Top Architecture Schools in the U.S.

U.S. Architecture Schools That Consistently Rank Best

architecture school studio area, drafting tables, students working together on projects
Architecture Students at Cooper Union. Viviane Moos/Corbis via Getty Images

Choosing an architecture school is like choosing a car: you either know exactly what interests you, or you're overwhelmed with choices. Both choices also should get you to the job you want. The decision is up to you, but certain schools consistently rank on the top-10 lists of best architecture schools. What are the top architecture schools in the United States? Which architecture program is the most respected? Which is the most innovative? Which schools have specialties, like landscape architecture or ecological architecture? What about interior design?

Finding the best architecture school that will help you achieve your goals takes some consideration; you must do your homework to have the best experience. One consideration is how a program measures up compared with other schools. Every year, a number of research firms conduct extensive surveys and rank university architecture and design programs. It turns out that some of the same schools keep appearing on these lists year after year. That's a good sign, meaning that their programs are stable and solid, with unwavering quality. Here is a discussion of what the best can offer.

America's Best Architecture and Design Schools

Before you choose a visual arts career, consider the real-world aspects. All careers in the arts involve business and marketing, and most fields of study have specialties; everyone's goal is to get a job. Architecture is a collaborative discipline, which means that what is called "the built environment" is created from the talents of many. At the center of all professional architecture study is the studio experience—an intense and collaborative practicum that makes obvious why becoming an architect cannot be a totally online learning experience.

Fortunately, the best architecture and design schools in the U.S. are located from coast to coast and are a mix of private and public. Private schools are generally more expensive but have other advantages, including an endowment for scholarships. Public schools are a bargain, especially if you establish residency and qualify for the in-state tuition rate.

The location of a school often informs the experience offered to the student. New York City schools such as Pratt Institute, Parsons New School, and Cooper Union have access to a variety of local talent as faculty, such as the Pulitzer Prize–winning architecture critic Paul Goldberger, as well as alumni who keep their bases in the city. For example, Annabelle Selldorf went to Pratt, and Elizabeth Diller attended Cooper Union. Certain schools have a rich and historically diverse backyard of "local" architecture and building techniques; think of adobe-related earth designs and processes in the American West. Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana, offers insight on how communities can rebuild after devastating hurricanes. Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) in Pennsylvania claims to "utilize the context of our dynamic, post-industrial city of Pittsburgh as a laboratory for inquiry and action."

School size is also a consideration. Larger schools may offer more, although smaller schools may rotate their required courses over a number of years. Architecture is an inclusive discipline, so think about other courses offered by the university that support the school of architecture. What made architect Peter Eisenman successful is that he "studied and made formal use of concepts from other fields, including linguistics, philosophy and mathematics, in his architectural designs." Although large universities that offer majors in many disciplines are not for everyone, they do offer a flexible variety of opportunities to meld the engineering with the art of architectural design.

Specialties

Do you want a professional or nonprofessional degree, a graduate or undergraduate degree, or a professional certificate in a field of study? Look for specialty programs and ongoing research that might interest you. Consider fields such as urban design, historic preservation, building sciences, or acoustic design. Neri Oxman, associate professor of media arts and sciences, does astounding research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in a field she calls material ecology.

Seek out Middle Eastern architecture and culture, one of the Centers of Special Interest at the University of Oklahoma. Explore architectural engineering at the University of Colorado in Boulder or the National Wind Institute at Texas Tech in Lubbock. The Lighting Research Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, calls itself "the world's leading center for lighting research and education," but at Parsons in New York City, you don't even need to study architecture for a degree in lighting design, but you can if you want to.

Look for guidance on landscape architecture programs from the professional organization American Society of Landscape Architects; turn to the International Association of Lighting Designers (IALD) for better understanding the lighting design field; check out the Council for Interior Design Accreditation to explore that field. If you're unsure, attend an institution like the University of Nebraska–Lincoln to explore many different fields.

Surround Yourself With Greatness

Great institutes attract greatness. Architects Peter Eisenman and Robert A.M. Stern were both associated with Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, as students, Eisenman attended Cornell, and Stern studied at Columbia and Yale. Frank Gehry went to the University of Southern California (USC) and Harvard University and has taught there as well as at Columbia and Yale. Japanese Pritzker Laureate Shigeru Ban studied at SCI-Arc with Frank Gehry and Thom Mayne before moving on to Cooper Union.

Friedrich St. Florian, designer of the high-profile WWII memorial in Washington, D.C., spent decades teaching at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) in Providence. You may see Pritzker Laureate Thom Mayne or author Witold Rybczynski walk the halls of the University of Pennsylvania School of Design in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, perhaps researching the archive collections of architects Anne Griswold Tyng, Louis I. Kahn, Robert Venturi, and Denise Scott Brown.

Architects Toyo Ito, Jeanne Gang, and Greg Lynn have held positions as Design Critic in Architecture at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Pritzker Laureates Rem Koolhaas and Rafael Moneo also have taught at Harvard. Remember, too, that Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer both fled Nazi Germany to be taken in by Harvard Graduate School of Design, influencing the likes of students like I.M. Pei and Philip Johnson. The top schools attract top talent not only in teaching but also in the best students from around the world. You may be collaborating on a project with a future Pritzker Laureate or assisting a published scholar on getting the next Pulitzer Prize.

Summary: The Best Architecture Schools in the U.S.

Top 10 Private Schools

Top 10+ Public Schools

Sources

  • Tenure Track Faculty, Carnegie Mellon University, https://soa.cmu.edu/tenure-track-faculty/ [accessed March 13, 2018]
  • "Peter Eisenman is the First Gwathmey Professor,' Yale News, https://news.yale.edu/2010/01/15/peter-eisenman-first-gwathmey-professor [accessed March 13, 2018]
  • About LRC, http://www.lrc.rpi.edu/aboutUs/index.asp [accessed March 13, 2018]