Interdisciplinary & Trans-disciplinary Programming

Over the past many months DesignIntelligence has been working with the AIA-AGC joint committee in an effort to better understand how universities, educators and students view the importance of integration and collaboration in education. For the first time, DesignIntelligence added a series of questions to our annual rankings surveys for educators, students and professionals across three disciplines (architecture, landscape architecture and interior design). The added questions were intended to measure the perceived importance of an interdisciplinary education by hiring professionals and students and to also measure the level of interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary learning that is currently happening in the universities.

Results from a few of the questions asked are highlighted below.

Hiring Professionals

Hiring professionals were asked if they prefer to hire students who graduate from interdisciplinary programs. 43% of the respondents responsible for hiring architecture graduates stated that they do prefer graduates of interdisciplinary programs. 26% do not prefer these graduates and 31% are unsure. It is interesting to note that from this same group of respondents only 29% stated that they actively seek candidates from integrated programs and 50% responded that they do not seek out these candidates. 21% of respondents are simply unsure.

The numbers for those hiring landscape architecture graduates are even more skewed with 58% stating that they prefer graduates of interdisciplinary programs yet only 34% actively seek out these graduates.

We asked hiring professionals if they look for graduates with substantial education in business. An alarming percentage of the responders stated that they do not seek out these graduates – 75% for architecture, 79% for landscape architecture, and 66% for interior design.

DesignIntelligence asked hiring professionals to choose the programs (undergraduate and graduate) that they felt were strongest in 12 different areas of focus. Two of the focus areas asked specifically about interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary learning.

The focus area questions are below:

  • Interdisciplinary studies (awareness of, and collaboration with, multiple disciplines impacting the built environment)
  • Transdisciplinary collaboration across A/E/C

Although it isn’t possible for a true ranking to be established, when we looked at the responses to these two questions, across all three disciplines, we were able to identify several schools that stood out.

More than any other school, Cornell is perceived as being strong across both focus areas. Kansas State University, Auburn University, and Virginia Tech were frequently named as well.


DesignIntelligence added several questions to the survey for Deans/Chairs. We were hoping to gain an understanding of whether or not universities are taking steps to truly promote interdisciplinary learning by cross listing courses, sharing faculty, shifting graduation requirements, etc.

It’s relatively common for architecture, landscape architecture and interior design programs to be located in the same college. More often than not, planning programs reside in the same college as landscape architecture programs. Programs such as construction management, engineering, and historic preservation are infrequently housed alongside architecture, landscape or interiors programs. As a result, a beneficial synergy may not easily materialize.

Most deans believe that their curriculum and graduation requirements are coordinated across disciplines. Architecture and landscape architecture deans frequently claim to cross list courses, and coordinate graduation requirements while interiors deans do so a bit less frequently. Faculty does often teach in multiple departments, first year requirements are common across disciplines, lecture courses have students from multiple disciplines, and studios do collaborate around concepts of integrated design.

Most institutions strive to introduce and reinforce interdisciplinary perspectives by exposing students to guest critics, lecturers from outside of the institution, adjunct faculty and industry research and most believe that they truly collaborate with other design and construction departments at their university.


DesignIntelligence added several new questions to the students’ surveys this year in order to ascertain their perception of the level of their exposure to other disciplines.

Although students typically choose a singular field of study, a clear majority do believe that their programs promote interdisciplinary and, to a lesser extent, transdisciplinary learning. Overall, the greatest collaborative learning seems to be happening between architecture, landscape, interiors, and planning programs. Most students also believe that they have an adequate understanding of these disciplines, regardless of their chosen major.

When we asked architecture students about interaction with other disciplines as required by their programs, the responses varied. Just over 50% of the architecture students stated that they interact with landscape architecture and planning disciplines. Just under 50% stated interaction with construction management, interiors and engineering programs. Interaction with anthropology, computer sciences, business, economics and sociology was reported by fewer than 20% of the respondents.

Similarly, landscape architecture students reported common required interaction with architecture and planning departments (approximately 75%). Interaction with all other listed disciplines was consistently below 35%.

Interior design students reported common required interaction with only architecture departments (86%) and 42% or less with all other disciplines.

About half of the architecture students who responded feel that they have an adequate understanding of construction management, interiors, landscape architecture, and planning. Far fewer claim to have an adequate understanding of the basics of engineering, or historic preservation.

A clear majority of the landscape architecture students feel that they have an adequate understanding of both architecture and planning. Most do not believe that they adequately understand construction management, engineering, historic preservation, or interiors.

Interior design students overwhelmingly believe they are well versed in architecture and about half feel they have an adequate understanding of construction management, and planning.

Over two-thirds of the responding students stated that they believed their programs, overall, also promote transdisciplinary learning. When asked about frequency of interaction (either required or chosen) with disciplines outside of those directly impacting the built environment (anthropology, business, computer science, sociology, etc.) the numbers suggest that programs do not truly promote transdisciplinary learning and that students are not necessarily seeking it out on their own.


Institutions appear to be purposefully structuring departments, course requirements, use of faculty, and even extracurricular activities to promote collaborative learning for their students.

Students feel that they are exposed to other disciplines quite routinely and believe that they are well versed in other disciplines.

There seems to be a disconnect between the professionals and the academy. In order for the system to work at an optimum level, the profession and the institutions need to align and insure that the institutions are teaching what truly needs to be implemented in the practice. Conversely, the practice needs to implement what is being taught.

Dave Gilmore, the President and CEO of DesignIntelligence, addressed this issue in his article in the October 2019 issue of Architectural Record.

The future of AEC is on a radical path toward reinvention, led by the upcoming generations who have a new set of attitudes, values, and behaviors. Innovative ways of working, collaborating, leveraging knowledge through technology, and devising economic value are all challenging traditional ways and means across the design and construction industry. Lessons from other industries, such as tech, software/systems development, and aerospace are being directly applied to AEC, and the initial outcomes are indicating dramatic shifts in approaches, process, and fulfillment of building programs.

We at DesignIntelligence predict that the line between building design and technology design will continue to blur and that the economics of design will sharply improve as more architecture students enter the market as free agents. This will translate into higher earnings for cross-disciplinary talent, who will possess a broad orientation to problem-solving. We believe they will utterly alter the industry through redefining the values in design, with an accompanying enhanced reward system.

Institutions training architects will shift their educational programming to a radically more diverse landscape of learning. Architecture and design schools will become more effective when they kick down the walls between their programs and those of computer science, business, engineering, construction management, and social sciences.

The field of architecture is changing and design education must change with it.