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Abstract Architecture

Possible Pathways

by Amber Donaldson, B.S. Arch '24

Information on the majors within the school and possible post-grad paths.


The first year of undergrad at the A-School is a shared Common First Year curriculum, where students take courses in each of the three departments (Architecture, Urban + Environmental Planning, and Architectural History). At the end of the first year, students will declare a major in one of the three categories.

Architectural History

UVA’s Architectural History program is the oldest in the nation. The undergraduate curriculum in Architectural History takes the form of a liberal arts program. Students develop a thesis on a topic of their choice during the fourth year, while working closely with a faculty member within the department. There are two concentrations within the program, the Architectural History concentration and the Historic Preservation concentration.


The Architectural History concentration focuses on history from all periods and requires that students take at least one course from all four of the following areas: the Americas, Asia, Europe, and the Mediterranean. It emphasizes the breadth of knowledge across all cultures’ architecture.

The Historic Preservation concentration highlights the multi-disciplinary area of historic preservation and public history. A recommended part of the curriculum in this concentration is an internship in preservation or public history.

Urban + Environmental Planning

The Urban + Environmental Planning major emphasizes interdisciplinary study, internships, and research and design projects. The department offers a wide range of courses, including a focus on community design and development, transportation strategies, data analysis and visualization, land use and environmental policy, fieldwork, and social planning. Some of the primary topics that are emphasized in the department include biophilic cities, smart technologies and mobility, design and health, and social justice.


Students take classes across a variety of disciplines, including sciences, humanities, and design-based courses.


The Architecture major aims to direct students in productive ways to understand and transform the built environment with design as the primary objective of instruction. Students in this program also take courses in history, computation, theory, building technology, visualization, urbanism, and professional practice. Design is addressed on a variety of scales, from cities down to furniture within a room. The Architecture program is divided into two concentrations, Design Thinking and Pre-Professional.

The Design Thinking concentration is for students interested in interdisciplinary problem-solving through exploratory design processes. The curriculum includes a focus on the design of the built environment while also allowing for collaboration across disciplines. Students who are majoring in Design Thinking concentration integrate a second field of study by declaring a second major or a minor. The concentration approaches the process of making through a lens of problem-solving with a primary focus on the themes of objects, spaces, systems, and graphics. Students in Design Thinking tend to spend more time physically modeling and creating abstract spaces than those in the Pre-Professional concentration.

The Pre-Professional concentration is for students who are planning on pursuing a career as a practicing architect. The curriculum has a primary focus on exploring through design and addresses spatial, material, formal, and tectonic investigations through complex projects. The Pre-Professional concentration prepares students for a graduate degree in Architecture and licensure. Students in the Pre-Professional program exclusively design buildings with an increasing emphasis on technicality and realistic structural and tectonic elements as they progress through the program.

This differentiation is often confusing for students, here is a linked PDF from the A-School website to accompany this brief differentiation between the concentrations.


After obtaining their undergraduate degree, students have the opportunity to attend graduate school in any of the three disciplines they majored in during undergrad. In addition to these three programs, UVA offers two other programs (other universities have varying programs as well). Students also have the option to enter straight into the workforce upon graduation. However, architecture and urban planning degrees require further education to obtain licensure. While licensure is optional, it will increase one’s ability to progress within the field.

Landscape Architecture

The graduate program in Landscape Architecture at UVA challenges students to imagine new landscape systems through research, design, and technologies. It focuses on the issues of technology, social and environmental justice, and design culture and ecology. Landscape architecture differs from architecture as it emphasizes public spaces in contrast to a specific focus on buildings. Some examples of landscape architecture projects include skate parks, public squares, campuses, and gardens.

Urban Design

The Urban Design curriculum addresses social, environmental, and spatial challenges such as climate change, racial injustices, and technological transformations and how these challenges manifest within the spatial manifestation of the city. Students will examine a variety of scales and spatial conditions, from public to private, to promote critical thinking in support of social, environmental, and racial justice. There are two paths within Urban Design, a Master of Urban Design and an Urban Design Certificate. The Master of Urban Design is a 1.5-year post-professional degree and is an approved field of study within the U.S. government’s official STEM fields list. In contrast, the Urban Design Certificate is a 15-credit urban design concentration for graduate students in the A-School.

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