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Architecture is fascinating because it covers such a wide range of topics, and an Architecture student’s work covers the spectrum from history of the theory of architecture to engineering.  The different areas of study are brought together in the design studio. Design projects are challenging and stimulating: they call for a high level of creative imagination, but all design propositions must be based on a thorough understanding of the problem in hand. As the course progresses the design problems become increasingly complex, but at every stage a student’s design proposals are assessed against multiple criteria: practical functioning, technical performance, sustainability, and cultural context.

The essence of the course is creative and grounded problem-solving. It is exciting but hard work. Architecture students are convinced that they work harder than anyone else, and whether or not that’s true, it is not the course to choose for an easy life. Unlike other courses, Architecture students have workspace in the Department of Architecture, which generates a strong group spirit to complement the college base. The Architecture Tripos gives an unrivalled design-based degree which is an excellent preparation for many career paths, not just the architectural profession. However, most graduates do continue their architectural studies: the course covers the Part I criteria set by the Architects Registration Board (ARB) and the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA). The Department also offers courses that cover Parts II and III of the ARB/RIBA.


The course

The course begins with a foundation year in which the design studio introduces techniques of representation and principles of design. Lecture courses and examinations are taken in History and Theory of Architecture, Structures, Building Construction and Environmental Design. In the second year the design studio focuses on specifically architectural projects. There are lecture courses in Theory, History, Structures, Building Construction and Environmental Design, with assessment by a combination of marked essays and examinations. In the third year the design studio tackles larger and more complex architectural projects. There are lecture courses in History and Theory, Architectural Engineering and Professional Practice: technical subjects are studied through Case Studies of buildings under construction, with presentations from the designers and site visits. There are written coursework requirements and three exams. Additionally, in the third year a 9000-word dissertation is written on a topic of the student’s choice. In all three years, the balance of marks between the studio (design) and taught (examined) components is 60%:40%.

Students who wish to become architects continue their studies through a post-degree diploma or masters in Architecture, in Cambridge, elsewhere in the UK or overseas, usually after a year out gaining architectural work experience. A list of UK institutions offering post-degree courses (ARB/RIBA Part I courses) can be obtained from the Admissions Office. The Department of Architecture offers an MPhil in Architecture and Urban Design which is ARB/RIBA accredited (see Department of Architecture website). The final stage in professional training involves a further year out and a course in professional practice (ARB/RIBA Part III course) also on offer in Cambridge. This process, which can be completed in seven years from the beginning of undergraduate study, leads to registration with the Architects Registration Board and the right to use the title Architect.


The admissions process

Because of the small size of the Department of Architecture admission is highly competitive, with many times more applicants than places. Pembroke typically has two or three undergraduates in each year, but numbers vary slightly from year to year. Most teaching takes place in the Department, which is nearby – Pembroke is one of the three colleges nearest to the Department of Architecture

Prospective applicants are encouraged to attend a College Open Day as well as the Department’s annual Exhibition and Open Day in the summer, when they can see students’ design work and talk to lecturers and undergraduates. Further details can be obtained from the University Prospectus or the Department of Architecture.

There are no mandatory subject requirements at A-level (or equivalent). Art (Fine Art) is desirable, and is generally preferred to Design Technology or similar subjects. One subject in the humanities is helpful. Mathematics and/or Physics is also helpful.

The admissions process consists of one subject interview with the Director of Studies, who is usually accompanied by another specialist member of staff. Applicants will be required to undertake a one-hour test in college at interview (consisting of two parts. Part 1 is a 30-minute writing skills test; Part 2 is a 30-minute graphic and spatial ability test). Applicants must also bring a portfolio of their work for review (details of what needs to be submitted and further information about the test will be sent to candidates after 15 October).

Admissions test

In order to prepare for the admissions test you are strongly encouraged:

  • To keep a personal sketchbook outside of any formal courses you may be taking at school
  • To regularly engage in hand-drawing in your sketchbook
  • To draw from life. Drawings do not need to be composed in any particular way and you may use a range of media you are comfortable with (pencil, pen, crayon, charcoal, etc.)
  • To observe and interpret your environment
  • To reflect on why some spaces succeed while others do not. You may explore any setting including your school yard, local street or shopping mall

Admissions test marking criteria

The two parts of the test will be given separate scores. Part 1: writing skills test marking criteria Well presented and expressed. Good comprehension of the meaning of the question and clear and competently-argued; evidence of an interest in and awareness of architecture and the environment. Part 2: graphic and spatial ability test marking criteria We are not looking for the display of any particular technical or formal skills. We are interested to assess the candidate’s ability:

  1. to think in a visual and spatial manner;
  2. to record spatial impressions;
  3. to demonstrate an awareness of their environment;
  4. to interpret their environment in visual terms


To prepare your portfolio, A-level Art can be helpful, although, depending on each individual’s background and ability, formal art education may not be necessary.  Even students doing A-level Art should examine their work and make sure it encompasses a suitable range of media and approaches, and be prepared to do some extra work if this seems appropriate.  Those not doing art at school will need to dedicate time to preparing a portfolio.  Please note that work produced for Design and Technology courses is considered a less useful indicator of aptitude for Architecture than the work Fine Art courses typically require. Applicants preparing their portfolios are encouraged to follow life-drawing classes (in or outside of school). Applicants are strongly advised to be selective in assembling their portfolio, choosing material that can reasonably be viewed and discussed within the time of the interview (a variety of media – and length of pose – is encouraged). Most students bring A1 portfolios.  It is better to bring the originals of drawings rather than spend unnecessary time photographing and printing images, but obviously works on canvas and other pieces too bulky to transport, like sculptures, installations or stage-sets, should be shown through photographs.  A good portfolio will demonstrate the ability to work in a range of media and contain subject matter drawn from life.  Students will be expected to demonstrate an understanding of composition and /or design along with the ability to work in three dimensions.  There is no expectation that students will have carried out any architectural design, but some evidence of working in three dimensions is advantageous.  Please be aware that it is usually not possible to view videos of additional work during the interview – this needs to be checked with individual colleges.  Still images can be included in portfolios. Finally, personal sketchbooks are particularly desirable, especially those developed outside the context of any art course. Applicants are encouraged to bring one or more along to the interview.  We particularly welcome the use of a variety of media (pencil, charcoal, crayon, etc).  This current/on-going sketchbook should include a range of subject matter drawn from life rather than photographs. Further enquiries should be addressed to the Admissions Office at Pembroke College: See also the University Prospectus entry for Architecture:

Go to the Architecture faculty website