Architectural History and Theory - MSc


This programme offers students advanced training in the methodological, theoretical, and historiographical aspects of architecture and the wider built environment, all within the beautiful and superbly preserved setting of the Scottish capital and UNESCO World Heritage city of Edinburgh. Through a structured set of courses, including a substantial array of elective modules, supervised dissertation research, and optional internships, students will acquire a breadth of historical understanding as well as develop a rigorous approach to research practice and culture. The programme offers excellent preparation for doctoral research and careers that engage with the history and interpretation of architecture and the built environment.

The programme’s distinctiveness lies in the variety of its coverage and its position at the centre of a constellation of subjects and specialist disciplines within Edinburgh School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture (ESALA) and Edinburgh College of Art (ECA), including architecture, landscape architecture, history of art, and conservation studies. It is also part of a unique suite of specialist courses and degrees that deal specifically with the history and theory of architecture from the undergraduate level (Architectural History - MA (Hons)) through to PhD research, comprising the largest such centre for the study of architectural history in the United Kingdom.


Embracing the entirety of architecture’s history and geography, the programme is structured around two 20-credit core courses: ‘Methods and Paradigms of Research’ (Semester 1) and ‘Histories and Theories of Architecture’ (Semester 2). These are designed to strengthen students’ understanding of both disciplinary and interdisciplinary approaches to the field. In addition, students will choose two 20-credit courses or one 40-credit course per semester, either from the catalogue of taught courses or as an internship.

The range of elective modules and taught courses on offer reflects the world-leading research interests and expertise of the programme's staff, including Britain (especially Scotland) and the British colonial world; Europe (especially Germany) and Russia; the Americas; Medieval and Renaissance Italy; nineteenth-century, twentieth-century, and contemporary architecture; landscape history; construction history; urban and cultural theory. Additionally, in building their degree pathway, students can choose elective courses from Art History, Archaeology, Architectural Conservation, History, and Literature, among others. This breadth reflects the diversity of positions within the fields of architectural history and theory, making the programme suitable for students from a range of backgrounds and with a variety of interests and career objectives.

Internships are typically at organisations that specialise in the documentation and interpretation of the historic built environment. These include Historic Scotland, National Monuments Records of Scotland, National Trust for Scotland, National Galleries of Scotland, National Archives of Scotland, and smaller agencies. Internships will appeal especially to those students who wish to build a practical and professional element into their training for preparation for employment in the heritage sector or allied industry.

Top five reasons to choose the programme

  • Students will study architectural history and theory across an unrivalled choice of subjects, ranging chronologically from the Middle Ages through to the 21st century.
  • The programme is delivered by architectural historians and theorists of international standing, many of whom are leading scholars in their respective fields.
  • Students have access to world-class research collections and facilities, including specialist site libraries, state-of-the-art computing equipment and on-line resources, and access to the National Library of Scotland, one of only five Legal Deposit libraries in the UK.
  • The degree offers an excellent opportunity to acquire knowledge and transferable skills that will enable students to pursue further research or equip them for careers in a related sector(s).
  • The programme is located in a European capital city of outstanding architectural beauty that is a UNESCO world-heritage site.

Programme structure

The programme requires students to complete a total of 180 credit points in the course of an academic year. Students must take one 20-credit core-course in semesters 1 and 2. Students will also enrol in 2 option-courses per semester. Finally, students will complete a 60-credit dissertation over the course of the summer toward completion of the degree.

Core courses

‘Methods and Paradigms of Research’

This course asks students to engage with questions that are central to contemporary discourse in the humanities and social sciences, with an emphasis on the interdisciplinary potential of architectural scholarship. It is arranged thematically and responds to staff and students research interests. The aim of the course is not to advance a particular methodological or theoretical approach, but rather to cultivate a critical awareness of many positions available to historical and theoretical study. Processes of inquiry — both practical and theory-driven — are the focus of this course that introduces students to key conceptual tools for research in architectural history and theory.

‘Histories and Theories of Architecture’

This course asserts that there is a history of architectural history. Students address this proposition by engaging with the work of key architectural historians of the past and present and by analysing changes in disciplinary procedures and emphasis over time. The course thus seeks to define a discipline that documents, interprets, and responds to sites, objects, and events that may range from prehistoric settlements to ephemeral media spectacles. The ultimate objective of the course is twofold: to familiarize students with the most important contributions to the historiography of architecture and to ask how the discipline might be reinvented in our own time.

Option courses 2016-17

Option courses are derived from topics of staff research specialisation:

Available options may vary from year to year. To see the range of courses available, visit the Course Catalogue page and scroll to the SCQF Level 11 courses list.

Work Placements

Students will have the opportunity to gain hands-on experience through work placement opportunities at national and local institutions that specialise in the documentation and interpretation of the historic built environment. Each work placement project will be tailored to the host organisation and the student’s individual needs and interests. Coursework undertaken during the placement may form the starting point for a dissertation.


The culmination of the programme is a 12,000 – 15,000 word dissertation based on original research or interpretation.  Students will be assigned a primary staff supervisor in the first semester of their studies based on their primary research interests. Students will then refine the topic of their research over the course of their first and second semesters in preparation for the completion of the dissertation over the course of the summer.

Programme activities

Architectural History/Theory Seminars

This seminar series is supported by the MSc in Architectural History and Theory and convened by Dr Richard Anderson and Dr Alistair Fair. 

This semester, we welcome guests from Harvard University, Estonian Academy of Arts, the Universities of Melbourne, Liverpool and London, and Glasgow School of Art. We also hear from one of our Edinburgh colleagues.

Seminars take place on selected Tuesdays at 5.15pm; venue details can vary, so please check the seminar listings.

Visiting academics

The programme engages with a community of scholars beyond Edinburgh, enhancing its role within national and international research networks.

Visiting academics are responsible for a range of talks and events during their time at ECA.

Past Visiting Fellows in Architectural History include Dr Cole Roskam from the University of Hong Kong (Geddes Visiting Fellow 2014), and Professor Barry Bergdoll from Columbia University, New York (Simpson Visiting Professor 2015-16).

The Geddes Visiting Fellow for 2016-17 will be Professor Philip Goad from the University of Melbourne, Australia.

William H. Playfair and Edinburgh

ESALA aims to bring Playfair’s extraordinary contribution to the architecture of Edinburgh, and Scotland more generally, into public focus by initiating a multi-year educational, research and exhibition project.

Society of Architectural Historians 2017 Conference

SAH logo

ESALA is a formal partner of the 2017 Society of Architectural Historians Conference, to be held in Glasgow in June.

Find out more about the SAH 2017 Conference >




Dr Richard Anderson (Programme Director) | View staff profile >

Modern and Contemporary Architecture in Europe, Eurasia and North America

Prof Iain Boyd Whyte | View staff profile >

Architectural Modernism in Germany, Austria and the Netherlands; Translation Studies; Post-1945 Urbanism and Reconstruction

Dr Alex Bremner | View staff profile >

Nineteenth- and Early Twentieth-Century British Architecture; Architecture and Empire

Prof Ian Campbell | View staff profile >

Italian Renaissance architecture, Scottish Medieval and Early Modern Architecture and the Classical Tradition

Dr Alistair Fair | View staff profile >

Twentieth-Century British Architecture; History of Environmental Design

Dr Jim Lawson | View staff profile >

Renaissance Architecture and Theory, the European Enlightenment and Photographic History and Criticism

John Lowrey | View staff profile >

Scottish and British Architecture since the Enlightenment

Margaret Stewart | View staff profile >

Architecture, Landscape and Sculpture in Scotland and beyond

Affiliated Staff

The MSc Architectural History and Theory engages with the diverse strengths of staff within ESALA, including staff who specialise in architectural design, architectural theory, cultural studies, building technology, digital media and conservation.


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Scholarships available for one academic year of postgraduate study at Edinburgh College of Art. (£5,000)

News & events


Photo of 1-32 Coll Street and Red Road, Glasgow
1-32 Coll Street and Red Road, Glasgow

The three-year Heritage Lottery-funded project has digitised over 4,000 historic images taken in the 1980s and is now making them publicly available as part of the Tower Block-UK Slide Archive.

Announcing the details of the five AHT seminars scheduled for this semester.


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