MAUD Design Thesis: Guidance


75 + Distinction
High level of originality and methodological rigour in the pursuit of research through design. Uplifting to read, high level of originality in thought and expression, dense and relevant as to facts and showing excellent judgment in their selection. Full command of methodology and appropriate analytical and predictive techniques and their deployment in advancing a very clear and coherent argument. Very clear communication of relationship to design development. Excellent grasp of principles, very well written, argued, very clearly illustrated, all calculations correct.

The MAUD course faces an unusual challenge in its attempt to embed design within a broader research objective. The two objectives, that of a coherent and innovative design project, and the production of rigorously argued research based thesis do not always dovetail elegantly. Therefore the following lays out what makes these endeavours distinct and provides some guidance as to how to approach each in turn. This guidance is intended as instructive rather than didactic as the detailed structure and content of each thesis and portfolio depends heavily on its individual emphasis. It is provided in the form of a number of core thesis related topics and outlines how we regard our research, the role of design in relation to this research, and a summary note on methodology, as well as a few more detailed instructions on the basic constituent elements and required protocols.

Every good piece of academic writing coheres around a strong argument and should be apparent throughout. This requires you to take a position with regard to the situation that you are confronting as both a researcher and as a designer. This position should
not be arrived at arbitrarily but should emerge through your research – there is nothing more hollow than a radical position post-rationalised through the selective use of research material – we are curious more than we are opportunistic. You should lay out your argument with care and demonstrate how the different aspects of your research (fieldwork, secondary and primary source material) have contributed to its formation and continue to support it.

Your research is the raw material of your thesis and your project. You will gather several times more of this material than you will ultimately require. You should allow yourself to be led by what you discover and may expect to find the breadth and complexity of what you find surprising, confusing, and overwhelming at quite regular intervals. While the seeming lack of direction that this mass of information suggests may feel at odds with the seemingly ordered design process, it is a necessary stage that will allow you to make truly informed decisions about the direction of your work. When assimilating this material, it is essential that your thesis does not become a mere repository for this research. You need to be selective with its use and demonstrate considered judgement. The progression of your design work should then support your decision making and ultimately act as a means for refining the questions that you ask, as well as the thrust of your argument.

Your research and your design should have a reciprocal relationship, one following from another and back again repeatedly. While the direction of your design should be fully supported and guided by what you have discovered in your research, your design should act as a means to refine its direction and to provoke more detailed questions. As we design from the outset of the course, our projects take on a speculative status, acting as tests whose terms are continually adjusted by the information that we gather. In the context of the written thesis, these are treated as a series of scenarios set against established precedents or case studies, physical, technical or theoretical, and enable us to approach our central argument from a number of angles. But this work must be handled with particular care, the thesis must not become an extended project description however well supported by the evidence that the research provides or selected case studies provide. Rather, the design direction should act as a means to call attention to aspects of society, physical phenomena etc., intelligently exploring the trajectory of a given condition. You should make sure that all major decisions are justifiable and support the argument clearly.

Your thesis and your design portfolio are separate submissions and should read as such. There will be inevitable overlap between them and it is acceptable for images to appear in both as necessary. Within the thesis however, it is essential that you are selective about what you use to support your written argument. You should show site material where necessary to understand the condition fully, illustrate design development in so far as it has responded to your research and demonstrate a strong visual understanding of the implications of your ideas.

It is essential that:
– all material is original or
– Found images derived from other sources are fully referenced
– All images are annotated appropriately and fully, but should not take the place of written text.
– The layout of images should not disrupt the flow of the body of text
– Unnecessary filler images are avoided at all costs. (If not directly relevant to the text and its argument, it should not be included)

The body of the thesis is highly dependent on the individual topic but should consider the issues described above. It should be carefully bracketed by the following:

A good introduction is central to the communication of the ideas central to your argument. You should draft these regularly throughout the thesis process as a way of understanding how your argument relates to both your research material and to the
design tests that you have engaged in. The introduction should:
– summarise the social, political, economic and cultural conditions as appropriate
– explain the existing situation, its physical characteristics, strengths and difficulties
– introduce the central argument
– introduce the design objective and clarify the role of design in the generation and support of the central argument
– outline research approach and content

The introduction should show how the key questions posed in the thesis are derived from this context and outline what you intend to do.

As you conclude be clear about:
– Your research findings
– Your design proposals
– How the problems that you have identified have been addressed
– And finally, why what you have done matters.

15.6.1 Components
– You must include the following:
– Table of contents
– Page numbers
– Chapters
– List of illustrations (with references)
– Bibliography
– You should adhere to consistent referencing system throughout for texts, images and interviews.

Word Count
The word count relates to body text and footnotes, but excludes ancillary material such as bibliography, table of contents, list of illustrations, and appendices. However, the content of appendices and their acceptability needs approval by the degree committee
(forward request to Nichola Tooke). Image annotations are excluded from the word count unless they are extensive, highly descriptive, and necessary for the overall comprehension of the thesis.

Design Thesis (20%) – Final Friday of May Y2 @12:00h (moodle 17:00hr)
requirement: 15,000 words (max)

Printed and bound hard copy document (2 copies) and uploaded to Moodle dropbox. Skillfully written, original argumentation that details the historical, social, political, economic and/or technical characteristics of a chosen condition and demonstrates how this has been tested and responded to through design work. While this issue is to be grounded in an understanding of a specific theoretical approach or technical criteria, students are to expected show how these form part of a wider metabolism and operate within the current concerns of the profession. The design thesis is to be structured around a well considered set research objectives and a clear methodology, and should demonstrate how these are addressed through an examination of the relevant literature, technical analysis and design development. This work is to be fully and carefully referenced, formatted, printed and bound for submission. The study, including captions, footnotes, endnotes and other annotation is not to exceed 15,000 words.

MAUD Design Thesis: Requirements


  • 2 copies of each submission and at least one of these may be held
  • Upload one electronic copy via a drop box on Moodle
  • Only include appendices approved by your supervisor

For examination purposes it is very important that the cover specifies the essay number or essay equivalent that the submission represents.

Title page:
The title page of your design thesis should contain the following information: Name, College, Title of Dissertation/Design Thesis, and the following words: “A design thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the M.Phil. in Architectural and Urban Design 20__”.

Brief formal acknowledgement should be made to persons from whom information or suggestions have been received.

Statement of originality:
Candidates are required by the Board of Graduate Studies to include the following statement in their dissertation: “This dissertation is the result of my own work and includes nothing which is the outcome of work done in collaboration except where
specifically indicated in the text.” This statement should be included at the bottom of the Acknowledgements page.

Contents page:
A clearly formatted contents page with relevant page numbers is to be included

The written component of the design thesis must not be more than 15,000 words in length including footnotes but excluding the bibliography. Any text appendices will require the permission of the Degree Committee. A valuable part of the academic exercise provided by the dissertation is to argue one’s case within the prescribed length and permission to exceed the word limit cannot be granted. A statement of the number of words must be included at the front of the dissertation. The attention of Examiners
and the Degree Committee will be drawn to over-long dissertations.

Bibliography and Footnotes
The dissertation should be provided with a bibliography of works actually consulted and, where appropriate, a table of bibliographical abbreviations. Footnotes should be used to give precise reference to particular documents or publications, and to expand points made in the text. The way of referring to books and periodicals should be consistent and follow a recognized system such as that used in the Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes or the RIBA Dissertation Handbook. Whichever system is adopted, consistency is essential.

Drawings and Illustrations
Your thesis uses your design and analysis as its primary source material. The inclusion of this material should be integral to the format and design of the thesis. Care must be taken that every illustration has a caption and a consecutive number to correspond with the reference in the text. A list of illustrations and appended material should be included. Where images are not the authors, full acknowledgement should be made in either the caption or the list of illustrations. The unacknowledged borrowing of material is a form of plagiarism and may result in immediate failure.



  1. You can only use one material – push its use as far as you can.
  2. Start from first principles – heavy or light / assembled, carved, cast
  3. For the first few days do not allow concrete, steel, glass or timber (consider how you achieve their properties in other ways).

This work re-established the material and structural order of your project in preparation for the development of the draft project report in the coming month. We will review this work on 1 February in the department (for those back in the UK). For this session please bring the following:

  1. a rendered / montage elevation of part of your project. (approx. 100m2 @ 1:20/1:50)
  2. a hand-sized mini model of your project (or part of it) that distils the material / formal character of your project.
  3. 3 x precedents – one architectural, one natural/found (a forest, an airplane, a potato), and one found image/photo of
    a phenomena, a situation, a texture… a painting… a print.
  4. some photos of your site or from fieldwork

Please pin up / display in the crit space for group discussion on Wednesday 1 Feb between 11-3

Project & Fieldwork: A Preface

Project Title: Building Heritage (Using Heritage to Create Power)

My CDRS project proposes to make a building crafts guildhall to empower migrants in urban villages in Chinese cities.

The design/research project lies within the discussions of critical heritage studies and collective urban action in the form of craft guilds. In terms of design, it looks into the materiality of heritage in terms of natural materials such as timber.

My fieldwork period was spent looking at a number of case studies in the area of urban heritage. This began with my site, Xiaozhou Village, which is an urban village in Guangzhou. An urban village is an informal settlement in China that has historical roots in rural villages, best illustrated through a before-now photo comparison here. I spent a large amount of time living in the urban village speaking to villagers, migrants and artists there. While being in the city I also had opportunities to interview a number of academics engaged in built heritage as well as intangible heritage conservation. I also made visits to urban villages at different levels of maturity in the southern cities, including Xian, Liede, Shipai, Chepi and Baishizhou etc., as well as different categories of heritage, such as urban monuments. I then went on to a number of different places and projects exploring issues surrounding heritage such as commercialisation, gentrification and vernacular urbanism. The places that I went to include a micro-regeneration project in Beijing (Baitasi), a rural village guest house regeneration/community project in Hunan, an urban village artists’ workshop in Shenzhen (Dalang), case studies in Pingyao Ancient city in Shanxi, preserved villages in Anhui and Lijiang in Yunnan amongst others.

More recently in April 2017, I also presented at the ICCROM International Built Heritage Forum at Tongji University in Shanghai. There I met with academics working in the field of heritage in China and in other countries.

MAUD Essay 4: Requirements

Students are able to:

  1. Identify the organisations, political and economic constraints, and regulatory frameworks that inform planning and design development.
  2. Understand the role of the architect within a professional team and within wider society
  3. Understand the social, political and economic mechanisms that that enable project realisation
  4. Identify further learning needs for preparation for qualification as an architect

Teaching and learning methods and strategies

Project development in studio introduces each student to contextual constraints (1) while the fieldwork period and the regular assessment of work through its duration guide students through the regulatory, technical and economic implications of their projects and the surrounding sites (1). Weekly studio sessions in the Easter term introduce implementation strategies, the nature of contracts, planning procedure and building regulations as well as providing a forum for an on-going discussion of the role of the architect and the nature of practice (1, 2 & 3). Individual supervision of the Project Implementation Essay supports students’ analysis of the social, political and economic
factors influencing the potential realisation of their projects.


Skills 1,2 & 3 are assessed through the Project Implementation Essay, the project report forming part of the thesis portfolio, individual RIBA mapping documents, and the fieldwork logbook. Skill 4 is assessed through a final feedback, transition session that provides individual guidance for the next stages of professional development wit a
panel of practitioners.


ESSAY 4: PROJECT IMPLEMENTATION ESSAY (Deadline 17th March, 12:00)

Requirement: 3,000 – 5,000 words

Printed and bound hard copy document (2 copies) and uploaded to Moodle dropbox by
17hr of submission day.

The fourth essay is produced during the fieldwork phase and serves as a means to draw productively on the experience gained during this period. The essay is expected to project a clear implementation strategy for each student’s evolving design proposal. Work is to take account of the political, social and economic factors that would impinge upon the realization of the design and to propose strategies for navigating these issues (GC11.2). Students are to explicitly identify the organisations, regulations and procedures involved in the negotiation and approval of their projects. (GC 11.1) At a broad, strategic level, the essay is to reflect the political context of the work in question. It should demonstrate an advanced understanding of the local, regional and national policies and debates that influence the context and development of the design proposal and the refinement of its brief. At a more detailed scale, students should define the scope, location and brief of their project precisely and use the essay to specify the role of the architect in the realization of the proposal, and the legal, professional, statutory and commercial frameworks that enable or hinder this role (GC11.1).

Students should draw heavily on their experience in practice or in the field, citing relevant case-studies and precedents, in order to display a nuanced understanding of the strategies and means of communication necessary to procure their proposal. While at this stage, the project is still in development, consideration of contract forms, the phasing of construction and access to materials is a critical component of this exercise (GC11.2).
This essay is an essential building block for the direction of the main Design Thesis as it grounds the theoretical and technical aspects of the thesis work within a defined context, and reinforces the relationship between design development and pure research.
Examination Procedure (10%): Double marked by internal departmental examiners.

75 + Distinction
High level of argumentation and methodological rigour in the pursuit of a developed project implementation plan. Very clearly argued and communicated strategy with an exemplary use of original, primary source material; excellent grasp of, and close engagement with, issues of cultural context; thorough documentation of the social, economic and political factors influencing the implementation strategy; bold, inventive, evidence-based proposals, beautifully described in writing and supported by a well-coordinated, appropriately scaled set of diagrams, images, and primary source material, thorough and convincing integration of technical issues at both the strategic and detailed levels.
68 – 74% Good Pass
Methodologically convincing in its argumentation. Good overall grasp of principles and range of factors impacting the realisation of the outline thesis project. Clearly argued and communicated strategy with a good use of original, primary source material; clear engagement with issues of cultural context; relevant documentation of the social, economic and political factors influencing the implementation strategy; thoughtful, evidence-based proposals, clearly described in writing and supported by a coordinated, appropriately scaled set of diagrams, images, primary source material, convincing integration of technical issues at both the strategic and detailed levels. N.B. Any candidate hoping to continue to doctoral study must obtain an overall average of at least 70%.
60 – 67% Pass
Satisfactory in its argumentation and associated methodology. Relatively clear demonstration of the range of factors impacting the realisation of the outline thesis project; relatively prosaic but meaningful strategy for the implementation of an outline design with credible responses to issues of cultural context; relevant documentation of the social, economic and political factors influencing the implementation strategy; relatively well-resolved, evidence-based proposals, adequately described in writing and supported by a reasonably full and sensible set of diagrams, images, primary source material, competent integration of technical issues.


Hong Village


Hong Village is a rural village in Anhui Province. The relationship with landscape (water, mountaints) is exemplified in this protected UNESCO site.


The village still functions as a working village but commercialisation is slowly taking over. Many new commercial buildings are sprouting out nearby that copies, unsuccessfully, the old spaces and spatial relationships.