Master of Science in Architecture, concentration in Urban Design

MS. Arch., Post-Professional Degree, STEM Designated, based at the WAAC

program philosophy

The boundaries among the practices of Landscape Architecture, Architecture, and Urban Design are increasingly fluid. Graduates of the School of Architecture + Design from both the Architecture and the Landscape Architecture programs increasingly find themselves practicing as de facto urban designers, bringing the considerable tools of their disciplines to bear on large-scale, city-changing development projects. There they face less familiar issues of real estate development, public policy, and the public process. Mastery and command of the full range of diverse issues in urban design and planning often depend on ad hoc and informal learning in the field. The Urban Design Concentration (UDC) will provide a rigorous and formalized setting for students who are interested in synthesizing the design and planning disciplines to prepare them to address the significant issues facing cities and metropolitan regions today.

The Master of Science in Architecture, UDC at Virginia Tech is a STEM Designated program in Architectural and Building Sciences/Technology (CIP code 04.0902). The STEM Designation allows international students graduating from the MS.Arch program to apply for an additional 24-month extension after their initial 12 month-long Optional Practical Training (OPT), with eligibility for a total of 36 months of practical training in the United States.

location of study

Based at the Washington-Alexandria Architecture Center (WAAC) the UDC will be positioned to leverage the unique assets of the WAAC, such as its proximity to the nation’s capital and its international student body, along with its close relationships with existing graduate programs in Architecture, Urban and Regional Planning, and Public Administration and Policy. The WAAC was founded to provide an urban laboratory for Virginia Tech students. In its 30 years in Alexandria, the WAAC and its faculty have cultivated close and productive relationships with institutions and organizations focused on urban issues. These include several large design firms with urban design practice groups, research organizations such as the Brookings Institution and the Urban Land Institute, public planning entities such as the National Capital Planning Commission, and cultural institutions such as the National Building Museum, as well as numerous embassies, federal agencies, and city and county governments.


Admission to the Urban Design program requires a design background. Applicants should ideally possess a professional degree in Architecture or Landscape Architecture. Students with non-professional degrees must provide a transcript showing a minimum of four semesters of design studio. Students should have a minimum of two years of experience in design, planning, or a related field before applying. Applications for admission require that one letter of reference come from someone outside of academia. A clear statement of interest is also required.

The program requires the completion of 36 credits, three semesters of full-time study. The curriculum includes a minimum of required courses, including design studio and thesis, intended to give the student competencies across design, planning, and public policy. Electives should be chosen based on the student’s own proposed focus as developed in the program of study.

For more information, contact Professor Susan Piedmont-Palladino at


The first semester of the program is designed to refine the skills of incoming students in their own discipline and at the same time require coursework outside their discipline. For example, Architects would take a Landscape elective; Landscape graduates would take an Architecture elective. At least one cross-disciplinary elective must be in Urban Planning.

At the start of the second semester, students will propose an Area of Concern around which their thesis, additional electives, and the Comparative Urbanism Seminar will focus. The Area of Concern underlying the entire curriculum is “Resilience and Sustainability;” beneath that umbrella, other Areas of Concern can include but are not limited to “Mobility & Infrastructure,” “Conservation & Preservation,” “Places & Dwellings,” and “Water & Air.”

Required coursework is as follows:

  • Design Studio (6 credit hours)
  • Research and Thesis (9 credit hours)
  • Theory of Urban Form (3 credit hours)
  • Comparative Urbanism (3 credit hours)
  • Digital Representation (3 credit hours)
  • Cross-Disciplinary Electives (6 credit hours)
  • Free Electives (6 credit hours)