Nov. 26, 2019

UCalgary's new Doctor of Design program helps established professionals elevate their practice

Post-professional doctoral degree targets practising architects, planners and landscape architects
Interactive architecture prototype
Interactive architecture prototype of responsive building facades by Youness Yousefi. Olga Courtnage

The School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape (SAPL) at the University of Calgary is launching the first doctoral program in Canada that’s specifically focused on practising architects, planners, and landscape architects.

The Doctor of Design (DDes) provides a platform for established practitioners to leverage their existing expertise into new areas of innovation.

Dr. John L. Brown, SAPL dean, explains, “The climate crisis, social inequality, and the digital revolution of smart cities, computational design, and robotic fabrication are rewriting the way cities are being designed, built, and operated.

"This creates enormous opportunities for architects, planners, and landscape architects to expand their practice, increase their value to clients, and make a bigger and more positive impact in the world," says Dr. Brown.

"Mid-career professionals have the experience to identify and capitalize on these opportunities but often need a framework to help bring these ideas to life. Our new DDes program is a place for motivated professionals to develop their particular response to these opportunities and get them project-ready for integration into practice.”

Program graphic

DDes is Canada’s first doctoral degree for practising architects, planners, and landscape architects


DDes graduates will use the knowledge generated through their research to open new areas of innovation, create competitive advantages, and more clearly articulate their value proposition to clients and the broader public. The Doctor of Design also provides an appropriate terminal academic credential for design professionals interested in applying for post-secondary teaching positions.

The DDes is very different from traditional PhD programs because the research is practice-focused and design-based, with students developing a work-integrated research program centered around a unique inquiry emerging from their experience and insights in practice. Students remain fully engaged in their working life while pursuing a research program in an intense and rigorous format that is distinct from, but parallel to, their professional work.

Three required courses offered in a blended distance-learning format help guide students through the early stages of their research. Twice a year, all DDes students gather for a four-day research symposium to present the progress of their research work in a "studio-crit" format and receive feedback from their supervisors, fellow students, and a cohort of invited critics.

In between symposia, students work remotely with their supervisors to continue developing their projects. The degree is completed with a written thesis document, gallery exhibition, and public defence conducted during one of the research symposia.

We designed the DDes to specifically accommodate the needs of active professionals who want to explore a particular innovation or practice insight that can elevate their practice to a new level.

“The structure of the program allows students from around the world to complete the degree while remaining embedded in their professional offices," says Brown. "The semi-annual symposia, held in Calgary over long weekends in the spring and fall, are important and exciting opportunities for students to share their work and learn from each other.”

The doctoral degree is open to mid-career professionals with at least five years of work experience. Applications are now being accepted for fall 2020 program start; the deadline for applications is Feb. 1, 2020. Applicants are encouraged to apply early. Significant professional experience will be considered in lieu of a graduate academic degree.

The SAPL website has program details and admissions information