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Architectural Studies Special Major in Art

Professor Randall Exon discussing work inside the Wharton Esherick Museum during an Architecture class trip.

Professor Randall Exon discussing work inside the Wharton Esherick Museum during an architecture class trip.

Students who hope to pursue architectural studies as a special major with a particular interest in the studio practice of architecture and design in the built environment are encouraged to make art their primary program. An architectural studies special major in art is an 11-credit major. While students will craft their program of study in consultation with their advisor, an architectural studies special major in art includes a total of seven credits in art (from art courses in architectural studies, sculpture, 3D design, or architectural drawing in addition to the Senior Capstone), at least two credits in relevant architectural history courses, and at least two credits in additional departments that meet the student’s particular interests in the built environment (these could include math, physics, sociology & anthropology, environmental studies, philosophy, Black studies, theater, and engineering, among many possibilities). During senior year, art majors, including all architectural studies special majors in art, are granted individual studios in Whittier Hall to complete work for their Senior Capstone. The capstone experience culminates with an exhibition in the List Gallery. An architectural studies special major in art prepares students well for graduate school in architecture, landscape architecture, industrial design, urban planning, historic preservation, and architectural history and theory, as well as many jobs in those fields open to students with nonprofessional bachelor’s degrees.

Explore the course offerings for The Architectural Studies Special Major in Art below:

ARTT 006A. Studio Architecture I: Turning Corners; Drawing Arch and 3-D Design

This Beaux-Arts practice of “analytique”-a drawn or sketched, tour of a building’s unifying visual elements, proportional relationships, and structural details-will be the primary mode of inquiry in this course. Taking advantage of the great number of the fine examples of historial and contemporary architecture in this region, the class will take a series of field trips to select group of local monuments to gather visual material. We will continue and build on the student’s competency and understanding of linear perspective and free hand sketching, established in the prerequisite, while introducing new methods in site measuring and isometric drawing. Extensive use of watercolor and gouache will also be used, although previous experience in these techniques is not required, in order to articulate the decorative and light specific qualities of Humanities. 

ARTT 006B. Studio Architecture I: Monuments and the Public Space
ARTT 060A. Studio Architecture II: Built Environment and 3D Design

This course applies careful study of the elements and principles of design to the context of the Swarthmore College campus. Through a series of walks and on-campus field trips to sites, archives, and collections, we will consider our lived experiences of the built environment as well as the history of Swarthmore’s campus. Each excursion will emphasize an aspect of 3D Design, and will present an exercise to study and deepen understanding of 3D form and space (i.e., line, plane, volume, mass, weight, texture, surface, parts-to-whole relationships). By mid-way through the semester, the scope of course projects will expand to involve design challenges on Swarthmore’s campus that involve site analysis, measuring, drawing, and modeling. We will use both analog and digital modes of drawing and modelling. Students will be introduced to human-centered and equity-centered community design practices through our approach to design challenges. At a few points throughout the semester, the scope of our thinking will expand to relate course projects to broader ideas about the role place in higher education and the notion of college campuses in American culture.

ARTT 061A. Studio Architecture III: Critical Studies in Architecture

This advanced level course introduces a wide range of influential historical and contemporary approaches to architectural design. Each student will create a body of independent work developed over the course of the semester. Weekly critiques will be the primary method of feedback with the purpose of helping each student set independent goals using their aesthetic preferences and developing their individual artistry. Readings, film/video, and exhibition recommendations will be given on an individual basis. Students will be expected to keep a research journal to track the development of their work and thoughts about painting in general.  The class will include visits to architects studios and visits to buildings they have designed.

ARTT 062A. Studio Architecture IV: Materials and Methods

This advanced level course is designed to strengthen existing critical, theoretical and practical skills related to independent architectural practices. Regular critiques will guide and assess the development of work.  In addition to the weekly meetings with the instructor, students will be expected to hold peer-led critiques, studio visits and discussions. At the culmination of the course, students will be expected to collaborate with their peers, the List Gallery Director and studio faculty to participate in and help mount their studio thesis exhibitions.

ARTT 069A. Studio Architecture: Independent Thesis Project

This advanced level course is designed to strengthen existing critical, theoretical and practical skills related to independent architectural practices. Regular critiques will guide and assess the development of work.  In addition to the weekly meetings with the instructor, students will be expected to hold peer-led critiques, studio visits and discussions. At the culmination of the course, students will be expected to collaborate with their peers, the List Gallery Director and studio faculty to participate in and help mount their studio thesis exhibitions.
Prerequisite: Four Studio Arch. Classes


This course serves as an introduction to the foundational materials, techniques, and concepts associated with sculpture. Sculpture I emphasizes the development of skills in wood, steel, and introductory mold-making/casting techniques through a series of hands-on demos and exercises that culminate in creative studio projects. This class also foregrounds creative process, introducing students to the expression of sculptural ideas through iterative studio practice. Each major course project will involve brainstorming, drafting, mocking-up, working, and re-working sculptural objects. We will approach form-making as a language in and of itself, one which demands 3D thinking and making and the development of hands-on, embodied knowledge. Sculpture I prepares students to move onto a variety of Sculpture II courses, where individual concepts and technical skills can be further honed and applied to specific topics in contemporary sculpture. While emphasis falls on introductory techniques in wood, metal, and casting, we will engage a spectrum of finding and making. Students will often be invited to incorporate everyday materials and found objects in relationship to foundational sculptural concepts.  Studio projects will be complemented by field trips, visiting artists, readings, films, and slide presentations, all aimed at developing diverse, nuanced contexts for contemporary sculpture.


This class is an introduction to site-specific sculpture, it’s context, history and problems.


Installation Art is a studio-based inquiry into the fundamental concepts, visual elements, critical language, and fabrication processes relevant to the creation of contemporary installations. Installation Art is a porous term used to describe mixed-media artworks designed for a specific space or for a temporary amount of time. Installation has been a prevalent mode of expression within contemporary art since the 1960s, and today is more often a strategy for articulating a particular set of ideas than an all-encompassing genre. Throughout the course, students will explore how they might respond to aspects of their physical surroundings and the built environment through installation. This course will begin with a series of studies, in which students practice their capacity to think both spatially and temporally– beyond the making of discrete objects. These initial studies will each trace a specific line of thinking and making within installation practices, such as spatial drawing, light and space, and video projection, and will build towards an expanded installation made by students on campus. The culminating course project will be a mock open call in which the class works in small groups to propose a sculptural installation for a specific local context (i.e., a nearby museum, a public space, etc.).


From pandemic toilet paper hysteria to Tesla’s cars of the future, we shape material culture and it, in turn, shapes us. As such, this course explores materiality as being central to the human experience, and a primary concern in contemporary sculpture. We will ask: how might materiality drive form and content in works of art? We will consider family histories, vernacular traditions, mass manufacturing, and consumer culture as ways in which materiality intersects with and shapes lived experience. We will ask what things are made of, and what impact they have on the environment. Critical to our exploration will be a consideration of what to make sculpture out of now, in an era defined by ecological precarity and climate change. Studio projects will emphasize material experimentation, process, and iteration.  Advanced mold-making and casting techniques will be covered.  The class will likely work with Recycled Artist in Residence (RAIR) in Philadelphia or an alternative community-based art organization for the culminating course project.


This course is an introduction to the fundamental concepts and principles of three-dimensional design and the built environment. Through a series of hands-on projects, we will introduce basic tools and materials that are commonly used by designers to create prototypes such as cardboard, wood, clay foam, and plaster. Working independently and collaboratively, students will take an inquiry-based approach to explore the formal elements and essential functions of 3D design through unique design challenges that reflect on form in space. Iteration and experimentation are core themes in this course, and students will learn how to work from concept, to sketch, to three-dimensional objects. Throughout the semester we will engage in the critical analysis of historical and contemporary design objects and develop a practical and conceptual understanding of 3D design practice. The course is supported by lectures, readings, films, field trips, group discussions, and critiques, where students will learn to articulate essential information about their work and engage with constructive feedback.


3D Design II is focused on expanding skills and techniques within three-dimensional design practice. This course puts an emphasis on working between analog and digital processes as a method for ideation and design development. Basic model-making techniques will serve as a foundation for students to utilize the digital tools in the MakerSpace, including 3D modeling with Rhino, 3D scanning, 3D printing, and laser cutting. The course will explore how handmade models can be scanned, manipulated, and reproduced as a tool for working with various three-dimensional design problems. We will consider real-world scenarios through a sustained investigation of form and function, and students will explore the creation of prototypes that can lead to results in additive manufacturing, casting, flat-packed designs, and more. This course balances theory and practice and is supported by lectures, readings, class discussions, and field trips that engage with contemporary issues faced by designers, such as ethics, sustainability, and technology. 


The Senior Capstone is the culminating credit of your concentration in the Art major. The permanent faculty share the responsibility of mentoring you for this credit and will divide up the majors equally among themselves. It is not necessary and may not be possible to work with a faculty member from your chosen concentration. The Senior Capstone is designed to strengthen critical, theoretical and practical skills related to your studio practice. The success of your experience in a large part will be due to how you handle the level of independence. You will be responsible for structuring your studio time, maintaining a supply budget and coordinating meetings with your faculty mentor. The faculty mentor will guide and assess the development of work. You may reach out to other faculty to seek feedback during their scheduled office hours but your primary mentor will be appointed from the faculty. The Senior Capstone culminates in a curated group exhibition in the List Gallery. As was the case in the fall semester, you will have your own studio space in Whittier Hall.

Architectural History Course Offerings (2 credit Architectural History requirement to fulfill the Architectural Studies Special Major in Art)

ARTH 001D. First-Year Seminar: Architecture of Philadelphia

Philadelphia offers a virtual hall of fame of architectural and urban history. Even a cursory list touches on many of the major developments in the built environment over the last five centuries and beyond: William Penn’s Philadelphia Plan; Independence Hall; Eastern State Penitentiary; Levittown; Society Hill; the Vanna Venturi House; and the Barnes Foundation. This discussion-based seminar turns to this history not only to understand the architecture of one important metropolitan area, but to understand how these examples can teach about broader themes including the history of land use and planning, the industrial and urban revolutions, social struggle and social change, public memory, metropolitan growth and urban renewal, and aesthetic and formal innovation. Through field trips, archival research, critical interpretation of interdisciplinary sources, and writing assignments, students will learn the foundational methods of architectural history as well as many of the major cultural and social forces that have shaped it.

ARTH 047. Counterculture Architecture and Urbanism

During the 1960s and ‘70s in the United States, young builders and planners gave form to the ideological shifts generated by the Countercultural Movement. Their radical designs were formal condemnations of the technocratic, homogenous strategies favored by the previous generation. This course examines the multifaceted nature of countercultural architecture, planning, and technology through primary sources and critical texts that provide a broader cultural, social, and political context for the work. Each seminar focuses upon either an abstract component of “outlaw” design, such as whole systems theory, gender and race politics, cybernetics, etc., or particular building forms that came to symbolize the movement, including inflatables, geodesic domes, and vernacular constructions. The course encourages students to draw connections between built work and countercultural theory and to challenge preconceived notions of architecture during the period. 

ARTH 058. Modern Architecture

This course addresses the history of modern architecture from the nineteenth century through World War II. The course will pay particular attention to the ways in which architects have responded to, and participated in, formal and aesthetic developments in other arts, as well as the role of architecture in broader technological, economic, and social-political transformations. Covering many aspects of architecture from buildings, drawings, models, exhibitions, and schools, to historical and theoretical writings and manifestoes we will investigate a range of modernist practices, polemics, and institutions. The readings, both primary and secondary texts, have been selected both to provide an overview of the history of modern architecture and to offer a number of critical and historical approaches to evaluating its legacy.

ARTH 060. Building New Worlds: The Arts and Architectures of Liberation

This mid-level course examines the legacies of artists and architects who, since the 1960s, have relied on the power of cultural work in struggles for racial emancipation. It centers the contributions to the fields of socially engaged art and architecture of African American, Latinx, Asian American, and Native American practitioners who worked to make the United States a nation for all. Faced with a hostile environment of systemic racism that often excluded them from institutions of artistic and architectural legitimacy, these practitioners relied on imagination and the power of community to plan, realize, and historize their interventions. We will focus on six sites of the built environment that have historically been settings of struggle against racialized systemic violence: the prison, the home, public space, the school, the international border, and the neighborhood.

ARTH 063. Architecture and American Landscape

In his essay, “Preserving Wildness,” environmentalist Wendell Berry wrote: “We need to understand [nature] as our source and preserver, as an essential measure of our history, and as the ultimate definer of our possibilities.” With Berry’s multidimensional conception of nature in mind, this course examines the interrelationship of architecture, planning, and the ever-changing American landscape. It looks at the ways in which architecture may respond to the political, social, and philosophical implications of diverse ecological perspectives and uncovers the part architecture plays in environmental preservation and degradation. The class takes as its starting point colonial settlements and Native American land use patterns in the Eastern United States and concludes with national responses to 21st-century climate change discourse, paying particular attention to fluctuating conceptions of wildness and nature over time and to the wider socio-cultural implications of these attitudes.

ARTH 066. Race, Space, and Architecture

This colloquium considers how race and identity interact with architectural and urban spaces, especially in the United States in the twentieth century. By studying the historical and theoretical dimensions of topics including the meanings attached to public and private housing, the training and practice of designers, and the reconstruction and transformation of urban places, we will interpret how race has shaped buildings, landscapes, and plans. In turn, we will also examine how the built environment has shaped the formation and interpretation of racial categories.

ARTH 072. Global History of Architecture: Prehistory to 1750 CE

This survey will provide an introduction to the history of the global built environment from the earliest human settlements to the middle of the second millennium. Chronologically and geographically broad, we will examine selected works of architecture and urbanism from diverse cultures around the world, commencing ca. 10,000 B.C.E. and ending around 1750 C.E. In doing so, we will interpret the built environment as both a product of its social, political, and cultural contexts and a force that shapes those contexts. Despite a diversity of examples, common themes–such as cultural interaction and exchange, religion and belief, transmission of knowledge, architectural patronage, spatial and aesthetic innovation, and technological transformation–will emerge across the course.

ARTH 073. Global History of Architecture: 1800-Present

This survey will visit some of the major structures, events, and innovations that defined the global built environment in the last six centuries, beginning with the Renaissance and its contemporaries and extending through Modernism. Our consideration will go beyond a history of style to examine the built environment as a product of and force acting on its broader social, political, and cultural contexts. We will pay attention to architecture and urbanism from the place of work to the place of leisure; from sites belonging to the very powerful to those belonging to the disenfranchised; and from those designed by well-known figures to those without known designers. Themes will include power, belief, technology, industrialization, trade, patronage, professionalization, identity, empire, and urbanization.

ARTH 153. Modern Architecture and Urbanism: Honors Seminar

This honors seminar examines the broad array of designed and built works, makers, sites, and texts that constitute modern architecture and urbanism. Students will interpret the many facets of modernism through key historical readings-both primary and secondary, canonical and revisionist; analysis of examples; and consideration of their makers, both well-known and less so. A guiding assumption is that modernism was never only one thing and had different-even sometimes opposite-intentions, manifestations, and consequences in different contexts. Yet we will follow one persistent question as a link across the semester: how did modern architects and urbanists seek to create a better world? The motivations behind and answers to this defining question of modernism were never consistent across our period of study. While centering designed objects, then, we will interrogate how people have experienced modernism differently, depending on their identities, subject positions, geographic locations, and social roles. 
Prerequisite: Two courses in art history or permission of instructor.