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 builds on over forty-five years of experience teaching historic preservation, while remaining cognizant of the need for flexibility and the demands of a dynamic, evolving profession.. The curriculum includes a series of core courses, providing each student with basic knowledge of the field, and then broadens out, allowing each student the opportunity to develop his or her own focus. Classes are taught by a large group of dedicated full-time and adjunct professionals in the field of preservation. Students are introduced to a renowned faculty, larger and more diverse than that of any preservation program in the world.

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, an introduction to planning as a preservation tool; Structures, Systems, and Materials I, which introduces pre-industrial 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. The class divides into three or more small groups, each investigating a different issue. In recent years, Studio II projects have included both a planning and a design studio investigating a massive underutilized power plant designed by McKim, Mead & White; the preservation of waterfront industrial buildings in two neighborhoods of Brooklyn; issues involved with preserving six-story apartment houses, reformed housing, and sites associated with the counterculture; and a preservation plan for an endangered hospital complex in Greenwich Village. All students also take Structures, Systems, and Materials II, which introduces students to the built world from the mid-nineteenth century to the present; and American Architecture II. Conservation students who lack scientific training will also take a basic science course. Other courses during this semester are electives.

During the summer between the first and second year, the Historic Preservation Program strongly suggests the completion of at least one or more internships or work experiences for graduation as part of their education and career development. We recommend that the work experience should be at a minimum of 240 hours, directly related to the field of Historic Preservation, and be substantive and professional in nature. For more information visit here.

Only two classes are required during the second year of study in the Historic Preservation Program. During the first semester, all 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 should have chosen a 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.

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.


A focus on the history and theory of historic preservation allows for the development of a deeper understanding of the history manifest in historic architecture 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. Theses pursue original research in the history and theory of historic preservation.


The conservation curriculum is unique among preservation programs in its depth and breadth. It begins with an introduction to architectural materials and their historic use, properties, and identification. This course – Structures, Systems & Materials I – is designed to lead into more in-depth elective courses on specific materials: Architectural Finishes in America; Brick, Terra Cotta & Stone; Concrete, Cast Stone & and Mortar; Metals; Wood. These courses further emphasize the topics covered in the introductory course and add repair, replacement and conservation of these materials.Students concentrating in conservation are required to take Basic Conservation Science and Conservation Workshop. Basic Conservation Science emphasizes material science and chemistry of architectural materials and focuses on building general skills in using the scientific method and specific skills in identifying materials using traditional and modern analytical methods.  Conservation Workshop is a field-based course focusing on documentation, sampling and analysis, leading to conservation treatments at a specific site. 

All conservation courses rely on class lectures, individual research, and laboratory and field work to develop capacity and techniques for the analysis, stabilization and repair of historic buildings, artifacts and landscapes. Columbia's conservation laboratory is continuously available for testing, teaching and research. Field work includes hands-on exploration of historic resources in New York City and elsewhere. Conservation theses propose, test and correct new and old techniques of architectural conservation.


The preservation planner is knowledgeable about the full range of legal strategies, planning tools and incentives available for the protection of structures, districts and landscapes. Students seek to increase the understanding of the connections between historic land development patterns and contemporary political and economic contexts. Courses introduce students to governmental and non-governmental entities involved in preservation and examines current legal and policy issues. Within the Historic Preservation Program, courses such as Preservation Law (offered every other year), Cultural Landscapes, and the seminar, Issues in Sustainability, support preservation planning knowledge. Students interested in this area are also encouraged to take courses from the GSAPP Urban Planning Program.


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. Specialized courses include the joint Architecture and Historic Preservation Studio, which is conducted together with the Advance 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 Mexico City, Chandigarh, Brasilia, 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.