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Curriculum Overview

We encourage you to explore our curriculum, study sequences, and examination procedures below. Note that students must also meet the Graduate School’s doctoral degree requirements during the course of their studies in the program.


All Ph.D. students in the Built Environment Program are expected to have the basic knowledge and skills covered by the program core. The core presents the intellectual and cultural context within which the built environment has been produced and interpreted, and the basic means by which students will come to understand it and contribute to its development. Students are required to successfully complete a total of 21 credits of core work, distributed as follows:

  • History, Theory, and Ethics (9 credits)
  • Colloquium-Practicum: Research-Practice & Teaching-Learning (6 credits)
  • Research Methods and Design (6 credits)

History, Theory, and Ethics Sequence

B E 551: The Contemporary Built Environment
(3 credits) Autumn Quarter

The history of 20th- and 21st-century built environment covers major or landmark cases of complex built environment projects, emphasizing the multiple dimensions involved and their interconnections (financing and economics, regulatory systems and codes, environmental factors, materials and technology, energy systems and infrastructure, design intentions, construction processes, facility uses and client-occupant responses, subsequent adaptations).

B E 552: Theories of Knowledge and the Built Environment
(3 credits) Winter Quarter

Systematic examination of the alternative epistemological frameworks applicable to studying the built environment. An analysis and explication of the differences among the theories of knowledge which account for their separation and often antagonism, and an exploration of the similarities and relationships such that they might be understood as complementary or merged in a more comprehensive, pluralistic approach. Coverage includes the history behind the current problematics, the multifaceted character of the built environment, the major epistemological issues and fundamental concepts, and the dominant epistemological paradigms. The course provides the background for the diverse range of theories and methods used by built environment researchers.

B E 553: Ethics in Practice, Research, and Teaching
(3 credits) Spring Quarter (odd years: 2023, 2025, etc.)

The course will cover central readings in ethics, applying them through cases to built environment practice and research protocols. Coursework and exercises will provide the opportunity for students to reflect on case studies and problems, enabling them to become more conscious and responsible for their contributions and actions, especially as members of teams and within group projects. Emphasis will be given to both pluralistic and contending social values and problems (including social and environmental justice) and to the ethics of research (for example in regard to client and data confidentiality, informed consent, fidelity, and veracity).


B E 550 (currently listed as B E 598A): Colloquium-Practicum on Research-Practice and Teaching-Learning
(3 credits, taken two times for a total of 6 credits) Autumn Quarter

The course provides the occasion for program members’ interaction and collegiality, and for processes of critical reflection during the research and production that allows the student the chance to gain systematically deeper understanding of the research and practical process and strategies for overcoming the problems and errors that seem unavoidable in the course of a life-time career.

Students must complete a minimum of 6 credits of coursework in research methods. Because of the wide variety of methods appropriate to students in research methods and design in the three specializations, there is no specific set of courses that all students must take. Rather, in order to customize the preparation for each student, the methodologies may be selected with the guidance of their advisor and provisional doctoral committee, and are intended to provide the skills for the specific approach to be undertaken in the student’s dissertation research project. In choosing the 6 credits, special attention should be given to considering a balance between methods that clearly will be called for, and a broader consideration of approaches presenting challenges that need to be critically met or alternatives that might prove fruitful from a non-traditional perspective.

The research methods and design courses from which the students can choose to satisfy the core requirements and from which they may also select courses for additional advanced work include (but are not limited to):

  • ANTH 576 Indigenous Methodology
  • ANTH 536 Seminar in Visual Anthropology
  • ANTH 551 Research Design
  • ANTH 572 Environmental Anthropology Research Methodology
  • ARCH 567 Qualitative Research Methods
  • ARCH 588 Research Practice
  • ARCH 592 Research Methods
  • ARCH 597 Research Practicum
  • B E 600 Directed Study (see Program Forms tab below)
  • B H 552 Advanced Qualitative Methods
  • BA RM 590 Behavioral Research Methods – Theory and Design
  • BA RM 591 Behavioral Research Methods – Approaches and Applications
  • BIOTST 511, 512, 513 Medical Biometry I, II, III
  • BIOTST 514, 515 Biostatistics I, II
  • BIOST 517 Applied Biostatistics I
  • C LIT 599 Special Seminar (Research Methods)
  • CESI 524 Statistical Methods for Construction
  • CET 584 Analytical Methods in Transportation I
  • CM 515 Virtual Construction Management
  • CM 535 Research Methods in Construction
  • CMS 520 Methods and Issues in Cinema and Media Studies
  • COM 501 Methods of Inquiry
  • COM 513 Fieldwork Research Methods
  • CS&SS 510 Maximum Likelihood Methods for the Social Sciences
  • CS&SS 527 Survey Research Methods
  • CS&SS 564 Bayesian Statistics for the Social Sciences
  • CS&SS 567 Statistical Analysis of Social Networks
  • EDLPS 558 Introduction to Qualitative Research Methods in Education
  • EDPSY 490 Basic Educational Statistics
  • EDPSY 501 Human Learning and Educational Practice
  • EDPSY 586 Qualitative Methods of Educational Research I
  • EDPSY 591 Methods of Educational Research
  • EDPSY 596 Experimental Design and Analysis
  • ENGL 562 Discourse Analysis
  • EPI 555 Statistical Methods for Spatial Epidemiology
  • G H 535 Advanced Methods for Global Health I
  • G H 539 Analyzing Qualitative Data
  • GEOG 425 Qualitative Methodology in Geography
  • GEOG 461 Urban Geographic Information Systems
  • GEOG 505 Spatial Dimensions of Chinese Development
  • GEOG 525 Advanced Qualitative Methods in Geography
  • GWSS 503 Feminist Research and Methods of Inquiry
  • HCDE 517 Usability Studies
  • HCDE 519 Qualitative Research Methods
  • HCDI HCDE 544 Experimental and Quasi-Experimental Research Methods
  • 545 Qualitative Research Methods
  • HSTRY 596, 597 History Research Seminar
  • HSTRY 598 Methods of Historical Research
  • HSTCMP 530 Comparative Colonialisms: Methodological and Conceptual Approaches
  • JSIS 511 Research Design and Methods for International Studies
  • JSIS 512 Qualitative Data Analysis
  • L ARCH 572 Research Methods in Landscape Architecture
  • OCEAN 452 Marine Geospatial Information Science
  • PUBPOL 525 Qualitative Field Methods and Analysis
  • R E 506 Quantitative Methods in Real Estate
  • R E 597 Real Estate Data Modeling
  • SEFS 504 Social Science Research Design and Methods
  • SMEA 584 Statistics for Marine and Environmental Policy
  • SOC 504, 505 Applied Social Statistics
  • SOC 506 Methodology: Quantitative Techniques in Sociology
  • URBDP 518 Qualitative Methods for Urban Design and Planning
  • URBDP 519 Qualitative Research Methods
  • URBDP 520 Quantitative Methods in Urban Design and Planning
  • URBDP 522 Urban and Regional Geospatial Analysis
  • URBDP 591, 592, 593 Doctoral Seminar (researchable issues and research methodology)

The three fundamental areas of specialization in built environment knowledge and practice offered within the PhD in the Built Environment program are: 1) sustainable systems and prototypes; 2) technology and project design/delivery; 3) history, theory, and representation studies. Each student will select one of these areas, within which she or he will take their advanced and specialized coursework and, eventually, conduct their dissertation research project. Each student will be required to take 30 course credits in the chosen area of specialization during their first years in the program, before undertaking the General Examination.

Areas of Specialization

Sustainable Systems & PrototypesTechnology & Project Design/DeliveryHistory/Theory/Representation

Sustainable Systems and Prototypes

The ecological movement that began in the late 1960s and has grown into strands with dozens of differing names (conservation, preservation, restoration, urban ecology, deep ecology, green building, smart growth, smart building, full-cost accounting, recycling, environmental policy, environmental ethics, environmental design and research, community design and research, and sustainability) is becoming both an increasingly accepted part of our social value systems. Institutionalized in such programs as the LEED building certification process that increasingly is required of public facilities, it will continue to be both socially demanded and professionally required. Though sustainable and environmental degree programs are increasing in number, there are very few in the area of the built environment that provide a comprehensive and integrated approach. The demand in this area is expected to increase and be permanent.

As part of its national reputation for its environmental orientation, the College has experience in a whole range of sustainable activities, from the urban ecology group, hazards mitigation, sustainable landscapes and urban forms, or transportation, energy, and lighting research, to organizing series and roundtables on sustainability, to a range of recent developments: certificate programs, the Northwest Center for Sustainable Assembly Research. The PhD in the Built Environment program anticipates many new opportunities to cooperate with units that focus on related phenomena: natural environments as dealt with by College of Forest Resources, Ocean Science and Fisheries, and the existing Interdisciplinary Ph.D. Program in Urban Design and Planning; built environments such as treated by Engineering; and artificial environments as engaged by Computer Science and Engineering, the Information School, Technical Communication.

To note demand in one specific sub-area of our proposed area of Sustainable Systems and Prototypes, in the area of construction of sustainable environments, not only is there new and increasing interest as social values and practices change, requiring more expertise in this area, but the retirement of the current senior cohort in this area soon is going to create an unmet demand for faculty, researchers, and practitioners.

Technology and Project Design/Delivery

This evolving area of research and scholarship focuses on the design of computing tools for planning & design and other built-environment fields, the human-computer interface (HCI) within design-planning-construction, the design of computer-enhanced virtual environments, processes and practices of environmental computation, including digital technology, material technology, building technology, and civil engineering.


This traditional area of scholarly education and research will continue to be important. In the era of globalization and global citizenship, and supported by parallel theoretical advances in cultural studies, visual culture studies, and post-colonial studies, a major reinterpretation of the world’s built traditions and innovations is underway, with special attention to differences and exchanges. Thus the specific attention to “Regional and Global Modernity” takes advantage of the current demand to reconceptualize the local-global duality in all its manifestations in the modern period—a feature that is not going to pass away as a trend, since the phenomena underlies the entire period of practical and academic activity, ranging from the design and analysis of “critical regionalism” to the international production of physical and virtual environments within the systems of global flows. The actively interdisciplinary and comparative framework will participate in the demand for new generations of faculty and researchers who are fluent in the complex methodologies (regionalism, nationalism, migration, colonization, ethnicity, and gender studies; phenomenology, semiotics, post-structuralism; representation technologies, mass media, ‘appropriate’ building technology; international practices, design-build) necessary to understand and participate in the rapid transformation of cities and environments around the world. Such issues, of course, are vital to regions and cities such as Puget Sound and Seattle—a global city with strong local histories and traditions. Thus, the market for graduates consists not only of college and university programs who need newly educated faculty, but in large architecture/planning/construction firms and institutions with international practices.

A broad selection of courses, both within the College of Built Environments and in other University of Washington units, is available to provide the content of the three areas of specialization. Given the already diverse, interdisciplinary character of each of the areas, as well as the anticipation that each student’s intended trajectory will be unique and because of the inherently interdisciplinary character of the areas and the fact that they already involve a wide variety of disciplines and departments, the requirements for the total number of course credits have not been further specified among sub-categories commonly utilized (terms such as “primary” and “secondary”; “concentration” and “supporting” are not necessary). Nor is there specified a set of required courses for all students within each fundamental area; rather, with the guidance of their advisor/chair and provisional doctoral committee, each student will create a customized curriculum that addresses their broad intellectual interests while building expertise in their chosen area.

During initial coursework, students should meet with faculty in their area of interest for course advice, and gradually begin to identify potential committee members. At least four months in advance of the intended date of their General Examination, students should inform the program coordinator of the committee members who have agreed to supervise their General Examination and dissertation. The chair of the committee must be a core member of the Built Environment Program faculty with expertise in the area of specialization and intended dissertation research project. Other committee members should be chosen to complete the substantive and methodological expertise necessary for guidance and evaluation of the student’s work. Committee composition is described in Graduate School Policy 4.2, and must include a chair, Graduate School Representative from outside the College of Built Environments, and at least two additional members. The program director will approve the committee prior to submission to the Graduate School. Here is our program’s Committees and Exam Timing info.

After the student has completed the coursework (normally in about five quarters), she or he will take the examinations to demonstrate mastery over the core and chosen area of specialization. The General Examination will consist of written responses to three questions, followed by an oral examination on the material. Two of the questions will cover the core area: one on theory and historical-cultural issues, a second on research methodology and research design. The third question will cover an aspect within the chosen fundamental area that focuses upon the student’s intended dissertation subject matter and approach. The written and oral examinations will be composed, conducted, and evaluated by the student’s formally appointed dissertation committee. The written portion will be a take-home examination, due within seven days of being received by the student. If the written answers are determined to be acceptable, the student will undertake the oral examination. In the event that the student does not pass one or more sections of the examination, she or he will be given a second opportunity.

For further details, please see our General Exam Policy document and the Graduate School’s information on the General Exam. Here is Here is our program’s Committees and Exam Timing info.

When students successfully pass their General Examination, the Graduate School grants them the Candidate in Philosophy (PhC) status.

After the General Examination and before commencing research for the dissertation, students must prepare and formally defend their research proposal. For further detail on this process, please see our Research Proposal Policy document. Ideally, the research proposal defense should be successfully completed within a quarter of receipt of the Candidate in Philosophy (PhC) status (i.e., the quarter after the student passes their General Examination).

Dissertation research will be guided by the committee, with regular meetings of the chair and student and at least annual meetings of the entire committee and the student. Dissertation credits will be credited under B E 800; a minimum of 27 credits are required. Please see the Graduate School’s Doctoral Degree requirements for information on restrictions about the distribution of these credits.

As noted, the dissertation should be in one of the three fundamental areas of knowledge and practice of the built environment. The dissertation project for the PhD in the Built Environment is intended to be original research that contributes new knowledge and/or approaches to practice. (Doctoral students are required to write a dissertation that significantly advances the state of knowledge in the field.) The dissertation must demonstrate an understanding of the theory and methods related to the area of knowledge in which the dissertation is based, as well as the relevance and appropriate background information. Thus, the strategies and content of the dissertation provide the culmination and integration of the student’s learning and experience, an especially important contribution in this newly developing interdisciplinary field.

Upon completion of the dissertation research project and approval of the correctly formatted document by the dissertation committee, the student schedules his or her oral defense of the dissertation. The final examination consists of the student’s oral defense of the dissertation before that Dissertation Committee. The student subsequently will incorporate into the dissertation appropriate changes recommended by the Committee before the final awarding of the degree. Because the student must successfully defend her or his research before the Ph.D. can be granted, she or he may repeat the defense if the initial defense is unsatisfactory. See also the Policy Graduate School’s information on doctoral dissertations.

The time required for the degree will vary according to students’ research interests and the advice of their initial advisors then their supervisory committee, once established. However, the expected outline is as follows:

  1. Core Courses and Advanced Courses in Specialization: the student’s first two years in the program, approximately five or six quarters
  2. General Exam: usually held in Spring Quarter of the student’s second year or Autumn Quarter of the third year, as determined by the student’s supervisory committee
  3. Research Proposal Defense: generally held within an academic quarter (preferably a few weeks) of the General Exam in order not to delay progress on dissertation research
  4. Dissertation Defense/Final Exam: as determined by the student’s supervisory committee

Satisfactory progress in the PhD in the Built Environment program requires meeting Graduate School requirements as outlined on their website and (1) satisfactory scholarship, (2) satisfactory progress towards degree completion, (3) continued demonstration of scholarly ability. Should these requirements not be met, students will be reviewed and should the situation warrant it, they will receive an official warning and provided with a written explanation of performance expectations and a timetable for correction of deficiencies. Should the timetable not be met, students will then be placed on probation then final probation then will be dropped by the program following the Graduate School’s policy and procedure as outlined in Graduate School Policy 3.7POlicy Academic Performance and Progress.

(1) As per Graduate School guidelines, students are expected to maintain a GPA of 3.0 in their coursework. Should a student’s cumulative or quarterly GPA fall below a 3.0, they will be reviewed and provided with a written explanation of performance expectations and a timetable for correction of deficiencies.

(2) Students are expected to continue to make timely progress toward completion of their degree, completing requirements in the timeframe as outlined above with reasonable allowances made for academic leaves, personal circumstances, and academic circumstances as judged by their advisor(s) and the program director, then, when established, their supervisory committee and the director of the program.

(3) Students’ written and oral work must demonstrate a solid capacity for graduate-level work at the PhD level, as determined by their coursework, their General Examination, their Research Proposal, and their Final Examination.

These are examples of how students, with differing backgrounds, might typically move through the program toward completion of their degree. The differences among the three specializations are significant enough that no attempt has been made to make the same assumptions in each case about student background or needs. Because each student’s work will be unique, and developed by the advisory committee and student, the following are meant to be examples only, to give an idea of the sorts of work that might be undertaken.

Sustainable Systems & PrototypesTechnology & Project Design/DeliveryHistory/Theory/Representation

Possible course sequence in Sustainable Systems and Prototypes

Hypothetical area of specialization: Environmental Hazards: Construction and Engineering Challenges, with for example a dissertation on “Silica Dust Control Strategies in the Construction Field” (assumes Masters in Engineering and previous mastery of most research methods allowing 9 credits from prior graduate studies counted toward Ph.D.)

Year 1:
B E 551 Contemporary Built Environment – 3 credits
B E 598A Colloquium-Practicum on Research-Practice and Teaching-Learning – 3 credits
B E 600 Directed Study with advisor – 1 credit
CEE 560 Risk Assessment for Environmental Health Hazards – 3 credits

B E 552 Theories of Knowledge – 3 credits
B E 600 Directed Study with advisor – 1 credit
Research Methods II – 3 credits
CM 525 Cost Analysis and Management – 3 credits

B E 553 Ethics in Practice, Research, and Teaching – 3 credits
B E 600 Directed Study with advisor – 3 credits
CM 500 Design and Construction Law – 3 credits
Lecture series – 1 credit

Year 2:
B E 598A Colloquium-Practicum on Research-Practice and Teaching-Learning – 3 credits
B E 600 Directed Study with advisor – 4 credits
ENV H 570 Occupational and Environmental Epidemiology – 3 credits

CM Independent Study – 3 credits
B E 597 Directed Readings – 4 credits
EDPSY 588 Survey Research Methodology and Theory – 3 credits

CM 515 Innovative Project Management Concepts – 3 credits
B E 597 Directed Readings – 4 credits
General Examination

Year 3
Dissertation Credits & Final Defense

Possible course sequence in Technology and Project Design/Delivery

Hypothetical area of specialization: Human Interfaces with Embedded Computing
(assumes 9 credits from prior graduate studies counted toward Ph.D.)

Year 1:
B E 551 Contemporary Built Environment – 3 credits
B E 598A Colloquium-Practicum on Research-Practice and Teaching-Learning – 3 credits
Arch 587 Theory of Design Computing – 3 credits
HCDE 455 User Interface Design – 3 credits

B E 552 Theories of Knowledge – 3 credits
EDPSY 501 Human Learning and Educational Practice – 3 credits
CSE 510 Advanced Topics in Human-Computer Interfaces – 3 credits
B E 600 Independent study with advisor – 1 credit

B E 553 Ethics in Practice, Research, and Teaching – 3 credits
HCDE 517 Usability Testing – 4 credits
CSE 500 Computers and Society – 3 credits

Year 2:
Arch 588 Research Practice – 3 credits
B E 598A Colloquium-Practicum on Research-Practice and Teaching-Learning – 3 credits
EDPSY 501 Human Learning and Educational Practice – 3 credits
B E 600 Independent study with advisor – 1 credit

B E 600 Independent Study – 3 credits
B E 597 Directed Readings – 6 credits
General Examination

B E 600 Independent Study – 3 credits
Dissertation – 6 credits

Year 3
Dissertation – 10 credits

Dissertation – 10 credits

Dissertation – 4 credits

Final Defense

Possible course sequence in History/Theory/Representation

Proposed area of specialization: Modern Architecture in Latin America
(assumes appropriate language ability on admission)

Year 1:
ARCH 457 – Twentieth Century Architecture – 3 credits
B E 551 Contemporary Built Environment – 3 credits
B E 598A Colloquium-Practicum on Research-Practice and Teaching-Learning – 3 credits
Research Methods – 3 credits

B E 552 Theories of Knowledge – 3 credits
B E 600 Independent study with advisor – 1 credit
ARCH 488 – American Architecture – 3 credits
LARCH 500 – History of Modern Landscape Architecture – 3 credits

B E 553 Ethics in Practice, Research, Teaching- 3 credits
ARCH 444 – Ibero-American Seminar: Ibero-American Modernity – 3 credits
HSTAA 383 – Modern Latin America – 5 credits

Year 2:
Research Methods – 3 credits
B E 598A Colloquium-Practicum on Research-Practice and Teaching-Learning – 3 credits
B E 600 Independent study with advisor – 1 credit
ARCH 560 – Graduate Seminar on Architecture Theory – 3 credits
URBDP 565 – American Urban History – 3 credits

ART H 504 – Methods of Art History: Faculty Research – 2 credits
B E 600 Independent study with advisor – 3 credits
C LIT 530 – Cultural Criticism and Ideology Critique I – 5 credits

ARCH 558 – Seminar on Twentieth-Century Architecture – 3 credits
B E 597 – Directed Readings – 4 credits
URBDP 565 – American Urban History – 3 credits
General Exams in Major and minor areas

Year 3 & 4:
Research Proposal approval
Research and writing
Final Defense


Questions about the PhD in the Built Environment? Email