor, students will select a series of specialization courses – appropriately sampled from introductory-, intermediate-, and advanced-graduate coursework – that is best suited to acquiring the knowledge necessary for completing the dissertation. The specialization courses included in an individual curriculum are subject to approval by the Ph.D. Committee.

Dissertation Hours – 24 credit hours
Upon achieving candidacy, students register for dissertation hours. While registered for dissertation hours, students devote their effort towards dissertation-related research.


The University of Virginia School of Architecture will launch its new doctoral degree program, a Ph.D. in the constructed environment.

The interdisciplinary doctoral degree will span all of the school’s disciplines: architecture, landscape architecture, urban and environmental planning, and architectural history.

U.Va.’s Board of Visitors endorsed the proposed program in June 2011, and the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia gave it final approval earlier this month.

The school has an established record of this type of interdisciplinary research, which the proposed doctoral program is intended to advance and augment, said Kim Tanzer, dean of the school and Edward E. Elson Professor of Architecture.

“This marks an important new chapter in the history of the U.Va. School of Architecture,” she said. “Our faculty will be able to contribute fully to shaping the next generation of academics and scholar-practitioners, and students from across the country and around the world will have the opportunity to work with U.Va.’s best-in-class faculty.”

The program will produce scholars and practitioners who can create and apply new knowledge about issues of the human-made environment. A key characteristic of these issues is their interdisciplinary scope and scale, encompassing technical, social, ethical, historical and aesthetic questions.

“One of the exciting things about the program is its combination of depth and breadth,” said Kirk Martini, associate professor and associate dean for academics in the Architecture School. “Traditionally, Ph.D. students spend most of their time with other students who are studying a topic very closely related to their own. In this program, students will regularly interact with other Ph.D. students studying problems of a quite different scale and nature.”

The term “constructed environment” refers to the environment created by human society, ranging in scale from building components to global infrastructure. Many of today’s most challenging problems relate to the constructed environment and its impact on society and the Earth. These problems include environmental sustainability, public health, affordable housing and urban sprawl.

The proposed Ph.D. in the constructed environment is structured to instill a combination of specialized knowledge guided by broad perspective.

“In this new Ph.D. program, students will learn both the common points and distinctions of their research methods, will learn to communicate with people from other disciplines, and will probably find unexpected connections between their work and others,” Martini said.

The degree program will also ensure the position of leadership of the school and the University by adding doctoral-level researchers who can provide a deeper and more sustained effort to research projects that will complement and augment the work done by undergraduates and professional master’s degree students.

“Ultimately the Ph.D. in the constructed environment will give us a powerful new vehicle to help create a more just and sustainable world,” Tanzer said.

The new Ph.D. program will welcome its first full class in the fall of 2014.

This story was first reported in UVA Today, and also picked up by the Charlottesville Daily Progress.


View the complete list of faculty available to serve as dissertation advisors.

Published: June 4, 2013