Apr 17, 2024  
2012-2013 CU Denver Catalog 
2012-2013 CU Denver Catalog [ARCHIVED CATALOG]

Design and Planning PhD

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►  Graduate School Rules  apply to this program


Program Director: Kevin J. Krizek
Telephone: 303-315-2422

The PhD in design and planning from University of Colorado Denver trains scholars for careers in higher education, research and high-level policy positions. It is a research-oriented doctoral degree with a flexible, interdisciplinary focus. Students actively draw from the rich intellectual resources of the University of Colorado campuses in both Denver and Boulder for classes, personalized instruction, teaching opportunities and research appointments. Graduates of the program work in universities, government, nonprofits and the private sector, both in the U.S. and around the world.

Planning and design form a well-established and expanding field of knowledge and practice regarding the relationships of natural, behavioral, technological, political, economic and cultural factors to the organization of physical space, and their combined influence on the quality of life in general. Housed within the college, the departments of architecture, landscape architecture, and planning and design share the idea that the complex problems of the built environment are best addressed through collaboration among the various design and planning disciplines. As a result of this collaboration, the departments jointly offer the advanced research degree, a PhD in design and planning.

Areas of Specialization

The PhD program serves as the intellectual driver of the College of Architecture and Planning; its mission is to provide a scientific foundation for planning and design. Unique and distinguishing characteristics include the physical environment as the domain of interest, the interdisciplinary and integrative orientation of study and the applied nature of prescriptions. Being broad in its offerings, available study covers issues ranging from highly technical urban modeling to the history of architecture. Students in the program are encouraged to embrace tenets embodied in one of the following areas of specialization. Each broad specialization area is represented by its own core curriculum specific to the domains of expertise and faculty interests; in exceptional circumstances, advanced study on a related topic (e.g., historic preservation, green buildings) is available to bridge the two specialty areas.

Sustainable and Healthy Environments (SHE)

Studies in SHE are concerned with the design making by public agencies to guide the pattern and timing of land development that advance goals of sustainable and healthy environments. Subfields include land use planning, growth management, transportation, urban design, housing and community development, environmental planning and management of urban, rural and natural areas. Primary work in this area focuses on land use controls, design review processes and the development of models and tools to understand and support decision processes and design practices.

History of Architecture, Landscape and Urbanism (HALU)

Studies in HALU include the history and theory of architecture, landscape and urbanism considered within socioeconomic and political contexts, intellectual history and cultural studies, as well as questions concerning the evolution of technology, technique and materiality. Interdisciplinary and cross-cultural collaboration is encouraged. In this manner, the disparate range of ideologies and methodologies within the discipline itself are introduced. It is critical for the contemporary scholar and teacher to be aware of the tradition of strategies and perspectives in order to operate in an intellectually responsible manner in the present. A background in a professional design field is desirable for all applicants.

As part of studies in either specialty area, students work on diverse topics, advancing the intellectual environment of the college by participating in a common colloquium, organizing workshops, presenting at conferences and writing publications.

Admission Requirements

As a candidate for admission to the PhD program, you must meet the requirements of the Office of Vice Chancellor of Academic and Student Affairs of CU Denver.  These include but are not limited to:

  • Matters of provisional admission
  • Transfer credit restrictions
  • Residency requirements
  • Eligibility of courses for graduate-level credit
  • Foreign language requirements
  • Examination schedules


To be accepted, you will have to meet the academic residency requirement, which requires six semesters of scholarly work beyond the attainment of an acceptable bachelor’s degree.

Two semesters of residence credit may be allowed for a master’s degree from another institution of approved standing.

At least four semesters of resident credit, two of which must be consecutive in one academic year, must be earned from this university.

Specific Requirements

The specific admission requirements for the PhD program in design and planning are as follows:

1. Degree

Minimally, to be a successful applicant, you must have a bachelor’s degree, however, it is strongly advised that students entering the program will have completed both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree. Field specialization and background are open. However, you will preferably have completed a professional (master’s or bachelor’s) program in planning or a design-related field, such as:

  • Architecture
  • Landscape Architecture
  • Architectural Engineering
  • Urban Design

In combination with a degree in an area, such as:

  • Geography
  • Urban Economics
  • Environmental Law
  • Urban Sociology
  • Real Estate
  • Management Science
  • Computer Science
  • Public Administration
  • Environmental Psychology

2. Knowledge from Prior Course Work

The applicability of your prior course work will be decided by the program committee upon review of your transcript and additional materials. If you do not have the requisite educational background, grade point average or GRE scores, you may be admitted on a conditional or provisional basis and additional course work may be required in accordance with Graduate School Rules .

A. Design and Planning: You can satisfy this requirement by virtue of having completed either a professional or a pre-professional degree program in these areas. 

          If you do not have such prior qualifications, you must complete 12 hours of upper level undergraduate course
          work in the College of Architecture and Planning, while obtaining in each of these courses a grade of ‘B’ or
          higher. These courses are to be chosen from a selected list, in consultation with your faculty advisor, and are
          to be completed within two years after admission to the program, and may count towards fulfilling the degree

B. Undergraduate Work: You must have completed 12 semester hours of undergraduate work in one of the following areas:

Social and Behavioral Sciences
Environmental and Natural Sciences

C. Prerequisites: You must also have completed one of the following prerequisites with a grade of “B-” or above (the choice depends on your area of specialization):

Statistics. Including probability theory, parametric and nonparametric methods, and acquaintance with basic multivariate techniques. A minimum of 3 hours.

Mathematics. Including differential equations, finite mathematics, algorithms, data structures or other appropriate courses. A minimum of 3 hours.

Language. Ability to read at least one foreign language relevant to the area of specialization.

Computer Applications. Background in computer aided Design (CAD) or Geographic Information Systems (GIS). A minimum of 3 hours.  

3. Demonstrated Academic Achievement

  • Academic achievement as evidenced by an undergraduate grade point average of 3.0 (on a 4.0 scale) or better, and a graduate grade point average of 3.5 or better.
  • A 575 TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) score is required if you are a foreign applicant whose native language is not English.


Degree requirements are set both by the Graduate School at the University of Colorado Denver and the PhD program within the college. Degree requirements are divided into two parts: pre-candidacy and candidacy/dissertation research. The former involves course work, qualifying examinations and a dissertation prospectus. Candidacy is certification that all requirements have been met except the dissertation. The doctor of philosophy (PhD) degree in design and planning is granted upon the successful completion and defense of the dissertation.

Students meet these requirements through course work and exams over a two year period. During this time, a student’s cumulative grade point average may not fall below a ‘B’ without academic discipline or probation.

Degree Completion 

Students in the PhD program in design and planning have up to eight years to complete all requirements for the degree. It is possible to take a leave of absence (referred to as a ‘time out,’ however, such circumstances should be pursued in tandem with your advisor and/or your committee). A leave of absence form, obtained from PhD program administrative coordinator, must be completed to ensure your place in the program. 

Three Components

The PhD curriculum consists of three components:

  • Core curriculum
  • Additional course work
  • Dissertation

1.  Core Curriculum  (12 semester hours)

Students in the program are encouraged to embrace tenets embodied in one of the following areas of specialization. Each broad specialization area is represented by its own core curriculum that is specific to the domains of expertise and faculty interests. The core curriculum includes 12 semester hours of course work and consists of a series of theory and methods and application courses, which all students must complete during their first two years of residence, plus an additional three hours of programwide colloquia.

The core curriculum for the specialization in sustainable and healthy environments (SHE) includes:

  Semester Hours: 3
  Semester Hours: 3
  Semester Hours: 3

The core curriculum for the specialization in history of architecture, landscape and urbanism (HALU) includes:

  Semester Hours: 3
  Semester Hours: 3
  Semester Hours: 3

Advanced study on related topics (e.g., historic preservation, green buildings) is available to bridge the two specialty areas, in which case a core curriculum would consist of one of the above tracks complemented by select offerings from the other track. Such circumstances are addressed in close consultation with your initial advisors and/or your committee.

All students are also required to complete three sessions of the colloquium (DSPL 7014 - Colloquium in Design) during their first two years in the program (1 semester hour, pass/fail credits only). You also have the option of taking more than the three required credits. The colloquium includes presentations by speakers (internal to the program, external to the program/university, students), workshops on research/scholarship skills, and perhaps even more social-type activities.
The year-long colloquium has three primary objectives:

  1. It exposes students to various approaches to research related to design and planning.
  2. It enables students to formulate and test out researchable topics among faculty and student peers.
  3. Finally, it serves as a bridge between the two specializations offered within the program, HALU and SHE.

2.  Additional Course Work  (total 34 semester hours)

In addition to the core curriculum, each student must take at least 12 semester hours of course work in classes broadly conceptualized as “methods” indicative to your field of research. The type of research methods courses varies considerably depending on your chosen area of study. Students must also have 12 semester hours of course work in their minor field of study and will typically take 10 semester hours of support electives. Courses outside the core curriculum may be chosen from outside the college on either the Denver or Boulder campus. Up to 18 semester hours of graduate-level course work can be transferred into the program to qualify for advanced standing.

3.  Dissertation  (30 semester hours) 

It is most important that you continue to work closely with your advisor while you are doing your dissertation research. Meet at least once a month to discuss your progress and be sure to communicate with your other committee members as well. It is a continual process that should be a joint effort to assure that your committee will be well informed and prepared at your defense.

Required Semester Hours

The required semester hours are as follows:

Core Curriculum

12 semester hours


12 semester hours


12 semester hours


10 semester hours


30 semester hours


76 semester hours

The average course load is 15 semester hours per academic year, especially for the first two years.

Suggested Timing of the Program

(for full-time students without advanced standing):

Year One

  • Develop your degree plan
  • Complete any prerequisite courses
  • Enroll in 11 semester hours of the required core curriculum and additional courses in your specialty area
  • Finish the preliminary examination

Year Two

  • Enroll in one semester of Colloquium
  • Continue or begin to take electives in your minor and specialty areas as described in your degree plan 
  • Begin literature review papers
  • Prepare for your comprehensive exam

Years Three and Beyond 

  • Complete your literature review papers
  • Prepare a dissertation proposal
  • Take the comprehensive exam
  • Establish your dissertation committee

The remainder of the third and fourth years you will spend researching and writing the dissertation, under the supervision of the dissertation committee. 

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