Design Theory & Critical Practices

The MAAD Design Theory and Critical Practices concentration offers graduates of professional architectural programs an intense year of advanced study in architectural history, theory, and criticism, culminating in an independent research project oriented toward public exhibition, publication, or digital dissemination.

The program is designed for mid-career professionals or post-graduate students seeking advanced training that will prepare them for careers as architecture teachers, critics, curators, civic leaders, theorists, journalists, and provocateurs.

The program’s areas of special focus include:

  • Experimental History: Forms of architectural and urban history that explore non-traditional and alternative modes including reconstruction, counterfactual history, critical conservation, and even destruction.
  • New Media: Architectural and urban practices that engage multimedia and new media such as animations, apps, video, and databases.
  • Critical Practices: Spatial and urban practices that provocatively address political and social subjects, including forms of spatial activism.


MAAD students tailor a course sequence that meets their specific needs. Each student must complete 30 credits over the course of two semesters (fall/spring).

In the fall semester, all students in the MAAD Design Theory and Critical Practices take a required core course in Architectural Theory and advanced seminars in Architecture Research and Interpretation, along with an open elective. In the spring, students take advanced seminars in Architectural Writing and Production, along with an open elective. All of these courses are designed to enable students to develop and complete a final independent research project, working under the supervision of a faculty adviser. The final project may take the form of a thesis-length scholarly text, an exhibition, new media project, or other format approved by the program director.

Teaching & Support Team

MAAD Design Theory and Critical Practices have the opportunity to work with several faculty in the Architecture division who specialize in architecture and urban history and theory, including:

David Gissen
Irene Cheng
Javier Arbona
William Littmann
Katherine Rinne
Catherine Veikos
Lisa Findley
Neeraj Bhatia

Students can also take courses and work with affiliated faculty in other CCA programs, including:

Karen Fiss
Jacqueline Francis
Tirza Latimer
Julian Myers
Mitchell Schwarzer
Amy Balkin
Allison Smith
Tina Takemoto

The San Francisco Bay Area

CCA is centrally located in the heart of the San Francisco Bay Area, and provides a fertile place to study architectural history, theory, and criticism. The MAAD in Design Theory and Critical Practices program has created partnerships with several institutions and organizations in order to provide students with opportunities for internships and potential curatorial venues: these include the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art Studio for Urban Projects, and SPUR.

CCA is located between two large research universities (Berkeley and Stanford) that provide access to additional programming such as exhibitions, conferences, and lectures. Our proximity to a dense network of media and technology communities allows for the exploration of new mediums of architectural and urban practice.

Events, Workshops & Lectures

The MAAD in Design Theory and Critical Practices program has sponsored several important events. In October 2013, the program hosted Test Sites: Experimental Histories of Space, a symposium that gathered leading scholars and critics to investigate alternate practices of spatial history such as reconstructions, new archival forms, and critical conservation. The program also staged “An Olfactory Archive,” the first exhibition devoted exclusively to the recent works of artisans and historians who harness scents, essences, and fragrances in the reconstruction and preservation of historical spaces.

CCA Architecture also sponsors a world-class lecture series that includes prominent architectural historians and theorists from around the world. Recent lecturers have included Beatriz Colomina (Princeton University), Kazys Varnelis (Columbia University), Pier Vittorio Aureli (the Berlage Institute), Neil Brenner (Harvard University), Anthony Vidler (Brown University), and Keller Easterling (Yale University).

See upcoming (and past) Architecture Lecture Series events »

MAAD Application Process

The MAAD application info is available here. The program is accepting applications until June 1, 2014. Applications made after this date may be accepted at the discretion of the program chair. 

Applicants should have previously earned a professional degree in architecture: BArch, MArch (or equivalent).

Questions & Contacts

For general questions email:

If you have specific questions about the MAAD in Design Theory and Critical Practices, please email lead faculty Irene Cheng ( or David Gissen ( directly.