Architectural Studies

Based in the Department of Art History, the interdisciplinary minor in Architectural Studies (ARCH) equips students to analyze the form and changing history of the built environment through a combination of coursework in architectural history with up to four courses on architectural and urban design topics offered in any department. This is the only university program that focuses on designing and analyzing buildings as material, three-dimensional, culturally meaningful environments. 

Minor Program in Architectural Studies

Students may choose to minor in architectural studies because they are interested in analyzing the built environment—the inescapable setting of our lives—from a liberal arts perspective or because they are considering applying to graduate school in architecture or related fields. The minor could represent an interest distinct from the student's major or it could complement a major in the social sciences or humanities by exploring the material setting of history and social life or the context for works of literature, film, music, or drama. It could equally complement a major in the sciences, such as medical fields, ecology, geology, physics, or mathematics. 

Alternatively, students may major in Art History and select architecture as their focus.

Prospective minors should meet with the Architectural Studies Advisor (currently Professor Wei-Cheng Lin), ideally any time before the end of the third year to discuss their interests and course plans, and to obtain advice and enroll in the program. Fourth years interested in adding the minor should also contact the Architectural Studies Advisor. Together, the student and the Architectural Studies Advisor will fill out the Consent to Complete a Minor Program form listing the projected courses, and the Architectural Studies Advisor will sign it. To enroll, students should ideally submit the completed, signed form to their College adviser before the end of the third year, but later submissions will also be considered after consultation. After filling out the form, students retain the option to change their choice of courses, with the approval of the Architectural Studies Advisor. (Some ARCH courses are not published more than a year in advance, so it may not be possible to fully plan out a minor program ahead of time, but students should list six plausible courses on the form and can change them later if need be.)


The minor in architectural studies requires a total of six courses, all of which must either focus on the built environment or permit the student to devote the assignments or projects or papers to the built environment. A minimum of two courses must originate from the Department of Art History; these will likely be Architectural Studies (ARCH) courses. The additional four courses must also have an ARCH listing or be approved by the program advisor, and may originate either in Art History/Architectural Studies or in other departments or programs. Some of the programs that may offer relevant courses are the Committee on Environment, Geography, and Urbanization (CEGU), Chicago Studies, History, English Language and Literature, Anthropology, and Visual Arts. Students also write one research paper of about 10 to 15 pages on a topic chosen with and guided by an instructor, either within a course taken for the minor or independently, by individual arrangement at the start of the quarter (see Research Papers below). 

All courses approved for Architectural Studies credit should meet these criteria: (1) the subject matter should include some attention to design elements of buildings, cities, or landscapes, real or imagined, (2) the assignments must allow the student to study some aspect of the built environment as outlined above. Courses with an ARCH listing are pre-approved for credit in the minor program. If those courses also have an ARTH number, they count as eligible Art History department courses as well. If an ARCH course has no corresponding ARTH number, it should be counted as external to the Art History department. If students find suitable courses that are not cross-listed with an ARCH designation, they are encouraged to propose them to the Architectural Studies Advisor, providing the course number and title, description, and, if possible, the syllabus.

Architectural Studies offers two foundational courses: ARCH 15705 (previously ARCH 20000) Understanding the Built Environment is a thematic introduction to skills of building and spatial analysis and interpretation. ARCH 15706 (previously ARCH 24205) Skills & Processes for Architecture and Urban Design introduces students to design work while building skills important to design studios. They exemplify the two types of architectural studies courses offered by the Department of Art History. Architectural history courses teach students to interpret how buildings are designed, used, and adapted over time and to make sense of their social, political, and cultural dimensions. They attend to the material properties of buildings and the ways in which people perceive them. Architectural and urban design studios enable students to try out the role of designers rather than interpreters, which provides another invaluable perspective on why buildings take the forms they do, whether or not students envision architectural careers. Many courses of both types include field trips or a travel component to the sites under study; many of the studio courses also include historical readings and discussions; some history courses also include a modest amount of analytical drawing or making.

Students working towards the minor are strongly encouraged to take ARCH 15705 (previously ARCH 20000) Understanding the Built Environment. Students who have not previously taken a design studio course are also encouraged to take ARCH 15706 (previously ARCH 24205) Skills & Processes for Architecture and Urban Design. Any student of the minor may apply for instructor consent to take ARTH 29600 Junior Seminar: Doing Art History for minor program credit, if they desire a course geared toward doing more rigorous art historical research. This option is suitable for students seeking to develop their skill in writing object-centered research papers and especially those interested in doing graduate work in architectural history. It is also one way to fulfill the requirement of a research paper on the built environment. 

Graduate seminars at the 40000-level may count toward requirements. Students are advised, however, that such courses impose special burdens of time and expertise, and admission to them is typically only by explicit approval of the instructor and may involve some prerequisites.

Courses in the minor may not be double counted with the student's major(s) or with other minor degrees. A course taken to fulfill a general education requirement may not be double-counted with the Architectural Studies minor. Courses in the minor must be taken for quality grades and more than half of the requirements for the minor must be met by registering for courses bearing University of Chicago course numbers.

Research Papers

All Architectural Studies students write at least one research paper of 10 to 15 pages. A research paper can be:

  • a paper written to fulfill a course assignment,
  • the extension of a shorter course paper (either during the course or after its completion) to meet the page and/or research requirement, or
  • a new paper on a topic chosen in consultation with the instructor. 

The paper should include an analysis of existing scholarship and other relevant source materials. The paper should also draw on that scholarship and evidence to shape and support a thesis or argument of the student's own devising. Formal analyses of works of art and analytic papers on materials assembled by the instructor do not qualify. On completing the research paper, students must submit a copy of the paper and their updated program worksheet to the Architectural Studies Advisor. 


The following faculty members in Art History specialize in architectural history: Niall AtkinsonWei-Cheng Lin, and Jacobé HuetLuke Joyner regularly offers architectural and urban design studio courses, and coordinates the studio courses. Many other faculty members in Art History have an interest in the built environment and will support students writing papers on architecture; students are welcome to ask their instructors.

Summary of Requirements for the Minor in Architectural Studies

Two (2) courses in ARTH/ARCH focusing on the built environment * 200
Four (4) courses in ARTH/ARCH or other departments and that focus on the built environment 400
One (1) 10- to 15-page research paper focusing on the built environment and written for one of the six courses in the minor  
Total Units 600

* If the student so chooses, one of the courses may be ARTH 29600 Junior Seminar: Doing Art History, in which students in the minor would research and write an essay on a built environment topic of their choice. The paper requirement can also be completed in other courses, or outside a course, as stated above.

To discuss any aspect of the minor in Architectural Studies, please contact the Architectural Studies Advisor. You may also contact with questions, especially about the studio courses.