PhD Program


Landscape architects address some of the most complex social, cultural and ecological issues our planet faces. These issues demand experts with specialization and research experience, experts who can inform policies, train new generations of designers, and generate new knowledge.

If you want to deepen your knowledge of landscape architecture theory, history, and practice and contribute to the discipline in meaningful ways, consider applying to the PhD program in Architecture and Landscape Architecture at the University of Illinois. The program brings two related professions together to explore the design of environments that are equitable, sustainable, resilient, and democratic. In this unique, jointly administered program, students focus in either Architecture or Landscape Architecture, or work in both.

The School of Architecture and the Department of Landscape Architecture are two of the oldest and most distinguished professional degree programs of their kind in North America. They benefit from internationally renowned faculty and one of the largest academic libraries in the world, with more than ten million volumes and state-of-the-art electronic access to archival and database research. In a congenial and interdisciplinary work environment, PhD students and faculty work together to advance knowledge and extend the boundaries of their disciplines.

Alumni from our program conduct research and teach at top Universities throughout the world. Others work in government or professional consulting firms, shaping our cities and informing policy decisions.

Program Requirements and Areas of Specialization

Students seeking a PhD must complete coursework, demonstrate command of their area of specialization, and make original contributions to the discipline. The PhD dissertation, the culminating requirement of the program, establishes candidates’ mastery of the research methods in their field and demonstrates their ability to address major intellectual problems and arrive at successful conclusions.

There are three options or areas of specialization in the PhD program.

1. Social and Cultural Factors in Design

Students who specialize in Social and Cultural Factors in Design investigate relationships between built and natural environments and human behavior and culture. They explore how landscapes impact communities’ health and wellbeing and influence behavior. They consider the cultural factors work of architects, landscape architects, and planners, but also builders, craftspeople, and the ordinary men and women who create the human environment. The study of architectural and landscape history continually incorporates new research and methods derived from its essential links to other humanistic, social scientific, and technical disciplines.

2. History and Theory

History and theory are critical components of both Architecture and Landscape Architecture, informing practice and education in both fields. They also, however, stand alone as independent disciplines that contribute to our understanding of human history. At the University of Illinois, histories and theories of the built environment are regarded as essential contributions to scholarship in the humanities. As such, our students and faculty engage in dialogue with a wide range of historians and theoreticians across the campus, contributing spatial and visual modes of inquiry.

The concerns of this option encompass the evolution of the entire cultural landscape, including the work of architects, landscape architects, and planners, but also builders, craftspeople, and the ordinary men and women who create the human environment. The study of architectural and landscape history continually incorporates new research and methods derived from its essential links to other humanistic, social scientific, and technical disciplines.

3. Technology and Environment

Students who choose the Technology and Environment option explore tools, methods and theories that improve our surroundings and built environments. Technology presents a fertile field of research, directly impacting design, management and construction, human comfort, economics, materials and structural systems. This option encompasses the following areas of study:

  1. Building Science and Environmental Technology deals with the science and theory of thermal, luminous, and acoustical environments as they relate to building design, human comfort, and environmental control systems.
  2. Ecological Design explores the design of human-constructed environments and how they enhance human health and comfort, and restore, remediate, and preserve ecosystem health.
  3. Structures, Materials, and Construction deals with the strength and properties of materials, structures, construction methods and business practice and management;
  4. Information and Digital Technology investigates and develops new methodologies to communicate, manage, and execute designs through a variety of media. We explore methods of visualization and representation, develop technologies to promote citizen participation in the design process, and study how technologies enhance people’s experience of designs.

Students also identify a major area of study within their concentration and select a minor area of study from an outside field. The major field is defined as the broader disciplinary and subject area from which the dissertation research emerges. The minor field is selected to broaden knowledge, expand methodological skills, and provide new insights for the major field of study.

What to expect

The curriculum for each option is broken into three stages, consisting of core courses, electives, and a dissertation. All options require 96 hours of graduate work, 64 of which must be earned while in residence. Curriculum is tailored to individual needs and is determined in close consultation with the primary faculty advisor.

Stage One: Core courses

Students begin by taking courses that introduce the research methods of their chosen option. Additional core courses provide a foundation in the basic issues, theories, and concepts. A master’s degree (awarded at UIUC or elsewhere) can contribute up to 24 hours of coursework towards the doctoral degree. All students are required to enroll in the PhD colloquium during the fall of their first and second years of course work.

Stage Two: Electives

Stage 2 consists of 32 hours of required and elective courses and culminates with the passing of the preliminary exam. A minimum of 8 hours of coursework must be from departments other than the home department, and typically all but 12 hours are taken at the 500 (doctoral) level.

In consultation with their primary advisor, students choose elective courses that prepare them for their dissertation and develop breadth of knowledge both inside and outside of their field of study. Elective options at the University of Illinois are strong and numerous; PhD students have taken courses in Geography, Psychology, Sociology, History, Art History, Anthropology, Philosophy, Theatre, Leisure Studies, Material Science, Computer Science, Urban and Regional Planning, and Agricultural, Civil, Electrical and Mechanical Engineering.

Stage Two is completed when all course requirements have been met, a dissertation proposal has been accepted, and a preliminary examination has been passed.

Preliminary Exams

The Preliminary Examination tests the student’s competence in the theoretical and methodological subjects of the student’s chosen areas of concentration (major and minor fields). The purpose of this examination is to appraise the ability to synthesize facts, techniques, and ideas as evidence of the ability to pursue independent investigation. The preliminary examination consists of a written exam followed by a comprehensive oral examination with the preliminary examination committee. Once the preliminary exam has been passed, the student is officially a PhD Candidate.

Stage Three: Dissertation Work

The final stage is dissertation work which consists of a minimum of 32 hours. The dissertation is composed of original and independent research that makes a significant contribution to the field. The results of the dissertation are formally presented to the candidate’s dissertation committee and published.

We encourage prospective students to browse the dissertations of our former PhD students to learn more about the program.