Ready to take on new challenges and break into exciting, cutting-edge fields?

Transform your career by positioning yourself at the forefront of innovation in robotics, fabrication, and design-computation.

Join our new one-year Master of Science in Design: Robotics and Autonomous Systems (MSD-RAS) program at the University of Pennsylvania Stuart Weitzman School of Design, the most recent addition to the Architecture Department's series of advanced MSD programs.

Program Overview

The MSD-RAS aims to develop novel approaches to the design, manufacture, use, and life-cycle of architecture through creative engagement with robotics, material systems, and design-computation.

Students will gain skills in advanced forms of robotic fabrication, simulation, and artificial intelligence, in order to develop methods for design that harness production or live adaption as a creative opportunity. Robotically manufactured architectural prototypes (part or whole) will be developed by students and presented and exhibited at the completion of the course.

WHO IS MSD-RAS FOR?

  • Students who already hold a first professional degree from an accredited design program in architecture.
  • Post-graduate students or those who have completed equivalent programs of study in related professional fields who can demonstrate their ability to complete the required course of study.
  • Professionals who have worked for several years and are seeking advanced study and credentials in robotic fabrication and design-computation.

Program Goals

The MSD-RAS program will enable graduates to:

  • Gain state of the art robotics, material fabrication, and design-computation qualifications.
  • Develop skills in advanced methods of fabrication, computation, robot programming and multi-modal sensing technologies, and their integration within innovative design methods.
  • Expand career opportunities and options to work in ambitious and diverse fields.
  • Impact the present and future trajectory of architecture through novel forms of production, practice and entrepreneurship.
  • Operate at the forefront of industry research and development

Why Robotics in Architecture?

The fourth industrial revolution (Industry 4.0) describes a recent shift towards autonomous systems, and societal reliance on cyber-physical processes that incorporate digital communications and navigation infrastructure, robotic manufacturing, and artificial intelligence. The building industry is currently undergoing transformation through the adoption of robotics technologies such as additive manufacturing systems that enable a reduction in the time, cost and complexity of delivering buildings, and have potential humanitarian and socio-economic benefits. Adoption of these technologies also enables greater automation not only in production but also in design, challenging existing modes of architectural practice. The MSD-RAS program explores avenues for re-situating the role of architectural design within present day autonomous technologies, with the aim of expanding societal and design opportunities by leveraging robotic and material processes within design.

Fostering Innovative
Career Trajectories

The MSD-RAS program aims to empower graduates to operate at the forefront of industry research and development, by gaining state of the art robotics, material fabrication, and design-computation qualifications, and to graduate as highly skilled professionals, capable of impacting the present and future trajectory of architecture and industry through novel forms of production, practice and entrepreneurship.

Whether you're looking to advance your career, transition to new industries, start your own company, or pioneer an emerging field, the MSD-RAS program offers hands-on experience with ground-breaking technology and world-class qualifications to help you achieve your goals.

Curriculum

The MSD-RAS Program includes the following courses:

Summer

  • Introduction to 3D Programming
  • (2 week course prior to start of Fall Semester)

Fall

  • ARCH 801 Material Agencies: Robotics & Design Lab I (2 CU)
  • ARCH 803 Algorithmic Design & Robotic Fabrication (0.5 CU)
  • ARCH 805 Introduction to Cyber-Physical Systems (0.5 CU)
  • ARCH 807 RAS Theory (1 CU)
  • Designated Elective (Within Architecture + Engineering)

Spring

  • ARCH 802 Material Agencies: Robotics & Design Lab II (2 CU)
  • ARCH 804 Advanced RAS Programming (1 CU)
  • ARCH 806 Experimental Matter (1 CU)
  • ARCH 808 Scientific Research and Writing (1 CU)

Total Course Units: 10

Course Descriptions

An Innovative New Program — What Makes the Weitzman School MSD-RAS Unique?

The MSD-RAS at the Stuart Weitzman School of Design, a global leader in architectural design, offers a unique education in architectural design and robotic fabrication. While other courses might focus on fabrication or computation, the MSD-RAS offers opportunities for hands-on experimentation, design speculation, team-based collaboration, and access to world-leading facilities, with learning supported primarily through project-based work rather than through a written thesis alone.

The program’s emphasis on project-based work provides practical learning opportunities, also supported by technical and theoretical courses that run in parallel and are directly related to design projects, ensuring participants learn how to approach design from multiple creative and technical aspects holistically, while learning how to communicate design-research to industry and academia. As the MSD-RAS operates within the context of a large, Ivy League, research institution, there are also overlapping interests with the departments of mechanical engineering, computation science, material science, biology, and medicine that enable opportunities for interdisciplinary collaboration, or participation in seminal interdisciplinary research and symposia.

The MSD-RAS operates in state-of-the-art facilities, including the newly launched Weitzman School ARI Robotics Lab, and has close ties to the building industry. The program’s STEM status, renowned faculty, and proximity to prospective employers in Philadelphia and New York City also ensure it offers the best industry and employment opportunities for graduates.

World-leading,
Inter-Disciplinary Faculty

Image of Nathan King Nathan King Snr Indusry Engagement Mgr @Autodesk, Lecturer @Penn, HarvardGSD, Co-Director CDR@VT

Dr. Nathan King is active in industry, practice, academia and policy, and works to create opportunities at their intersection. King is senior industry engagement manager for the Autodesk Technology Centers where he develops applied research within Architecture, Engineering and Construction, and contributes to the development of strategic initiatives related to robotics, automation, and the future of construction. Prior to joining Autodesk, Nathan was a director at MASS Design Group where he collaborated on the development of innovative building technologies, medical devices, and evaluation methods for use in resource-limited settings. Nathan’s work spans the globe with built work in Malawi, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, Haiti, Sweden, Dominican Republic, United States and beyond. Currently, he holds an appointment as National Healthcare Infrastructure Advisor to the Ministry of Health of Zambia where he is working to introduce technology-enhanced construction processes for use in distributed healthcare facilities. With graduate degrees in Architecture and Industrial Design, Nathan earned his Doctor of Design from the Harvard University Graduate School of Design with a focus on automation and robotics in design and construction. Nathan has taught in the foundations and architecture departments at the Rhode Island School of Design, at the Institute for Experimental Architecture at the University of Innsbruck. King is currently a faculty member at Virginia Tech where he is co-director of the Center for Design Research (CDR) and leads design technology and impact design initiatives, lecturer in Architecture at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design on topics relating to automation in design and construction, and Instructor at the University of Pennsylvania Stuart Weitzman School of Design in robotics and autonomous systems in design. 

Image of Billie Faircloth Billie Faircloth Adjunct Professor @Penn, Partner @ KieranTimberlake

Billie Faircloth is a Partner at KieranTimberlake. She leads a transdisciplinary group of professionals leveraging research, design, and problem-solving processes from fields as diverse as environmental management, chemical physics, materials science, and architecture. She fosters collaboration between disciplines, trades, academies, and industries in order to define a relevant problem-solving boundary for the built environment. Billie oversees the queries and investigations that begin and inform each project at KieranTimberlake. During design, she guides project teams through empirical experiments, prototypes, and analysis. She leads the development of technology that informs high-performance design, including Pointelist™, a wireless sensor network, Tally™, a life-cycle assessment application, and Roast, a post-occupancy survey tool. She is also working on Ideal Choice Homes, an affordable, quick-to-build housing solution for India's emerging middle class.  Billie has taught at the University of Pennsylvania School of Design and Harvard University, and has served as Portman Visiting Critic at Georgia Institute of Technology and VELUX Visiting Professor at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts. Prior to joining KieranTimberlake, she was an assistant professor at the University of Texas at Austin School of Architecture, where she instructed research studios exploring applications for conventional and emerging material technologies and conducted seminars on emerging construction and fabrication technologies. Her articles have been published by the Journal of Architectural Education, Princeton Architectural Press, Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, and ACADIA. She is the author of Plastics Now: On Architecture's Relationship to a Continuously Emerging Material published by Routledge in 2015, and the recipient of Architectural Record's Women in Architecture Innovator Award in 2017.

Image of Jeffrey Anderson Jeffrey Anderson Lecturer @Penn, Pratt

Jeffrey Anderson is an educator, architectural designer, and AR/VR software developer. He currently teaches design studios and advanced media seminars in the Graduate Architecture and Urban Design program at Pratt Institute and the Graduate Architecture Program at the University of Pennsylvania. He is also the lead software developer in the Design Lab at Mancini Duffy where he conducts design research and develops architectural visualization tools. His current software development work focuses on creating new forms of physical and virtual collaboration that empower all members of the design process. His research focuses on using technology to create new relationships between users, architecture, and its context through interaction, sensing and feedback, and mixed reality. His forthcoming book The Ecologies of the Building Envelope: A Material History and Theory of Architectural Surfaces (Actar, 2021), written with Alejandro Zaera Polo, analyses how social, political, technological, and economic forces have become embedded within architecture over the last century. His work has been exhibited at Pratt Institute (2019), the Seoul Biennale (2017), Princeton University (2016), the Gwangju Asia Culture Center (2015), the Venice Architecture Biennale (2014, 2012), the Southern California Institute of Architecture (2014), the University of Michigan (2013), and Ohio State University (2013, 2012). He holds a Master of Architecture II from Princeton University, and both a Master of Architecture and a Bachelor of Science in Architecture with Honors and Distinction from the Knowlton School of Architecture at Ohio State University.

Image of Patrick Danahy Patrick Danahy Lecturer @Penn, Asist Research Professor @ Ball State

Patrick Danahy is an Assistant Research Professor of Architecture and the Design Innovation Fellow at Ball State University and the 2022 distinguished professor of the T4T Lab at Texas A&M, a position formerly held by Casey Rehm, Roland Snooks, Tom Wiscombe, Barry Wark, Gilles Retsin, Nate Hume and other distinguished faculty. He has taught digital workshops in the UCL Bartlett RC20 Skills-Share program, as well as design and technology studios at the University of Pennsylvania as a Part-Time Lecturer for the M.Arch and MSD-RAS programs, and as a Visiting Lecturer for the Landscape Architecture Master's program. His teaching focuses on computation and robotics, integrating architectural reference with contemporary machine learning methods. Danahy holds a B.A. in Architecture from Clemson University, where he received the graduating Faculty award and the Peter Lee and Kenneth Russo Award for Design Excellence. He later graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a Master’s of Architecture, receiving the Kanter-Tritsch Prize in Energy and Architectural Innovation, the Paul Cret T-Square Fellowship, the Van Alen Traveling Fellowship, the Dales Fellowship, the Kohn Fellowship, the Schenk-Woodman Merit Award and upon graduating was awarded the Arthur Spayd Brooke Memorial Silver Medal. His work has been presented and published at the 2020 Digital Futures Young conference, the 2020 Distributed Proximities ACADIA conference, and the 2022 CAADRIA Post Carbon conference, receiving the award for best presentation runner up with Robert Stuart-Smith.

The MSD-RAS program is taught by some of the Weitzman School’s most inter-disciplinary and internationally-experienced architecture faculty, while drawing on expertise from Penn Engineering and Computer Science departments to contribute expert knowledge in robotics, computer vision, electrical engineering, and more.

Penn’s faculty are actively working on research and practice projects related to the core topics of the MSD-RAS, such as a full-scale precast concrete house prototype in collaboration with Cemex that leverages robot hot-wire cutting for the production of formwork molds, a robot curve-folded sheet-metal installation undertaken in collaboration with Robofold, or an advanced environmentally performative cooling-oculus skylight, fabricated using thermo-adaptive robot sheet metal-forming.

Facilities – The Advanced Research and Innovation Robotics Lab

MSD-RAS students will utilize Penn’s new Advanced Research and Innovation Robotics Lab facility that houses state of the art industrial robots and experienced staff. The new facility includes 2 x ABB IRB4600-60 robots that provides a flexible production space for individual and team-based robot production. Considerable investment in auto-tool changing capabilities enables an extensive range of production activities to be undertaken with minimal set-up time such as robotic milling, additive manufacturing, sheet-metal bending or robot hot-wire cutting. ARI facilities also include other industrial robots, 3d printers, pre and post-production work spaces and equipment for supporting fabrication and robot tooling development. Students in the MSD-RAS will be trained to utilize the ARI industrial robots, and it is expected that a considerable amount of their design-research is developed through robotically fabricated prototypes and the development of robot programs and/or end-effector tools.

“The MSD-RAS will be a unique opportunity to learn and combine the most advanced design techniques with the most innovative robotic manufacturing technologies. As professionals of the architecture industry, I consider that the knowledge acquired in this Masters will be crucial to giving us agency in the professional or academic universe of today and tomorrow.”
Mariana Righi
Current Master of Architecture Student

Program Viewbook

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Admissions + Next Steps

Read specific information regarding admissions. Applicants must submit three letters of recommendation, transcripts from each college or university attended for credit, a résumé, a digital portfolio of design work, one writing sample, a description of computing skills and software proficiency, and a personal statement describing his/her educational goals in taking the program. Submission of GRE scores is optional. International applicants must submit official IELTS Academic, PTE Academic, or TOEFL scores if English is not their first language.

Program Director:
Robert Stuart-Smith, msd-ras@design.upenn.edu

Program Faculty:
Andrew Saunders, Ezio Blazetti, Jeffrey Anderson, Billie Faircloth, Evangelos Kotsioris, Nathan King, Jose-Luis García del Castillo y López, among others.

Department of Architecture Chair:
Winka Dubbeldam, Assoc. AIA

Key Dates:

Virtual Fall Open House: Monday, October 31
Applications Due: January 5, 2023
Spring Open House: To Be Announced
Program Orientation: To Be Announced
Classes begin on August 29, 2023

Hexagonal Shaped Button

“A Robotics program would be amazing in that it could offer students a chance to participate in projects that have a larger scale in both material and in the final product.

In my experience, working in the ARI Robotics Lab gave me insight into the way that geometry, material and process can be synchronized by designing the methods of production, then testing them with the robot.

In terms of opportunity, I think it brings the possibility of designing and building projects at a scale of 1:1 for Philadelphia communities, for the school, or for research purposes. By far the most interesting to me would be its potential to seed real-world projects for others outside of the school”.

—Ian Pangburn

FAQs

How much of the Program involves groupwork versus individual work?

Material Agencies: Robotics & Design Lab I & II involve group projects while the majority of the other courses involve individual submissions. There is ample opportunity to demonstrate individual knowledge whilst benefiting from the empowering capabilities of collaborative group work!

How Long is the MSD-RAS Program?

The MSD-RAS involves a 2-Week introductory course and two semesters. The program is full-time and can be completed in approximately 9 months.

Can I do the MSD-RAS part-time while working?

The MSD-RAS is a full-time program due to the fact that all course-work is inter-related to project-based assignments.

Is Financial Aid Available for the MSD-RAS?

Yes, the Weitzman School of Design awards scholarships to master’s degree students based on merit. There is no separate application to be considered for our merit scholarships; all applicants are considered for scholarship based on their application for admission.

Are there elective studios in the MSD-RAS?

All MSD-RAS students undertake the same courses with the same professors with the exception of an elective course in the Fall Semester.

What qualifications will I have when I complete the course?

The course is a Master of Science in Design in Robotics and Autonomous Systems. It is offered in the University of Pennsylvania Stuart Weitzman School of Design’s Department of Architecture and is a STEM certified course.

Is this an architectural design Masters degree?

The MSD-RAS is both a design and science degree. The MSD-RAS is open to anyone with a degree in architecture, the coursework is focused on design operating through material experimentation and robotically manufactured prototypes, with parallel support and training in computer programming and generative design methods. The Program is both speculative and hands-on! The department also offers Post-Professional degrees in Advanced Architectural Design (MSD-AAD) and in Environmental Building Design (MSD-EBD)

I don’t have a degree in Architecture. Am I eligible to apply?

The MSD-RAS is primarily geared towards architectural graduates however, candidates from other fields whose prior experience and future career interests align with the course and who can fulfill the application requirements will be considered. If you believe this applies to you, we strongly encourage you to contact us so that we can help you determine whether your application would be considered.

What skills can I expect to learn during the Program?

Participants will gain state of the art knowledge and experience in industrial robot fabrication and programming, design and computer programming skills, material research and application methods, academic writing skills and more.

Does Penn also offer a certificate similar to MSD-RAS?

No, if you are interested, you would need to undertake the MSD-RAS!

I don’t have prior experience in robots or computer programming, can I apply?

The MSD-RAS program has been structured in such a way as to not require applicants to have prior knowledge or experience in computer programming or robotics however, prior knowledge and experience is helpful.

What software will be utilized and do I need to know these before starting the MSD-RAS?

Use of software programs varies with continual updates to the curricula. Where use of a specific software is required, training in the software will be provided. Commonly used software in the fields of design and robotic fabrication include: Rhino3D, Grasshopper, ABB RobotStudio, HAL, Visose Robots, ROS, Arduino, Processing, and others, in addition to Adobe Creative Suite and MS Office. Prior experience in these is helpful but not required.

What programming languages will classes utilize, and will I be taught these?

Programming languages vary with continual updates to the curricula. A MSD-RAS student can expect to be taught and to utilize at least two programming languages from the most common languages in use (python, java, C++, C#). Python is perhaps the most versatile language for daily use at present due to its easy adoption and broad support across many OS and software frameworks. Note that programming is taught for the purposes of the MSD-RAS applications in design and robot programming, and does not provide a comprehensive education into these languages suitable for other purposes such as web or software development. For those not accustomed to writing software, code can be learned by anyone in a short amount of time, and is far simpler than learning a second language.

Am I required to bring my own computer?

Yes. While the School has lab facilities, the MSD-RAS requires all students to have their own computer. If you are accepted into the program, we can provide you with minimum computer performance recommendations.

What Operating Systems am I able to use in the Program?

All students will be required to have Microsoft Windows 10 installed on their computer. Some courses may utilize Linux for specific tasks, but no pre-installation is required.