Architecture’s ‘Present Future’ begins at Rice

Postbaccalaureate degree program to focus on how cities of the future depend on now 

The Rice University School of Architecture (RSA) will offer a Master of Arts and Architecture degree through a postbaccalaureate program to begin in fall 2014.

The two-semester graduate program titled “Present Future” is geared toward students with either professional or undergraduate design degrees, and not necessarily in architecture, according to Albert Pope, the Gus Sessions Wortham Professor of Architecture, who will lead the program during its first two years.

The program’s theme during the first year will be “Next City,” as seen through the reality of Hong Kong’s New Towns. The Present Future premise is that architects and urban planners need to think less about tearing down and starting over than building upon neighborhoods for which strong parameters have been set by culture and history.

Sha Tin

Members of a Rice University School of Architecture research studio view the Hong Kong New Town of Sha Tin, which will be the focus of a new postbaccalaureate program to begin at Rice next fall. Photo by Mahan Shirazi

“The roots of future urban design already exist today, and careful attention must be paid to how the current state of a neighborhood should and inevitably will inform its evolution,” Pope said. “A deeper understanding of what exists and why it exists should serve as the springboard for the next iteration of the city, as opposed to coming up with a kind of science-fiction ecotopia.”

The first semester will build upon Pope’s extensive research of Hong Kong’s New Towns, developments built since the 1950s to handle the region’s burgeoning population, and the program’s participants will visit Hong Kong in the spring. Students will produce a book-length publication that ties together research and design work from the two semesters.

“We’re going to study Sha Tin, the first New Town, as it has so much history,” Pope said. “It was essentially built in the ’70s, and you can see now a second generation of building, which is exactly what we need to see as opposed to the pristine, lay-it-all-out-and-make-a-city-in-five-years style of development.

“Two-hundred-and-fifty million people will be urbanized (in Asia) in the next 20 years,” he said. “That’s more than 10 New York cities – huge numbers – and the models they’re using are crude, to say the very least.

“It just so happens that Hong Kong has had a New Town program since the ’60s,” he said. “Because of the nature of that city – its politics, its planning – Hong Kong has built quite remarkable whole-cloth projects that are in some ways deeply flawed, but in some ways full of potential if you look at them without a chip on your shoulder.

“We need to look without prejudice at how we’ve been building cities for the last 50 years and build off of that,” Pope said.

“In a world that is moving ever faster, it is ever more critical for schools to carve out the time that is needed to slow down and focus attention on critical topics for architecture and urbanism,” said RSA Dean Sarah Whiting, the William Ward Watkin Professor of Architecture. “Present Future enables that closer look. It also provides the equivalent of a laboratory for our faculty to advance their research.”

Responsibility for Present Future will rotate, Pope explained. “The program is set up so a faculty member will carry it for about two years, introduce a topic and guide the students through the curriculum, and then another faculty member will take over, and then another.”

Pope hopes students will see in the program an opportunity to take stock of their professional activities since graduation and use the experience to either reinforce or redirect their efforts within the discipline of architecture.

He said that while many architecture schools offer postbaccalaureate programs, “Very few have the reputation, resources and the faculty to offer the quality of educational experience that we are putting into Present Future.”

The deadline for applications is Dec. 31. For information about the program, visit

About Mike Williams

Mike Williams is a senior media relations specialist in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.