How to Choose an Undergraduate Architecture Thesis Topic


© Suneet Zishan Langar

© Suneet Zishan Langar

As architecture students head to their final year of BArch, half-crazy from years’ worth of scraped fingers, ghastly juries, sleepless nights, and a general lack of social life, they encounter the mighty problem of choosing a thesis topic. There are many subjects to choose from, but a personal interest in a particular subject is just one of the many factors that should influence this decision. Students need to ask themselves several other questions: Is the topic significant enough? Is it expansive enough? Is the project realistically doable?

The process can be daunting, for the decision has many consequences; sometimes, the choice of topic alone can mean the difference between the success and failure of a thesis. With so many factors to consider and deadlines closing in, students easily end up making decisions that they regret later. Here are eight tips to help you make an informed choice on the matter:

1. Dare to Be Unoriginal


© Suneet Zishan Langar

© Suneet Zishan Langar

Thesis work at the undergraduate level strongly differs from that at the graduate or doctoral level, and it is important to understand the rationale behind its inclusion in the curriculum. Work at the graduate or doctoral level usually asks for the identification of a “gap in existing knowledge” about a subject and an original proposal to bridge that gap, but the expectations of an undergraduate student are less demanding. This means that you don’t necessarily have to go out of your way to be innovative at the undergraduate level. Choosing a simple unoriginal topic but executing it in a way that exhibits all the knowledge you’ve acquired in college will also do the trick.

2. Choose a Topic that Personally Interests You


© Suneet Zishan Langar

© Suneet Zishan Langar

With your peers picking varied topics and schedules, this year will be lonesome; the most you will have for company on an average day is a drawing board, your laptop, some books, and coffee. You will find yourself routinely getting distracted by Buzzfeed’s latest video on Youtube or the cool new Drake track. Choosing a topic that you’re passionate about will make sure that you stay inspired and motivated to work, which should ultimately result in a great final project.

3. Set Your Scope Small


© Suneet Zishan Langar

© Suneet Zishan Langar

Many students give in to the natural temptation to do too much by picking topics or issues that are too expansive, and therefore almost impossible to execute in a short time-frame. A tip would be to start with the simplest version of a topic and add in extra complexity later if the circumstances allow it.

4. Recognize What You’re Good at

Every student possesses a unique set of skills and abilities which they’ve acquired through their experiences and by following their interests. No one is good at everything. An unbiased understanding of your creative and technical capacities and their limits thereof will allow you to choose a topic that best employs your expertise.

5. Is There Enough Existing Literature on the Topic?


© Suneet Zishan Langar

© Suneet Zishan Langar

A thesis project requires an enormous amount of reading and analysis before the beginning of the design process, and the primary source of reference information for an undergraduate student is usually existing studies or research. Hence, it makes sense to choose an area of study where a substantial amount of previous work exists. The availability of such work will enable you to analyze, compare, draw conclusions, and employ the knowledge gained to suggest an informed proposal.

6. Strike a Balance Between Art and Science


© Suneet Zishan Langar

© Suneet Zishan Langar

Architecture students dig themselves a grave when they begin to romanticize their thesis projects. It is hard to blame them, however, when you consider that the thesis project is viewed as the culmination of a multi-year program which is rooted as deeply in art and theory as it is in building technology. But it’s imperative to find a topic that is a balance of the two. A topic that seems too abstract might make it difficult for a jury to ascertain a student’s understanding of tangible issues.

7. What Do You Want to Do in the Future?

The thesis project is the single most important part of your portfolio as a fresh architecture graduate looking for a job in the industry or applying for a graduate program. The choice of topic will reflect your interest in or experience with a particular specialized subject. Hence, when choosing a thesis topic, you should try to align it with your plans for the near future.

8. Aim to Solve a Real World Problem


© Suneet Zishan Langar

© Suneet Zishan Langar

While there are many wide-ranging opinions about architecture’s ideal role in society, there is a general agreement that an architect’s work does influence how a society functions and evolves. In a world that is grappling with myriad serious issues like climate change, population growth, and an inequitable distribution of resources, it benefits young architecture students to acquaint themselves with the larger picture, and to choose a topic that at least aims to solve a current socio-environmental problem through a design intervention.

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