Historic Preservation Program Requirements


Course Sequence Term 1 (Fall) Term 2 (Spring) Term 3 (Fall) Term 4 (Spring)
  Structures, Systems & Materials, 3pts. American Architecture II, 3pts. Historic Preservation Colloquium, 3pts. Thesis, 4pts.
Thesis, 1pt.
  Studio I: Reading Buildings 4 pts. Studio II: Current Issues in Preservation, 4pts. Students should select coursework to reinforce their area of interest within preservation.  Students should select coursework to reinforce their area of interest within preservation. 
Theory & Practice of HP, 3pts. Conservation Science, 4 pts. if specializing in conservation
American Architecture I, 3pts. Electives
Preservation Planning, 3pts.  
Total 16 - 19pts. 16 - 19pts. 12 - 19pts. 12 - 19pts.


Columbia University’s Historic Preservation Program offers a curriculum of extraordinary diversity. The curriculum includes a series of core courses, providing each student with basic knowledge of the field, and then broadens, allowing each student the opportunity to develop his or her own focus.

The core curriculum is the focus of a student’s first semester. The centerpiece of this semester’s work is Studio I, a class that teaches documentation and interpretation skills, focusing on a specific New York City neighborhood. Students work individually and in groups within a studio environment, meeting one-on-one with each of the studio faculty. Key to the core curriculum is a course entitled “Theory and Practice of Historic Preservation” that provides each student with a grounding in the historical ideas behind the field. Students also take Preservation Planning and Policy, an introduction to planning as a preservation tool; Building Systems and Materials, which introduces building techniques and materials, and American Architecture I, a history of architecture in the United States through the 1880s.

Several of the first semester courses continue into a student’s second semester. Studio II focuses on particular timely preservation issues. All students also take American Architecture II which introduces students to the built world from the mid-nineteenth century to the present. Conservation students who lack scientific training will also take a basic science course.
During the summer between the first and second year, the Historic Preservation Program strongly suggests the completion of one or more internships or work experiences as part of a student’s education and career development.

During the second year of study, students take Preservation Colloquium, a class that analyzes issues introduced in the first year and prepares students for the completion of a thesis. By the beginning of the second year, students have finalized their thesis topic. Preliminary thesis presentations will be made during the first semester, but the bulk of thesis work will occur during winter break and during the second semester. All other classes during the second year are electives that may be taken from the offerings of the Historic Preservation Program, the School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation in general, or from classes in other departments and schools at Columbia.
Students are encouraged to focus their work, particularly in the second year, and to acquire depth in at least one of the following areas: Conservation, Design, History and Theory, and Planning and Policy.

Specializations within the Historic Preservation Degree

The sixty-point, two year program requires studio and course work, and the preparation and defense of a thesis. In the first year, the core studios train students to develop basic capacities to identify and document the significance of old buildings and districts, and then to organize and implement ways to preserve them. The studios are supported by required core courses exploring all aspects of preservation as a discipline: design, history and theory, conservation and planning.

The second year is devoted to advanced courses and to the preparation of a thesis. Theses are expected to be substantial works of original insight, research and argument. Students are encouraged to focus their work, particularly in the second year, and to acquire depth in at least one of the following areas.


The conservation curriculum is unique among preservation programs in its depth and breadth. The track prepares students for employment with building conservation, architecture and engineering firms and develops skills in documentation, field assessment, specification writing, conservation treatment, materials testing, analysis and identification, and project management. Conservation courses rely on lectures, laboratory and field work, and individual research (including thesis projects) and focus on developing knowledge and skills in the history and technology of architectural materials, systems and processes, properties of architectural materials and their deterioration and conservation, development and evaluation of conservation materials and methods, and conditions monitoring. Within the university, the program maintains close associations with the Fu School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and the Department of Art History and Archaeology, and, in New York City with the Conservation Center of the Institute of Fine Art of New York University and the Department of Scientific Research and the Sherman Fairchild Center for Objects Conservation at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.


Design concentrates on the development of skills for architects to intervene in historic buildings either to conserve, restore, modernize, or adapt them to new uses. Training is meant to tangibly advance our graduates careers, positioning them competitively in the growing market of adaptive re-use and sustainably sensitive architectural commissions. Specialized courses include the joint Architecture and Historic Preservation Studio, which is conducted together with the Advanced Architectural Design program, and offers students the possibility for experimenting with preservation design in a cross-cultural and global context. The work of past Joint Studios has addressed World Monuments in Oslo, Venice, Mexico City, Chandigarh, Rio de Janeiro, Casablanca, and Caracas. Design theses are in depth projects involving original design work, and demonstrating a deep knowledge of the science and technology of building preservation.

History and Theory

History is a basic tool of historic preservation, providing the arguments for preserving elements of our heritage. A focus on history allows for the development of a deeper understanding of the issues manifest in our physical heritage and of the theoretical justifications of efforts to understand and preserve it. Students are exposed to the complex intellectual issues facing practitioners, and asked to connect present day work to broader patterns in the history of ideas, buildings, and environments. Students focus on the history of architecture, vernacular architecture, cultural landscapes, and other issues, as well as practical ways in which history can be employed as a tool for preservation.

Planning & Policy

Students in this sector examine the role of historic preservation within the broader contexts of cultural resource management, urban planning, and public policy. Emphasis is placed on the social, environmental, and economic contributions preservation can make to sustainable development. In the past half century, population has more than doubled, the world is more urban, and the planet’s capacity to sustain life is challenged by the overconsumption of land and resources. Globalization has likewise contributed to dramatically different social and economic conditions, as well as architectural acculturation, as communities and markets become increasingly connected. Yet issues of difference and “otherness” continue to divide society through conflict and inequity. This sector seeks to prepare the next generation of preservationists to adapt to and address these emerging challenges through innovative planning approaches and policy development. The curriculum covers a range of subjects, including planning theory, history, and methodology; heritage planning and management; preservation and land use law and policies; neighborhood planning tools; sustainability and the built environment; and the socio-economic benefits of preservation.

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