Study Architecture in New Orleans at Tulane University

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By Matt Killorin
Last updated on August 10, 2023

Distinguished faculty discuss how Tulane’s M.Arch degree develops unique, transferable skills in sustainable building and mindful design.

Tulane University

Overhead shot of many international students drawing up blueprints at individual workstations

Walking the streets of New Orleans, you’ll encounter Creole, Greek Revival, Italianate, and a variety of other architectural design motifs and styles. Visually and architecturally, it’s a city unlike any other in the United States. For international students in the graduate degree program in architecture at Tulane University, inspiring surroundings are just the beginning. Sustainable development projects, equitable and empowering building design, and a global network — not to mention access to a 36-month STEM OPT extension — create a compelling program for international students interested in US architecture programs. 

Learn more about Optional Practical Training (OPT) at universities in the United States >

Why Study Architecture at Tulane University? 

Through small-size studio, seminar, and lecture-based classes, graduate students at Tulane explore how architecture can create more socially responsible community spaces. They also learn how to design sustainable spaces (i.e., spaces that have a lower environmental impact and can withstand climate-based challenges ahead). Students have excellent access to professors, community groups, and architectural and real estate firms across the city. 

“We work in real time, with real-life issues, and the intersection between social and environmental issues is where we focus,” says Iñaki Alday, dean and Richard Koch Chair in Architecture at Tulane. “For people who are interested in how architecture is going to be shaping the future of our planet, this is the school to be at.” 

Get Hands-On Experience in Socially Responsible Design

Tulane’s Albert and Tina Small Center for Collaborative Design has served as the community engagement arm of the School of Architecture for more than 15 years, training more than 600 students and completing more than 130 high-quality, socially minded projects. Students, faculty, and community stakeholders collaborate to imagine, design, and build mission-driven projects that take place over a 15-week semester at the Small Center. 

“The Small Center is staffed with an almost mini architecture office with an expertise on community engagement,” says Kentaro Tsubaki, interim director of architecture at Tulane. “The center essentially calls for proposals and design requests from nonprofit organizations that are doing good work in New Orleans. The project is not only designed by students, but sometimes constructed by them as well.” 

With Small Center projects, students get firsthand experience working with real clients, understanding their needs, and translating those challenges and requirements into great design. 

Another community-based design and build opportunity for students in the M.Arch Tulane program is URBANbuild. In collaboration with several nonprofit housing and community organizations throughout New Orleans, URBANbuild organizes students to construct new houses and rebuild existing ones for underserved communities. 

“URBANbuild is probably the most famous initiative in our program where we’ve been building an affordable housing prototype home, one a year for the last 16 years,” says Tsubaki. “In the fall semester, students pair up and design prototype housing, competing for the best design. The winning design gets built by the students and the program director in the spring.”

Create Sustainable Design to Withstand Climate Change 

Sustainability is a significant focus for the School of Architecture at Tulane University. With the Mississippi River Delta an integral part of New Orleans, it’s no surprise that sea-level rise, river delta urban community design, and designing for the impact of water are focal points of the program. The River and Delta Urbanism Platform, for instance, studies riverside communities in New Orleans, Argentina, Ethiopia, and India, and researches design solutions for fragile ecologies and growing populations. Faculty research fuels projects and classes that confront today’s architects’ real-world challenges and opportunities. 

“My recent research has been on forests and timber construction to address climate change, from carbon sequestration to exploring alternative building practices,” says Judith Kinnard, professor of architecture. “It’s an interesting set of topics that the students will engage in here at Tulane.”

Other faculty-led projects and research looks at how design can remediate the continued impact of urbanization on water pollution in New Delhi and how different materials mitigate the adverse effects of water and sea-level rise on buildings and construction. Professors have extensive international resumes, working on projects that apply mindful design to better public and community spaces in Asia, Africa, Europe, Latin America, and the United States.

“Our school is small, but we have a very wide national and international network with important alums, principals, and leaders in most of the cities in the US,” says Alday. “We are very well regarded traditionally as a school that delivers an excellent professional education, but still we are a small school with lots of personal attention that graduates only a handful of architects a year.”

Study Architecture at Tulane University

The M.Arch program at Tulane University draws from the cutting-edge experience of the program’s professors and staff as well as its commitment to a sustainable, equitable, inclusive, and diverse learning environment.

The program is accredited by the National Architecture Accrediting Board (NAAB), the accepted standard for quality when comparing professional degree programs in architecture across the United States. 

“Graduates of a professional degree program in architecture are required to get about three years of practical experience,” says Kinnard. “They can start during school, but before they can become licensed they have to take a series of exams. Most of our international students stay in the US for a few years and develop that experience, rather than return home immediately after graduation.”

Students at Tulane can choose between two tracks in the master’s program, depending on their professional experience and undergraduate degree, among other factors. Let’s take a look at each:

The 3 1/2-year track: 

  • Ideal for students with little or no architectural studies experience 

  • The seven-semester program begins with a rigorous summer introductory term 

  • Students then take four semesters of core instruction in seminar-, studio-, and lecture-style classes 

  • The last two semesters focus on research, electives, and customized educational experiences

Here is a sample curriculum for the 3.5-year M.Arch track at Tulane University >

The 2-year track: 

  • Ideal for students coming to Tulane with a Bachelor of Science in Architecture, Bachelor of Environmental Design, or other substantial architectural education 

  • International students with an architectural degree can use this track to work toward licensure in the US, and some even qualify for a three-semester, 1 1/2-year program 

  • Design portfolio and college transcript credentials inform how the program director develops a custom curriculum for each student, typically four semesters in length 

  • Two semesters focus on NAAB requirements and core learning, and the final two semesters focus on research, electives, and independent scholarship 

Check out a sample curriculum for the 2-year M.Arch track at Tulane University >

“The M.Arch program has a lot of core content relative to our discipline [and] also explores issues of climate and sustainability and our specific place in the ecology of the region, but most of our students will not practice in New Orleans,” says Kinnard. “So, we always have a perspective of how the themes that we’re dealing with in this city have an impact in multiple settings, both in the US and abroad.”

Talk to a Shorelight advisor about academic support for international students >