Fifth-Year Thesis Process 2024-25


Fifth-Year Design Studio Application Process

  1. Meeting the Requirements
  2. Statement of Purpose
  3. Faculty Studio Prospecti
  4. Thesis Studio Preference Form

Fifth-Year Architectural Thesis Philosophy

Fifth-Year Architectural Thesis Format
Thesis Project Guidelines
Final Fifth-Year Studio Placement Procedures

Fifth-Year Design Studio Application Process

The fifth-year thesis design studio application process is composed of four elements:

1. Meeting the Requirements

The requirements for entering fifth-year design are:

  1. Submission of the Studio Preference Form and Graphic Statement of Purpose as described below
  2. Meeting all Fifth-Year Prerequisites found in the Advising Policy web page

2. Statement of Purpose

  1. Must be received by Friday, June 142024 at 11:59 PM Pacific Daylight Time.
  2. A PDF file must be submitted. The PDF should be formatted to 8.5” x 11” (either vertical or horizontal orientation), 20-page maximum, 12MB maximum (total).
  3. Please name your PDF file as follows: lastname_firstname_statementofpurpose.pdf
  4. Upload your PDF file to the Canvas site: ARCH 5th Year Statement of PurposeThis Canvas site will be available for uploads beginning Friday May 24, 2024.
  5. Questions about the submission process should be directed to the Architecture Department:

Please give your Statement of Purpose careful consideration and provide:

  • Information about your experiences during the last 3 years (prior studios taken, work, travel, other relevant experiences, etc.)
  • Graphic samples of your design work from prior studios (REQUIRED). You may choose which projects to show, but the sampling must include at least one complete fourth-year project. In addition, you may show collaborative projects, but you must include a description of your role in the project, as well as the names of the other collaborators. Images of collaborative projects must include credit for the authors of those images.
  • Your fifth-year goals and objectives. This may include ideas for your thesis project, areas of research you wish to pursue, methods of working you plan to undertake, and a discussion of the types of educational experiences you desire during your fifth year.
  • A list of any minors or joint degree programs you will be attempting
  • A current photo of yourself
  • Your immediate professional goals upon graduation
  • Other graphics or support materials you deem relevant

While you may discuss your thesis interests, please do not specify a particular instructor or studio preference in the Statement of Purpose.

This Statement of Purpose is strongly considered by the fifth-year faculty during their placement of entering fifth-year students into their respective studios. This process is intended to ensure the best possible fit between the stated thesis goals and educational objectives of each entering fifth-year student and the focus, goals, and objectives of the studios being offered. It is therefore very important that the Statement of Purpose clearly demonstrate your personal educational goals and objectives for fifth year, and also provide a taste of who you are as an architecture student and the work that you have done.

3. Fifth-Year Studio Prospecti

The fifth-year faculty offer a range of thesis studio options. This is intended to offer a variety of environments within which students can pursue a broad spectrum of architectural thesis projects according to their respective goals and interests. In order to describe the unique focus of the various thesis design studios, each studio instructor has prepared a studio prospectus. These prospecti are descriptions of each instructor’s fifth-year studio, its area of focus, and the types of educational experiences it will offer. Please use them to make informed decisions about your fifth-year studio preferences in accordance with your own professional and educational goals. Please carefully read all of the material. In addition, please do not hesitate to contact fifth-year instructors to discuss any questions you may have about their studios, their objectives, or your ideas for your thesis project.

The updated Fifth-Year Studio Prospecti for 2024-2025 will be posted on the Architecture website on Thursday, June 20, 2024, prior to the due date for the Studio Preference Form. 

4. Studio Preference Form

Studio Preference Form (available 6/20/24) due Tuesday, June 25, 2024 at 11:59 pm Pacific Daylight Time

Once you have reviewed the studio prospecti with respect to your thesis goals, please complete the Thesis Studio Preference Form and submit it electronically.

The Studio Preference Form will ask you to rank the fifth-year studios in order of preference. It will also ask you to provide a written statement explaining the rationale behind your preferences. In articulating your rationale, please be specific about your reasoning for ranking your top studio preferences in the order you have indicated. 

Both your ranking and your rationale will be taken into consideration by the fifth-year faculty in order to place you into a studio that aligns with your stated goals and interests. However, please be advised that there are many factors that need to be considered with respect to studio placement, and thus there is no guarantee that your ultimate studio placement will align with your stated preference.

Fifth-Year Architectural Thesis Philosophy

The Architecture Department's decision to administer a thesis as the concluding experience of our undergraduate curriculum—rather than simply a capstone design project—is a reflection of our commitment to preparing you to become eventual leaders and innovators within the discipline and profession of architecture.

We believe that in order to effect positive change as future architects, you must first understand architecture as inherently changeful. This requires affording you the opportunity to engage with the discursive nature of architecture—in order to allow you to recognize it as a reflection of and participant in an ongoing discourse of competing ideas about architecture’s role in developing our collective spaces and experiences, and to develop the ability to effectively perform within that milieu. 

We feel this experience, while not universally afforded in undergraduate architecture programs, is nevertheless crucial to stoking the ambition, and cultivating the ability, for you to become strong advocates for advancing opportunities for architecture to make a difference—through the creation of spaces and experiences that are more inclusive, impactful, and meaningful.

To prepare you for this, we ask you to develop a thesis in which you pursue novel ideas for architecture—ones that are non-obvious, and are thus subject to debate. You must then defend this thesis against reasonable objection by developing a persuasive written argument in tandem with a compelling design project. Your written thesis will acknowledge and reflect on the lineage of prior discourses and precedents within which it is situated, and will interrogate, extend, or re-direct them as appropriate in order to develop and defend your argument. Meanwhile, your thesis design project will serve as an additional defense of your thesis argument by demonstrating the value and effectiveness of your thesis argument, as well as its architectural implications. Over the course of the year, there will also be opportunities for you to verbally present both your thesis argument and thesis design project, in order to further develop the skills necessary to persuasively advocate for new ideas. 

As a result of this experience, wherein you are asked to redefine architectural possibility, and to defend the value of such a redefinition, you will learn to appreciate, and leverage, architecture's inherent instability. This instability is not a shortcoming, but rather one of the architectural discipline's greatest virtues.  Its drive to continually interrogate, challenge, and redefine the very principles upon which it is based affords architecture the flexibility to engage the manifold and evolving aspects of reality—social, cultural, technological, political, and others. This allows it to reformulate those aspects into new representations of the world, which bring forth new spaces and experiences that confront the problems and opportunities of the present moment in the hope of affording a better future.

Fifth-Year Architectural Thesis Format

This year-long thesis is undertaken in a studio format, where each thesis studio provides a smaller discursive environment and, in some cases, a specific area of focus that is aligned with the interest of its students. This thesis studio, Arch 481 Senior Architectural Design Project (5 units) is taken during Fall, Winter, and Spring quarters. It is coupled with a thesis seminar class, Arch 492 Senior Design Thesis (3 units), which is taken during Fall quarter (and which also a GWR-certified Course). Together, these courses are intended to stimulate a diversity of ideas and approaches to an architectural thesis, and to thereby catalyze a plurality of new ideas about architecture.

The focus, and potential insularity, of these studios is balanced by a series of public reviews and exhibitions throughout the year. These are intended to share work and ideas across the various thesis studios, and also among the students in the various year levels of the Architecture Department.

The diversity of design and research pursued during the fifth-year thesis is intended to reflect the diversity of ideas and practices that characterize the architectural discipline, and to promote a healthy discourse and debate that models, and critically engages, architecture's ongoing disciplinary discourse.  This is achieved by providing a rigorous intellectual context within each studio, wherein your ideas about architecture and society are refined and clarified in relation to historical and contemporary architectural ideas, discourses, and works. As a result, your thesis will constitute a year-long body of work that includes architectural theorization, argumentation, research, design, and representation.

In the interest of promoting the intellectual diversity described above, the architectural design studios described in the Fifth-Year Studio Prospecti represent not one but several attitudes toward design and architectural practice.

They each offer quality, rigor, and relevance across a range of academic and/or professional areas of focus. The goal of each is to help you, both professionally and personally, adapt to and successfully work within the constantly evolving discipline of architecture.

Thesis Project Guidelines

Specific and detailed project guidelines and objectives may differ according to the specific focus of each thesis design studio. These guidelines and objectives are specified in the Faculty Studio Prospecti provided for each fifth-year design studio, and in the course syllabi issued at the beginning of the Fall quarter by each instructor.

In general, the fifth-year architectural thesis should:

  • Present a clearly written and graphically represented thesis argument that articulates one or more non-obvious claims about architecture that critically address its current practices and/or future opportunities.
  • Articulate a clear and compelling defense of this thesis argument through the critique, extension, or synthesis of relevant architectural theories and precedents.
  • Correlate the claims made in the thesis argument with architectural design strategies, based on design research conducted through critical studies and experiments.
  • Demonstrate the consequences of the thesis argument and design research in the form of a thesis design project
  • Demonstrate a scope and level of complexity consistent with a capstone course.
  • Demonstrate the refinement of the thesis design project through an iterative design process, from concept origination through design development.
  • Demonstrate a command of all design criteria that are pertinent to your thesis design project, which may include: structure, mechanical systems, life safety, materiality, environmental and climatic concerns, landscape and land use, urban form and dynamics, socio-political conditions, legal constraints, historic or cultural values, regional character, patterns of human activity, user and client needs, user expectations, and relevant architectural theories.
  • Consider mediums and modes of representation for your thesis design project that are appropriate to demonstrate and defend your thesis position.

Fifth-Year Studio Placement Procedures

Completion and submission of your Fifth-Year Studio Preference Form and Graphic Statement of Purpose as specified, as well as meeting Fifth-Year Prerequisites, is required for admission to fifth year and placement in a fifth-year design studio. If your Studio Preference Form and Graphic Statement of Purpose are not submitted, not complete, or not on time, you will be assigned the lowest priority. This means that you may not be placed in a fifth-year studio unless there is space available.

The fifth-year faculty will typically convene in the month of July in order to review all submissions and to place entering students into their respective fifth-year design studios. The assignment of students to their respective design studios is intended to ensure the best overall fit between the stated thesis goals and educational objectives of all entering fifth-year students and the focus, goals, and objectives of the studios being offered.

Accordingly, design studio placement is based on a combination of the following factors:

  • Consideration of each student’s preference
  • The compatibility of each student’s research focus and thesis objectives with the focus, goals and objectives of the studio, as judged by the fifth-year faculty
  • Even enrollment across the studios
  • Every effort will be made to provide students with their higher preference, but this cannot be guaranteed.

Placement Notification

Students will be notified by Cal Poly email of their fifth-year studio assignments as soon as placements are completed, along with the instructions on how to register for their Fifth-Year Thesis and Design Project courses. This studio assignment is final, and is not open to reconsideration. Once notified of your studio assignment, you are encouraged to contact your fifth-year instructor to discuss ideas for your thesis proposal and preparations that would be helpful prior to Fall Quarter.


Questions about the process or dates should be addressed to

Questions about other aspects of fifth-year design should be addressed to: Professor Doug Jackson, Fifth-Year Thesis Coordinator

Updated 06.20.24

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