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MASTER in design studies

Rapidly changing climates, energy flows, material economies, and migratory populations are the emerging challenges of our time. Reflecting a growing imperative to understand and influence underlying processes of the world under construction—about what supports life today, pressing questions are being raised by a new generation of creators, innovators and designers about our shared future: 

-How environments, cities, and buildings can be built without infrastructure
-How water and geography are redrawing the contours of power, risk and politics
-How media is reshaping history and, how history is transforming technology
-How art and design are emerging as social activists and political protagonists
-How climates and catastrophes are redefining the contours of development
-How thermodynamics are reshaping building systems and resource economies
-How preservation of change is eliciting radical conservation practices

Cutting across the boundaries of conventional disciplines and fields of knowledge, these counterintuitive questions form a body of emerging inquiry focused on the landscape of the built environment and underlying natural systems, as part of the backbone of research at the Graduate School of Design.

Design as Research

At the core of this vision is the agency of design research. Seeking to empower the next generation of designers and urbanists, the Master in Design Studies (MDes) is a research-based program that utilizes a set of novel and alternative methodologies. Design researchers work in a collaborative, immersive, and multimedia environment of students, researchers, scholars, and practitioners. Distinct from the sciences and the arts, the design research methodology involves interactive, transdisciplinary ways of learning through hands-on, cross-over research that engages the material, social, spatial, infrastructural, ecological, political, thermodynamic and planetary dimensions of design. Across the urban arts, media ecologies and design economies, the Program challenges conventional ways of learning—through action, engagement through iteration and interaction through application—in a range of labs, seminars, workshops, initiatives, books, and projects.

The program is structured around a final research project. To prepare for the ambitions of this research, students in each area undertake a core set of courses including a discursive proseminar in the first semester, followed by research methods and related topical courses in the second semester. The program culminates in a substantial research project, addressing complex, open-ended questions, across a range of scales, that are relevant to urban life and the future of design for the 21st century.

Building on three decades of postgraduate research at the Graduate School of Design since 1984, the Master in Design Studies Program intends to expose, expand, and amplify the growing culture of research at Harvard University. Corresponding to important shifts in allied disciplines and fields, the Program challenges and invites candidates from a range of backgrounds to address challenges that have rarely conformed, if at all, to the boundaries of traditional disciplines. In collaboration with its world-class Faculty, the Program seeks to unlock the creative potential of its student body through the advancement of design research as a mediated, material practice and social, ecologically-based process.

Program Directors 
Pierre Bélanger, Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture
Kiel Moe, Assistant Professor of Architectural Technology

Contact Us

To learn more about the admissions process, please visit Applying to the GSD.

For more information on the Design Studies Program or help in identifying a concentration, contact

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