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Architectural Design (MA)

  • Duration: 1 year
  • Mode: Full time

Start date

Open day

Find out more about studying here as a postgraduate at our next Open Day.

Why study this course

This one year full-time MA in Architectural Design is aimed at students who are looking for a rich, engaging and design-focused post-graduate programme which focuses on the multiple facets and relationships between design and research.


A leading school of architecture

Study in one of the top schools of architecture in the UK.


Internationally renowned

Learn from internationally renowned and award-winning design-led practitioners and researchers.



Perfect for students who are aiming for a practice-based, active approach to learning.


Innovative optional modules

Choose from a range of optional cutting-edge modules to supplement your learning in areas of interest to you and develop important skills in design-based research.


Featured on the Best Architecture Masters website

Included on the BAM website alongside other excellent MA in Architectural Design courses worldwide.

This one year full-time MA in Architectural Design is aimed at students who are looking for a rich, advanced and engaging post-graduate programme which focuses on the multiple facets and relationships between design and research. By pursuing the MA in Architectural Design, the students will get the necessary skills for becoming sophisticated design-research thinkers and practitioners.

It shares many of the design elements of our established MArch (Master of Architecture/ RIBA Part 2 programme, but provides greater flexibility in terms of study choices, allowing you to engage with the interests of our research staff. 

The programme focuses on design-led research techniques and methods to inform your learning process and research explorations. You will develop your existing design skills by focussing on how design thinking might address current global challenges. This approach offers an intense and lively forum for the exploration and discussion of design issues. This is why we place particular emphasis on using design as a means to conduct research. Researching through design is a creative activity that closely integrates the process of designing with the act of researching, so that they can mutually inform each other.  You will explore problems by making and testing design propositions, introducing and developing established knowledge as and when required. Through project work, you will draw on knowledge from many disciplines.

Students will have the options to develop their design thinking in a range of topics related to the School’s diverse topics of research and scholarship.

You will work in small groups called ‘Design Units’ under the guidance of a Unit Leader, who will be an experienced tutor in research and architectural design. You will also work independently to develop a design-research approach to your studies. This will require you to question and evaluate evidence and think creatively, experimentally and iteratively. Emphasis will be on individual discovery and personal reflection as a learning process. The description of Design Units is provided in the MA AD Handbook

Where you'll study

Welsh School of Architecture

We aim to make the world a better place through contextually sensitive, sustainable and beautiful architecture.

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  • Telephone+44 (0)29 2087 4430
  • MarkerKing Edward VII Avenue, Cardiff, CF10 3NB

Admissions criteria

In order to be considered for an offer for this programme you will need to meet all of the entry requirements. Your application will not be progressed if the information and evidence listed is not provided.

With your online application you will need to provide:

  1. A copy of your degree certificate and transcripts which show you have achieved a 2:1 honours degree in a relevant subject area such as architecture, landscape architecture, interior design, urban design, or an equivalent international degree. If your degree certificate or result is pending, please upload any interim transcripts or provisional certificates.
  2. A copy of your IELTS certificate with an overall score of 6.5 with 5.5 in all subskills, or evidence of an accepted equivalent. Please include the date of your expected test if this qualification is pending. If you have alternative acceptable evidence, such as an undergraduate degree studied in the UK, please supply this in place of an IELTS.
  3. A portfolio of academic and/or professional project work. Your portfolio should be a maximum of eight (8) pages and provide evidence of imaginative and conceptual thinking, spatial sensibility, technical resolution, and clear communication of information and ideas.

If you do not have a degree in a relevant area, your application may be considered on the basis of your professional experience. Please provide additional evidence to support your application such as signed and dated employer references.

Application Deadline

We allocate places on a first-come, first-served basis, so we recommend you apply as early as possible. Applications normally close at the end of August but may close sooner if all places are filled.
Selection process

We will review your application including your portfolio and if you meet all of the entry requirements, we will make you an offer.

Find out more about English language requirements.

Applicants who require a Student visa to study in the UK must present an acceptable English language qualification in order to meet UKVI (UK Visas and Immigration) requirements.

Criminal convictions

You are not required to complete a DBS (Disclosure Barring Service) check or provide a Certificate of Good Conduct to study this course.

If you are currently subject to any licence condition or monitoring restriction that could affect your ability to successfully complete your studies, you will be required to disclose your criminal record. Conditions include, but are not limited to:

  • access to computers or devices that can store images
  • use of internet and communication tools/devices
  • curfews
  • freedom of movement
  • contact with people related to Cardiff University.

Course structure

This programme is available on a one-year full-time basis. You will be based at the Welsh School of Architecture for the duration of the programme. The taught element of this programme is structured around a 60-credit design module where you will use techniques of research through design to explore an issue of interest related to one of the Design Units.  This will normally run between October and April and will conclude with a design Portfolio submission and a final presentation in front of a panel of reviewers. Your work in the design studio is complimented by a 30-credit module aiming for analysing architectural precedent, and a choice of optional study modules.

You will usually start the dissertation element of the programme in May and completed over the summer. The dissertation is the culmination of your design research throughout the programme.  The dissertation usually comprises of a documented design project, accompanied by a 6,000-word critical commentary.  Support for developing the necessary skills of research through design will be provided during the taught elements of the programme.

The modules shown are an example of the typical curriculum and will be reviewed prior to the 2024/25 academic year. The final modules will be published by September 2024.

During your year on the programme, you will focus on developing a design-research agenda, defining and establishing your own position in architectural design. The topics covered are usually structured around thematic studios, or Design Units led by design tutors who have expertise and interest in specific areas of research and/ or practice. The themes are often related to areas of research expertise within the School and usually in close connection with real stakeholders and real contexts.

You will undertake analysis of architectural precedent within the studio environment and choose 30 credits worth of optional modules, chosen from a list of subjects based on the research interests of the staff in the school. This list is reviewed on an annual basis. You can choose any combination of 10 and 20 credit modules for your option.

For your dissertation you will work independently using the skills that have been developed during the taught programme to develop a critical research argument through design.  This will involve completing a design thesis project. You will be expected to supplement this with a 5,000-6,000-word critical written commentary.

The University is committed to providing a wide range of module options where possible, but please be aware that whilst every effort is made to offer choice this may be limited in certain circumstances. This is due to the fact that some modules have limited numbers of places available, which are allocated on a first-come, first-served basis, while others have minimum student numbers required before they will run, to ensure that an appropriate quality of education can be delivered; some modules require students to have already taken particular subjects, and others are core or required on the programme you are taking. Modules may also be limited due to timetable clashes, and although the University works to minimise disruption to choice, we advise you to seek advice from the relevant School on the module choices available.

Learning and assessment

How will I be taught?

Most of your time in the School will be spent in the design studio. Our key pedagogic approach in the design studio is a combination between a varied range of teaching techniques, such as design-research workshops, Unit design seminars and one-to-one tutorials. These are supported by Course and Unit-based lectures and group assignments.

We offer a range of working spaces, workshops and computer aided design facilities to support this. The studio is the location for design teaching, model-making tutorials, workshops and debate. It is also used for exhibitions, reviews and “crits” – reviews at which students display their work for critical discussion and assessment by staff, fellow students and visiting critics.  Working both formally and informally with your fellow students in the studio provides opportunities for valuable peer-review and discussion around your work.

You will be taught both by permanent academic staff and tutors from leading UK practices, providing an exciting mix of design research approaches and experiences. As the leading school of architecture in Wales, we have good links with the Welsh Government, construction industry bodies and professional practice locally, but also we have strong European and international links.

The School encourages effective student-led and independent learning, whether through site analysis, library research or “reflective practice”.

Your studies will also include workshops, lectures and seminars as part of optional modules, and as support for the design module. Teaching also includes the provision of online learning materials, such as briefs, bibliographies, readings and precedents, as appropriate to the module. We aim to make appropriate use of audio-visual support to aid learning and development of subject-specific skills. You will be given access to relevant teaching materials through the University’s virtual learning environment, Learning Central.

The dissertation element of the programme is conducted through the process of design, continuing on from your taught design project completed in the first part of the course. We advise that you continue to meet with your design unit tutor on a weekly basis until June. This is usually followed by a period of reflection and writing (self-directed studies) where you will work independently under the guidance of your Unit tutor and under the supervision of the Programme Leader and other members of the academic staff.

How will I be assessed?

Design projects and related exercises are assessed continuously, often through pin-up reviews and where feedback is given. At the end of the year, a portfolio of all design-related work is presented for formal examination by panels of reviewers.  The detail information about the modules is provided under the “Structure” section.

Optional modules are usually assessed through written examination and coursework submitted during the semester. Please read the module descriptions for your chosen optional modules to find out more about the ways they are assessed.

The criteria by which assessments are made are contained in the School’s Teaching Handbook, in project and coursework documentation, and explained at introduction to the various modules and design projects.


How will I be supported?

Contact time with staff is high and you will receive regular feedback on your progress throughout the course though your weekly tutorials. The Programme Leader is responsible for overseeing student progress. You will also have a personal tutor with whom you can (in confidence) discuss any concerns that may affect your progress.  Regular progress reviews are held throughout the year with the year team, and an open-door policy exists throughout the School.

The School provides opportunities for you to reflect on and define your individual learning needs.  This generally takes the form of a reflective diary that increasingly these take the form of online journals.

The architectural library is located in the same building as the School and provides easy access to resources and support. Electronic course materials are also generally held on the University network.

Modules within the programme make extensive use of the University’s virtual learning environment, Learning Central, where you can access discussion forums and find course materials including recordings of lectures, and links to related materials.

The University also offers a range of services for students to access, including the Careers Service, the Counselling Service, the Disability and Dyslexia Service, the Student Support Service, and excellent libraries and resource centres.


Formative feedback on coursework is usually given using a standard feedback pro-forma and is often also given orally.

You will usually receive your feedback from the Module Leader and the Unit Leaders. If you have questions regarding your feedback, module leaders are usually happy to give advice and guidance on your progress.


What skills will I practise and develop?

The Learning Outcomes for this programme describe what you will be able to do as a result of your study at Cardiff University. They will help you to understand what is expected of you and academic staff will focus on precisely what they want you to achieve within each Module. 

Knowledge & Understanding:

On completing the programme, you should be able to: 

  • Critically understand how knowledge is advanced through design-led research to produce clear, logically argued and original written and design work relating to architectural culture, theory and design.

Intellectual Skills:

On completing the programme, you should be able to: 

  • Pursue a personal design-research agenda within the context of the School’s research portfolio.

Professional Practical Skills:

On completing the programme, you should be able to: 

  • Generate complex design proposals showing understanding of current architectural issues, originality in the application of subject knowledge and, where appropriate, ability to test new hypotheses and speculations.
  • Evaluate materials, processes and techniques that apply to complex architectural designs and building construction, and to integrate these into practicable design proposals.

Transferable/Key Skills:

On completing the programme you should be able to: 

  • Demonstrate problem solving skills, professional judgment, and ability to take the initiative and make appropriate decisions in complex and unpredictable circumstances.
  • Identify individual learning needs and understand the personal responsibility required to prepare for work within the architectural profession.
  • Evaluate and apply a comprehensive range of visual, oral and written media to test, analyse, critically appraise and explain design proposals.

Tuition fees for 2024 entry

Your tuition fees and how you pay them will depend on your fee status. Your fee status could be home, island or overseas.

Learn how we decide your fee status

Fees for home status

Year Tuition fee Deposit
Year one £11,450 None

Students from the EU, EEA and Switzerland

If you are an EU, EEA or Swiss national, your tuition fees for 2024/25 be in line with the overseas fees for international students, unless you qualify for home fee status. UKCISA have provided information about Brexit and tuition fees.

Fees for island status

Learn more about the postgraduate fees for students from the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man.

Fees for overseas status

Year Tuition fee Deposit
Year one £28,200 £2,500

More information about tuition fees and deposits, including for part-time and continuing students.

Financial support

Financial support may be available to individuals who meet certain criteria. For more information visit our funding section. Please note that these sources of financial support are limited and therefore not everyone who meets the criteria are guaranteed to receive the support.

Additional costs

The University will cover any additional costs that are essential for you to pass the programme.  For this reason you will be provided with a small financial allocation as required.  The details of this will be provided by your Programme Lead throughout the academic year.

Will I need any specific equipment to study this course/programme?

You are asked to bring basic drawing equipment. A laptop computer with appropriate software is highly recommended. Much of the software typically used is available through educational agreements at zero or reduced cost.

Any other equipment needed will be provided by the School. You have the opportunity to work within the School’s design studios, have access to a suite of PC computers running the necessary software and use large-format plotters, a digital laser cutter and a well-equipped workshop.

We will provide any equipment that is essential to the course. However, we recommend that you bring a laptop computer with appropriate software (e.g. word processing), USB or a hard drive, general stationary and some basic drawing equipment.

We provide students with student licenses for most of the specialist software we use on the course, however we can currently only guarantee that these work on computers with a Windows operating system.

During the course, you will have access to the specialist Architecture Library, and other University libraries, and study spaces across campus. Within the School, you may work in our design studios, use our computing suites, and use our facilities which include large-format plotters, a digital laser cutter and a well-equipped workshop.

Living costs

We’re based in one of the UK’s most affordable cities. Find out more about living costs in Cardiff.


Master's Scholarships

An award open to UK students intending to study one of our taught master’s degrees.

Postgraduate loans

If you are starting your master’s degree in September 2024 or later, you may be able to apply for a postgraduate loan to support your study at Cardiff University.

Alumni Discount

The alumni discount is available for Cardiff University graduates who are planning to start an eligible master's in 2024/25.

Career prospects

Whilst many of our graduates will choose to undertake a career within architecture or other built environment professions, MA AD programme also provides a large number of transferable skills which will be of benefit across a wide range of professions.  The focus on critical design research thinking and project based learning is welcomed by employers in that it provides graduates with skills in creative thinking, conceptual organisation, critical reflection and leadership in decision-making within complex environments.


During the course we go on a range of study trips in the UK, Europe, or further afield. On these trips we will organise guided visits to urban areas, public spaces and buildings that demonstrate how principles taught in the programme are applied in innovative ways. You will also have the opportunity to meet local stakeholders, architects and built environment professionals who collaborate with the School. In previous years, students have travelled and developed their projects in Barcelona, Palermo, Athens, Venice, Rome and the Ruhr Valley, amongst other places.


Next steps


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HESA Data: Copyright Higher Education Statistics Agency Limited 2021. The Higher Education Statistics Agency Limited cannot accept responsibility for any inferences or conclusions derived by third parties from its data. Data is from the latest Graduate Outcomes Survey 2019/20, published by HESA in June 2022.