The three-year Architecture Tripos course provides a basic grounding in architecture and exemption from the Part I exam of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA).

It introduces the technical, historical and theoretical knowledge needed for architectural practice, and the skills needed to apply this knowledge to create the built environment.

There is an emphasis on creative, sustainable buildings. Design is the core discipline in architectural education, and design-based studio work forms the major activity throughout the course. The design studio is closely integrated with lecture courses in the technical aspects of architecture (construction, structures and environmental design), its history and theory.

In the third year, students also have an opportunity to pursue their own individual interest through a 9,000-word dissertation. All of the teaching arranged by the Department takes place there and is supplemented by weekly small group or one-to-one supervisions provided by the College.

A more detailed account of the course and an indication of the nature of the studio design projects can be found on the Architecture Department website.

Architecture at Downing

At Downing College, we aim to turn students into socially responsible architects and built environment specialists who are proficient in both the sciences and the arts of architecture.

Our students’ supervisions are tailored to suit their academic needs, development and inclinations. Successful professionals and academics are regularly invited to supervise our students, complementing their learning in the Department and expanding their horizons.

Entry requirements and interviews

Architecture is a demanding subject; therefore we seek students who are fully committed and willing to work hard.

There is no prescribed route of studies leading to architecture, but a combined background in both the arts and sciences is the best preparation. An excellent result in A-Level or equivalent and a good portfolio are essential. A-Level Mathematics or Physics will be an advantage.

Deferred entry is welcome. Candidates are especially encouraged to travel in their gap year to learn about architecture and culture elsewhere in the world. They will be asked at the interview about their plans.

Candidates will be asked to attend two interviews. We are looking for candidates with:

  • a strong academic background
  • artistic skills
  • creativity
  • a commitment to the discipline
  • an ability to think independently
  • a willingness to learn.

Your portfolio

Candidates will be expected to bring to the interview a portfolio of design or artwork representative of their creativity, range of skills and interests and discuss this work with the interviewers.

To prepare a portfolio, A-Level Art can be helpful, although, depending on each individual’s background and ability, formal art education may not be necessary. The aim of a portfolio is to showcase the candidate’s abilities on aspects relevant to architecture.

It should demonstrate the candidate’s well-grounded creativity, artistic skills, and ability to interpret and communicate ideas and understanding relating to 2D and 3D objects and spaces within their contexts. Work should be recent, although a sketchbook kept over a period of time is useful to demonstrate the candidate’s ability to observe and progress.

A portfolio should cover work presented in a range of media and possibly 3D models. Work submitted can be of any size appropriate for the purpose of that work. The candidate should be prepared to describe and explain the ideas, purposes, motivation and working process behind each piece of work.

Photographs may be submitted as part of the portfolio if they represent work other than photography; for example, photographs of large-scale or fragile sculptures or paintings, or scans of graphics work may be submitted instead of the originals.

We strongly recommend that overseas candidates travel to Cambridge for interview. If this is impossible, a portfolio of the candidate's work may be sent for consideration (note that a portfolio posted to us will not be returned). This should be accompanied by a statement from the candidate's school or other institution confirming that it is the candidate’s own work. Occasionally, we ask for a sample of written or drawn work.

Further advice about entry requirements and interviews for all subjects can be found in the Applying to Downing section of this site.

Postgraduate study

A high proportion of Downing's Architecture graduates proceed, through post-graduate study, into architectural practice. Cambridge has a range of postgraduate MPhil courses on offer.

The Department has recently opened a new two-year MPhil course, which allows the successful candidates to be qualified for RIBA Part 2. Cambridge also offers a Professional Practice Course to prepare candidates for the RIBA Part 3 exams. Please contact the Department directly for more details of those courses.

Recommended Reading

These titles are given as a guide to help applicants gain a better understanding of the subject matter. They are not intended as preparatory reading and interviewers will not expect candidates necessarily to have read any of these titles.

Environmental Design

  • McMullan, Environment Science in Building, MacMillan, 1998 or more recent edition.
  • Szokolay, Introduction to Architectural Science: the Basis of Sustainable Design, Architectural Press, 2004.

Construction

  • Maclean and Scott, The Penguin Dictionary of Building, Penguin, 1993.
  • Baden-Powell, Architect’s Pocket Book, Architectural Press, 2001.

Structures

  • Gordon, Structures - or Why Things Don’t Fall Down, Penguin, 1978.
  • Zalewski and Allen, Shaping Structures: Statics, John Wiley & Sons, 1998.

History and Theory

  • Curtis, Modern Architecture since 1900, Phaidon, 1982.
  • Gombrich, The Story of Art, Phaidon, 1966.
  • Venturi and Scott-Brown Learning from Las Vegas.
  • Trachtenburg and Hayman, Architecture from pre-history to post-modernism, Academy, 1986.

Professional Practice

  • Spector, The Ethical Architect, Princeton Architectural Press, 2001.
  • Burberry, Environment and Services, Mitchells, 1986.
  • Templeton, Acoustics in the Built Environment, Butterworth, 1993.
  • Ford, The Details of Modern Architecture, MIT, 1990, 1996.
  • Heyman,The Stone Skeleton, The University of Cambridge Press, 1996.
  • Frampton, Modern Architecture, a critical history, Thames and Hudson, 1981.
  • Twombley, Frank Lloyd Wright - His Life and Architecture, Wiley, 1979.
  • Von Moos, Le Corbusier - Elements of a Synthesis, MIT, 1979.
  • Wolfe, From Bauhaus to our House, Farier Straus Giroux, 1981.

Supplementary reading

Summerson, The Classical Language of Architecture, MIT Press, 1966.