Master’s Programs

    USC Graduate Architecture leverages the extensive experience and wide-ranging expertise of a deeply talented roster of licensed architects, design-thinkers, and design scholars to explore the power of design to change the built environment. With a deep commitment to disciplinary knowledge, civic and spatial justice, and innovation in architectural practice, we take the term Citizen Architect very seriously.

    The Master of Architecture is built on three levels. The first level is dedicated to introducing essential disciplinary knowledge and the fundamental design skills required for the NAAB-accredited degree. The second level builds upon this foundation with increasingly refined vocational knowledge and advanced professional capability. The final level culminates with a year of individually directed design research, with master classes and a directed design research project (thesis) focused on the student’s emergent architectural interests. All three levels draw on the USC School of Architecture’s commitment to spatial justice, the University’s extended resources, and the inspiration of Los Angeles. Firmly rooted in an investigative mode of critical, professional practice, the program’s aim is for every graduate to be prepared for the challenges of the 21st century.


    Under the vision of Dean Milton S. F. Curry and the directorship of Alvin Huang, the Master of Advanced Architectural Studies [M.AAS] has been redesigned as one of the most innovative and experimental programs anywhere in the world. By bringing together several of the most renowned and progressive faculty, the program aims to set a new standard for postgraduate education internationally.


    This one-year, three-semester post-professional degree is intended for individuals who have completed a professional degree in architecture (B.Arch/M.Arch). Working across disciplines and at multiple scales, the program moves between real-world issues and innovative architecture proposals. Pedagogically, the program has a dual emphasis, integrating architecture and urban theory with cutting-edge design research and collaborative experimentation on issues of housing and urbanism, domestic life and technological adaptability. 

    Building upon the legacy of the Case Study House Program, the theme of dwelling and urbanism is a central focus. The degree program examines the 21st century city and the diverse social and cultural landscape of Los Angeles, looking beyond the single-family home to study topics of broader significance, such as homelessness, that Los Angeles and other major cities are experiencing. Conceived of as an urban laboratory that tackles the challenges of our time, the program teaches students to develop innovative solutions through critical and creative speculation and demonstrates that social issues and architectural excellence do not have to be mutually exclusive.


    Building Science at the USC School of Architecture recognizes that exemplary architecture requires innovative responses to natural forces. The integration of the study of building sciences with knowledge of current practices and new technologies creates synergistic and holistic architectural design that satisfies performative goals. The Chase L. Leavitt Master of Building Science program addresses the need for a new generation of design professionals prepared to bring appropriate technology to the design of a sustainable environment while recognizing the critical impacts that science and technology can play in social and cultural realms.

    Within this context, the program emphasizes: 1) The integration of planning, design, and technology to form a coherent, interdependent force for the appropriate construction of urban places. 2) Recognition of the ecological importance of energy-conscious design and construction as well as the social value of “citizen architects” creating places in which natural forces and systems are utilized rather than suppressed. 3) The development of research and design methods suited to the complexity of building in urban settings and effective in the use of extensive information. Students are individually guided through their study and complete a thesis-based research project.


    Los Angeles provides a unique laboratory in which to learn and challenge conservation issues. As a relatively young and diverse global city, it is the ideal place to explore a relatively young and diverse global discipline. Our wealth of recent past resources raises a new set of research challenges and the city’s richly distinct communities woven throughout the tapestry of the built environment push us to acknowledge the many layers of history and meaning revealed in the city. It is also a place forever seeking the new, providing opportunities to protect the best of the past while embracing the landmarks of the future.

    Embedded in the USC School of Architecture, heritage conservation students are instantly part of a multidisciplinary environment, linking landscape architecture, building science, architecture, and conservation. 

    The program curriculum is designed to expose students to a broad range of topics including materials conservation, policy and planning, conservation theory, global conservation efforts, architectural and landscape history, best practices in resource documentation and evaluation, sustainability, and historic site management. Students are also encouraged to take advantage of the many academic resources in the broader University, including taking courses in real estate, regional history, urban planning, and spatial sciences. Program faculty are leaders in the field, a blend of academics and practitioners that grapple with conservation in real time, seeking creative solutions that balance the integrity of the past with a sustainable future. Through this broad exposure, students begin to formulate their professional path within the discipline.


    Landscapes are the dynamic synthesis of natural systems, sociocultural forces and the physical material of the constructed world. The Graduate Program of Landscape Architecture + Urbanism uses the complex regional geography of Southern California as its primary laboratory to generate and test responses to the planet’s most pressing environmental challenges, including resounding impacts of climate change, rapid urbanization, social and environmental injustice, and the interface of nature and technology. Looking regionally and globally, we conduct rigorous design-research to develop multi-scalar innovations in performative regional infrastructures, equitable urban frameworks and public spaces, and healthful biophysical systems. We focus on pressures of urbanization and how to utilize landscape strategies to shape those systems, spaces, cities and infrastructures to imagine more resilient futures – socially and ecologically.

    We are fortunate to inhabit one of the most culturally and environmentally diverse geographies in the world - within an hour’s drive from the Pacific Ocean, the San Gabriel Mountains and the western edge of the Sonoran Desert. Clearly Southern California offers a wide range of landscape challenges to which we apply design exploration, strategic thinking, technical resolution and creative expression. Those challenges include increasing water scarcity impacting urban and agricultural territories, warming temperatures, rising sea levels, reduced biodiversity, wildfire-flood-debris flow cycles, as well as deeply institutionalized practices of discrimination that have marginalized and burdened communities of color, and rapid urban development that is leaving many populations behind or displaced. More optimistically, there is an increasing investment in public space, urban nature and environmental resilience in our region, which is characteristically experimental and creative.

    Our program curriculum is focused on a balanced core of design studios, media and fabrication, history and theory, performance technologies, plant materials and ecology, construction and practice, and urbanism. It is field-based and hands-on. The studio sequence begins with local urban sites where intensive field work is critical to site understanding and builds up to territorial-scale design-research studios. Students synthesize their courses in media, history, plant materials, ecology, construction and urbanism with their studio work. Second-year studios provide opportunities to investigate design responses to urban development, as well as climate change causes and impacts, and have options both to travel outside the region and to collaborate with architecture students in an integrated setting. Elective courses in our curriculum come from a wide range of offerings in the School of Architecture and other courses including those in urban planning, spatial sciences, art and cinema. We have a number of international opportunities to study other geographies – both during the summer global studies programs and studios within the curriculum.

    Our curriculum is increasingly focused on opportunities for applied research that has real impact on the ground or in shaping policy. The aim of the program is to develop critical thinkers and design leaders unafraid to tackle some of the most contested landscapes and environmental questions of our day.

Dual Degree Programs

    The Master of Urban Planning/Master of Advanced Architectural Studies Post-Professional dual degree program facilitates highly related cross-disciplinary studies in architecture and in planning at the master’s level. This program offers students interested in developing a career in urban design an opportunity to make more substantial commitments in both disciplines and to achieve a more coherent and extensive knowledge in the design of built environments and public policy. This dual degree program normally requires five semesters in residence.


    The Master of Heritage Conservation/Master of Urban Planning dual degree program facilitates highly related cross-disciplinary studies in heritage conservation and in urban planning at the master’s level. The primary objective of the dual degree curriculum is to impart to students a basic familiarity with the origins and development of the philosophies, theories, and practices of planning and heritage conservation. This curriculum has been developed so that students will graduate from this program with a broad practical knowledge of the laws, regulations, and policies that apply to planning and conservation practice in the United States and internationally. This expertise will include knowledge of urban design, public policy, and architectural and planning history and theory. Students will be expected to understand the critical methodological tools necessary for a professional engaged in the investigation, interpretation, and evaluation of the urban built environment.


    Qualified students who are admitted to the Master of Landscape Architecture program in the School of Architecture and to the graduate program in the USC Price School of Public Policy may complete both degrees in a highly integrated five-seven semester program.

Certificate Programs

    The focus of this program is on understanding the broad and complex role of architecture within the urban context. Studies focus on cities throughout the world where conditions of increasing density, environmental challenges and cultural complexity require design initiatives that support amenity, sustainability and cultural meaning. The certificate is open to graduate students not pursuing a degree in Architecture.


    Building science at USC recognizes that exemplary architecture requires a creative response to natural forces, based on informed good judgment in the areas of architectural technology. The Certificate in Building Science is intended as a supplement for students enrolled in graduate course work in architecture, landscape architecture, his­toric preservation, urban planning or related discipline.


    Ideal for professionals who wish to augment their academic credentials in order to facilitate their work on heritage conservation projects, the 14-unit certificate program includes four core classes that impart the fundamentals of the discipline. The certificate is also an ideal complement to a graduate studies in architecture, landscape architecture, building science, planning, public art administration, geography, anthropology, or other related disciplines.


    This program is intended to introduce at the graduate level the basic subjects inherent to the field of landscape architecture: plant materials suitable to urban conditions; urban utility and transportation systems in relation to topography, natural drainage and pathways; plant and wildlife communities; as well as inquiries about landscape infrastructure and ecology, and the history of human settle­ment in the evolution of urban landscapes. Southern California and Los Angeles provide an exceptionally valuable natural and socio­cultural laboratory for landscape architecture studies. 


    This multidisciplinary program provides students with the tools necessary to understand and quantify the sources of energy use in buildings and landscapes. Studies emphasize improving sustainable design choices regarding natural and man-made systems considering the performance of the built environment, the reduction of its embodied and operational energies, and the influence of other resource issues.


    Sustainability is an imperative for our planet as climate change, population growth and dwindling oil supplies are all reminders that our resources are finite and we need a new paradigm to adjust to these global changes. The built environment represents the majority of our energy use and design can help reduce both the embodied and operational energy of our buildings and urban landscape.


    This certificate provides students with the tools necessary to understand and quantify sources of energy use in buildings and landscapes and to use design of natural and man-made systems to reduce their energy use. This certificate will give students the background to help them make sustainable design choices through informed decision making that considers the performance of the built environment related to the energy required to make it, the energy it absorbs or releases, the energy required to maintain it, and the energy required to replace it. Environmental, economic and socially responsible solutions will be explored through the coursework.

Summer Courses

    The Summer Short Course in Heritage Conservation offer clusters of lecture and field-based learning sessions about the fundamentals of the discipline in an intensive two-week format. Taught by a team of practicing professionals in fields ranging from conservation and engineering to economics and law, the course also includes visits to historic sites, such as the Gamble and Freeman Houses, the laboratories of the Getty Conservation Institute, and current rehabilitation projects. Designed for those interested in a career change, city officials needing to brush up on the basics, or students interested in learning more about the field, the Summer Short Course can be taken in sections or as a complete for-credit course.