Fifth-Year Thesis Process 2020-21


Fifth-Year Design Studio Application Process

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

Fifth-Year Architectural Design Program
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/Portfolio

  1. Must be received by Monday, June 22, 2020 at 11:59 PM PDT (note new 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, 5MB maximum (total).
  3. Please name your PDF file as follows: lastname_firstname_statementofpurpose.pdf
  4. Upload your PDF file to the PolyLearn site: ARCH 5th Year PortfoliosThis PolyLearn site will be available for uploads beginning Monday May 18, 2020.
  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 is 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.
  • List any minors or joint degree programs you will be attempting
  • Current photo of yourself
  • Your immediate professional goals upon graduation
  • Other graphics or support materials you deem relevant

While you may discuss thesis interests, please do not specify the particular instructor or particular 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, each with a unique area of focus. This range of studio options is meant 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 read all of the material and study it carefully. In addition, please do not hesitate to contact fifth-year instructors and 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 2020-2021 will be posted on the Architecture website on Wednesday, June 24, 2020 at 12:30pm PDT prior to the due date for the Studio Preference Form.

4. Studio Preference Form

Studio Preference Form due date Sunday, June 28, 2020 at 11:59pm Pacific Daylight Time.

Once you have reviewed the studio prospecti and determined a studio ranking that reflects their relative fit with 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.

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 Design Program

The fifth-year program consists of Arch 481 Senior Architectural Design Project (5 units) that is taken during Fall, Winter and Spring quarters, and Arch 492 Senior Design Thesis (3 units) that is taken during Fall quarter.

The Architecture Department recognizes the difficulty of attempting to predict the future of a continually evolving profession in the context of a constantly changing society. In addition, it acknowledges the need for architecture to continually reflect upon its current ideas and modes of practice, and to develop and debate new ideas and directions in accordance with ongoing social, cultural, and technological developments. It seeks to nurture the development of future leaders of the architectural profession by fostering the development of a plurality of new ideas about the future of the architectural discipline, as well as new approaches and techniques by which to realize that future. The fifth-year thesis therefore combines a critical assessment of architecture’s current practices and performances, a proposition for and defense of a new possibility for architecture, research of existing discourse and precedents in support of this proposition, and a demonstration of the value of this idea in the form of a thesis design project. It is a form of architectural inquiry and production that differs from previous design studios in its expectation that the resulting design project embody a critical position about the architectural discipline itself, and that it therefore be situated within the ongoing discourse that drives the evolution of the architectural discipline.

The diversity of design and research pursued during the fifth-year thesis is therefore intended to reflect the diversity of ideas and practices that characterize the architectural discipline, and to promote a healthy discourse and debate that critically engages architecture's ongoing disciplinary discourse.  This is achieved by providing a rigorous intellectual context within which 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 argumentation, research, and design, and which will demonstrate the integration of your creative, organizational, technical, and representational abilities with the theory, principles, and practices of architecture.

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. However, they each challenge you to consider:

  • a review of your academic experience to date and speculation about the direction of your academic and professional future
  • an understanding of the diverse approaches to architectural design, areas of architectural knowledge, engagements with architectural discourse, and instructional methods represented by the studios offered
  • the choice and selection of a studio for one year of rigorous and disciplined architectural study, and
  • developing your professional sense of judgment and values in architecture

The fifth-year thesis studios offer quality, rigor, and relevance to the architectural profession across a range of academic and/or professional content. 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 project should:

  • Offer a clearly written and graphically represented thesis position that critically addresses the current practices and/or future opportunities of the architectural discipline, and makes a detailed and compelling argument for a new architectural proposition that is based on the thorough research and analysis of relevant architectural theories, case studies, precedents, aesthetic assumptions, and real-world scenarios, as well as the rigorous pursuit of design research through critical studies and experiments
  • Demonstrate the consequences of this thesis position and design research in the form of a thesis design project
  • Demonstrate a scope and level of complexity consistent with a capstone course, as well as a range of design solution alternatives and opportunities
  • Demonstrate design skill and refinement, from concept origination through design development levels as interpreted by the studio instructors
  • Consider site and contextual issues and potentials such as landscape and land use, urban form and dynamics, socio-political conditions, legal constraints, regional character, and historic or cultural value
  • Consider patterns of human activity, user and client needs, and user expectations
  • Consider global climatic and local micro-climatic conditions, as well as structural and material necessity
  • Consider mediums and modes of representation for the thesis design project that are appropriate to demonstrate and defend the thesis position being argued.

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 June 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 Design Coordinator

Updated 06.24.20

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