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M.S. Computational Design Practices


The Master of Science in Computational Design Practices (M.S.CDP) is an innovative program for recent graduates and practitioners that extends and integrates disciplines between architecture, data visualization, and urban planning—focusing specifically on computational design practices for the built environment at multiple scales. It aims to pioneer new concepts and pedagogies for an integrated multi-scalar and spatial approach to computational design at Columbia GSAPP. The M.S.CDP curriculum encourages critical and creative engagement with spatial computational design as both method and practice.

The M.S.CDP program was launched in 2021 for pre- and post-professional students and encourages applications from a range of backgrounds. The program is oriented toward the training of future design practitioners and aims to expand the discipline’s range of intellectual entanglements and cultivate new paradigms for scholarly research, experimental practice, creative technology, communication, and action. We take it as a given that from the scale of the project to that of the planet, the uses of computational design methods, and tools are most successful when their limits and their contexts—technical, social, political, aesthetic, and ethical—are confronted and surpassed to allow equitable ways of imagining, creating and coding space. The tools, data, and technology we deploy in the design process are never neutral. Faculty in the sequence take on discrete parts of this array—data visualization, sensors and data analysis, simulation, optimization, sensing, procedural modeling, rendering, interface design, Geographic Information Systems (GIS), Building Information Management (BIM)—and expose students to technical, critical, and creative ways to transform and develop their processes of design.

The M.S.CDP is a designated STEM program eligible under the CIP (Classification of Instructional Programs) Code 11.0899: Computer Software and Media Applications, Other. Learn more about STEM designation.

Lean more about the program and watch a curriculum overview by Professor and Program Director Laura Kurgan on the Open House webpage.

M.S. CDP Events

Lai Yi Ohlsen

How tall is the internet?

What does it mean to measure the Internet? And how can the measurements themselves inform its evolution?

A lecture by artist, writer, researcher, and lead Data Scientist at Measurement Lab Lai Yi Ohlsen.

Part of the 2023 MSCDP Conversations with Practitioners lecture series, organized by the M.S. in Computational Design Practices Program.

The M.S.CDP program advances interdisciplinary design research and practice across GSAPP’s existing programs and tackles the complex questions that arise when data meets design, space, and the built environment. The program consists of colloquium courses, foundation courses, and electives that span the curriculum at GSAPP, forming bridges, networks, and collaborations around shared concerns.

Each student is asked to clarify an independent research problem over three semesters, culminating in a forward-looking capstone project for the final Design in Action colloquium. Three colloquium courses—Methods as Practices, Practices as Methods; Explore, Explain, Propose; and Design in Action—provide a critical, productive, and supportive structure for students to develop a clear position and methodology for their work, as well as a plan for its implementation. Students participate in the field discursively as well—reading and writing about current debates as well as historical approaches to technology and the built environment. They are guided through creative and iterative design processes as well as methods-oriented workshops to facilitate their work and capstone projects. Foundation courses are intended to provide a set of seven core competencies for students in computational design methods in architecture and planning. Three of these foundation courses are available exclusively online to students before the start of the program, as well as to learners everywhere: Computational Drawing, Mapping and Data, and Programming for Design Practices. Other foundation courses include Computational Modeling, Computational Design Workflows, Responsive Architecture, and Design Intelligence. The program also offers nearly 36 existing advanced elective courses across the School, enabling students to explore and cultivate their particular direction and approach to research.

A part-time option allows students to complete the curriculum over the course of three years.

The program prepares students to pursue a range of design, research, creative, civic, activist or entrepreneurial roles in the architecture, urban design, and urban planning fields as well as any spatial, design, and planning practice. As civic practitioners, students will be qualified to work as researchers, analysts, and data visualizers of geospatial data for policy work in government, whether in city planning organizations or city technology units on data-oriented smart city projects. Students will be prepared to produce and lead environmental storytelling projects—including interactive mapping or 360-degree stories—at news organizations, media outlets, and museums; to advance social impact or social entrepreneurship as it relates to the built environment, through planning and policy in civic tech and at NGOs; to enter the Human-Computer Interaction and Environmental Graphics fields; and to work in data-driven design practices developing new types of construction and materials through Building Information Management (BIM) or generative design tools for architecture. As entrepreneurs, students can become research directors, product managers, product innovators, and designers at companies tackling building and construction development. In such positions, graduates will be equipped to apply data-driven computational design skills to urban or environmental projects; or if they enter the program with architectural design skills, they might generate new forms of agile, flexible, and sustainable architectural design practices.
The range of post-graduation possibilities is indicative of the program’s generalist approach, which gives students the chance and freedom to choose an issue, topic, or method that draws on their strengths and orients their path through the M.S.CDP program. Some students will become specialists; others will remain generalists with a computational literacy that enables them to collaborate with engineers, computer scientists, and data scientists in a range of fields that relate to the built environment and to bring design expertise to those fields. Each course in the curriculum productively and critically engages its methods and practices and gives students the skills and opportunities to shape discussions about socially- and ethically-responsible computational design for the future of architecture and the built environment worldwide.