Five reasons to choose the programme

You 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 who are leading scholars in their respective fields.
You'll have access to world-class research collections and facilities, including 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 you to pursue further research or a career in a related sector.
We are located in the heart of a UNESCO World Heritage Site in a European capital city of outstanding architectural beauty.


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 is 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.

Its 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.


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 through weekly discussions of key scholarly texts. 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 architecture; Islamic architecture; nineteenth-century, twentieth-century, and contemporary architecture; landscape history and theory; construction history; the history of computing and digitisation in architecture; imperial landscapes; urban and cultural theory and architecture's historic contribution to climate change.

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.

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.

Courses are structured usually around a seminar-style conversation, with emphasis on a set of weekly readings which students will discuss in class sessions amongst themselves and the instructor. Assessments usually centre upon longer writing assignments, such as essays on the historiography of a particular topic in the field or book reviews of important texts. The precise pedagogical framework is at the instructor's discretion, but the intention is to improve students' fluency in discussion of the field of architectural history and related issues, similar to the activities that they might be expected to engage in during their careers after graduation.

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 are derived from topics of staff research specialisation.  Examples include;

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.

MSc1 Year Full-time Programme structure 2020/21

MSc2 Years art-time Programme structure 2020/21

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 and Theory Seminar Series

This seminar series is supported by the MSc in Architectural History and Theory and convened by Dr Elizabeth Petcu and Dr Moa Carlsson.

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.

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.


The programme offers excellent preparation for doctoral research and careers that engage with the history of architecture and the built environment, including documentation and interpretation, work in museums and conservation agencies, and journalism and the media.

How to apply and entrance requirements

If you'd like to study on a postgraduate programme at Edinburgh College of Art, you must apply through EUCLID, our online application system. You can find out how to do this on the University of Edinburgh website, where you'll also be able to:

  • see detailed entrance requirements for each programme on the Degree Finder
  • get information on what to expect after you apply
  • find out about study modes, start dates and fees
  • find out if, and how, you need to submit a portfolio, showreel or research proposal
  • find out where to go for further advice and guidance

Take me to the University of Edinburgh website on how to apply for postgraduate study

Alumni profiles


Prof Alex Bremner

Professor of Architectural History

Programme Director, MSc Architectural History and Theory; Director of Research ESALA


Tel: +44 (0)131 650 2320

Facilities and resources

Students at the University of Edinburgh have access to a range of library resources across the campus and online.

We have model workshops in both the Hunter Building and Minto House. Here you can work with machinery and hand tools for the cutting, shaping, and general fabrication of woods and metals.

Scholarships and bursaries

Andrew Grant Postgraduate Scholarships

  • Deadline: 1 March 2022
  • Value: £10,500
  • Eligibility: Scholarships available for one academic year of postgraduate Masters study at Edinburgh College of Art.


Edinburgh College of Art Postgraduate Admissions

Tel: +44 (0)131 650 4086