Harvard GSD Design Discovery

A 3-week in person program at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design in Cambridge, MA for individuals interested in gaining knowledge within a single design discipline – Architecture, Landscape, or Urban Planning and Design. This program uses hands-on physical modeling, fabrication, and assembly to engage the material and scale of a selected design discipline.

Overview


Design Discovery (DD) is a 3-week in person academic program that takes place at the Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD) in Cambridge, MA and engages an audience of individuals 18 years old to mid-career professionals interested in gaining knowledge within a single, selected design discipline.  Participants enroll in either Architecture, Landscape, and Urban Planning + Design.  The program explores the potentials of design to impact the built environment and the active conditions it choreographs through the material and scale specific to a particular design discipline.  Program participants direct design to contemporary issues with an emphasis on hands-on physical modeling, material capacities, fabrication, and assembly, in complement to the Design Discovery Virtual program’s digital media emphasis.  Students are taught by Harvard GSD faculty and masters and doctoral degree program graduates in addition to engagement with a broad and diverse network of design talent, across the three disciplines, invited to serve as guest lecturers and critics. 

Successful participants receive a program certificate, student evaluation, and produce a draft portfolio of design work that can be shared with design program admission committees, potential design employers, clients, collaborators, or home school programs for course credit consideration. 

Program Summary

  • 3 weeks, in person format in Cambridge, MA 
  • Audience ages 18 to mid-career professionals
  • Introduction to single selected design discipline of focus:  Architecture, or Landscape, or Urban Planning and Design
  • Fabrication and physical model making focus
  • Instruction by Harvard GSD faculty and advanced GSD masters and doctoral students

Design Discovery 2023 will run from July 10 – 28, 2023!

Applications for summer 2023 will go live here in January. Please sign up for our newsletter at the link above so that we can keep in touch with plans ahead!

Are you interested in learning how to use digital media software to visualize your design responses to contemporary global topics?  If so, check out our Design Discovery Virtual program

Need some help deciding between the GSD’s Design Discovery programs? See this FAQ:

Q: How do I choose between Design Discovery Virtual and Design Discovery In-person?     

A: As suggested guidance for how to choose:  If this academic program would be your earliest direct engagement with design, you might benefit from enrolling in our Design Discovery Virtual (DDV) program which provides an overview of Architecture, Landscape Architecture and Urban Planning and Design and how these disciplines involve distinct material, take different approaches to design, and follow different methodological steps in the making of a project.   If you already have some knowledge about the similarities and differences between the three design disciplines, you might benefit from enrolling in Design Discovery In-person (DD), as this program requires you to select a discipline you want to study with more singular focus.  

We encourage participants to consider carefully what they hope to take away from engagement with Design Discovery.  You might also make a selection between the programs by evaluating what media (digital or physical) you might be most interested in learning about and making with.    

Q: Can I enroll in both programs? 

A: Yes, you can enroll in both programs!  Please note that a valid visa for study within the U.S. is required to be supplied by international citizenship participants of the Design Discovery in-person program. We can only accept valid visas of international students who will be returning to their domestic home school to complete their study after the conclusion of the in-person program. Application and tuition processes and fees would have to be followed for each program you’d want to participate in, as our program webpages describe in more detail:  Design Discovery Virtual and Design Discovery In-person.   The two programs are designed to be complementary to one another, so that participants of both would have little to no redundancy in their educational experience.  The programs also do not overlap with their timing to allow for enrollment in both. 

Q: Is there a fixed sequencing to the two Design Discovery programs? 

A: No, there is not a prescribed sequencing to these programs.  Participants may enroll in them as singular design experiences or as a pair in an order that suits the individual.  The two programs are designed to be complementary to one another, so that participants of both would have little to no redundancy in their educational experience.    

Q: What are the differences in format between the two programs? 

A: Design Discovery Virtual (DDV) allows participants to join from anywhere in the world, while Design Discovery in-person (DD) requires participants to temporarily reside in the Boston area to attend the program held in the Harvard Graduate School of Design’s main studio space, Gund Hall, in Cambridge, MA, USA. Please note that a valid visa for study within the U.S. is required to be supplied by international citizenship participants of the Design Discovery in-person program. We can only accept valid visas of international students who will be returning to their domestic home school to complete their study after the conclusion of the DD program. DDV engages digital software to bring a diverse global community together to share ideas about the world and explore ways to introduce positive change through design.  DD invites participants to address these aims at a studio desk in Gund Hall with in-person lectures, pin-up conversations, and design reviews. 

Q: What if I’m an international student without a valid visa for study in the U.S.?

A: We invite you to join us for the Design Discovery Virtual (DDV) program! No visas are required with this program. It has been designed to address and engage an international audience. Design Discovery Virtual is just as robust, rigorous, and inspiring as our in-person program.  We’ve worked hard to ensure that community is built within the virtual environment through the program format and pace and that design and technical skill with digital media tools are taught in an engaging and accessible manner through our custom workshops.  The Design Discovery Virtual program is fantastic and we hope that you’ll strongly consider participating in this program.  It has a lot to offer!

Q:  Is housing an additional expense of the Design Discovery In-person program? 

A:  Yes.  The cost and reservation of Boston area housing for the Design Discovery in-person program is up to each participant to arrange.  Our Design Discovery Virtual program allows for participants to join from wherever they are with no additional housing costs.

Q: What are the differences in design content between the two programs? 

A: Design Discovery Virtual (DDV) instructs how all three disciplines (Architecture, Landscape Architecture and Urban Planning and Design) address global issues through design during the program. Design Discovery in-person (DD) asks participants to select a particular discipline among these three to closely study through a series of relevant design questions posed.

Q: What are the differences in the material that I will engage between the two programs? 

A: Design Discovery Virtual (DDV) uses digital media (Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, and Rhino, 3D modeling software) to provide experience with the relationship between 2D images and 3D form and space across Architecture, Landscape Architecture and Urban Planning and Design.   Design Discovery in-person (DD) emphasizes physical modeling, exploring a selected discipline’s material capacities and scale as a means to learn design methods through questions posed over a series of assignments.

 

Who attends


Design Discovery students represent a broad range of ages, lifestyles, and training (most have no previous design experience), and this contributes to a stimulating environment. Many are college students or recent graduates, but the program is also helpful to professionals in their 30s, 40s, or older who are interested in learning about design and/or who are considering a career change. We host an average of 225 participants per year. In our 2022 program, participants from 13 different countries and 34 U.S. states joined us to discover design.

Please note that a valid visa for study within the U.S. is required to be supplied by participants of the Design Discovery in-person program with international citizenship. We can only accept valid visas of international students who will be returning to their domestic home school to complete their study after the conclusion of the Design Discovery program. Harvard will not sponsor visas for enrollment in the Design Discovery in-person program. We invite international students who do not hold such visa status to enroll in our fantastic Design Discovery Virtual program. Please see more information about our virtual program at this link!

Alumni profiles


Learning Format


Participants in our program commit themselves fully to a path of intensive thinking through making within the studio of Gund Hall at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design. The program pairs studio design time at the desk with a series of lectures and workshops on the process of design, representation of ideas and intentions, as well as fabrication and modeling demos. Deeply immersed in a culture that is both challenging and rewarding, participants experience what education and work are like in the design and planning professions. Many emerge inspired by design, with a more profound understanding of the possibilities ahead and with more information about their own interests in design in order to inform their choices.

Studio Format

Design Discovery studios focus on short, intensive projects similar to first-year graduate school projects within one of three selected areas of concentration – Architecture, Landscape Architecture and Urban Planning and Design. Studios involve one-on-one guidance from design instructors, group discussions and reviews about design work, training sessions in graphics and model making skills, and individual presentations to instructors and guest professionals. Participants have direct access to select spaces within the GSD’s Fabrication Lab and Frances Loeb Library — one of the country’s foremost design and planning libraries.

Concentrations

As a Design Discovery student, you will engage in an iterative exploratory design process of drawing, fabrication and model making within the context of a design studio. This process will help build your ability to translate observations about the world into a visual and spatial language. We ask all Design Discovery in-person participants to select a single concentration for their study among three possible disciplines described below. Within 3 weeks of the program start date, we cannot make changes to a selected concentration. You will receive instruction in the fundamental design methodologies specific to the discipline that you select as your program concentration:

  • Architecture is the design of individual buildings and their contexts, with the understanding that, through the scale of elements that comprise them, buildings are the choreographers of dynamic conditions both inside their walls and within their local surroundings.
Lizzie Ferguson: Arch07 studio, Design Discovery 2022
Design Discovery 2022 Architecture Site Model
  • Landscape Architecture is the design and preservation of built and natural landscapes, from rural landscapes to urban parks and infrastructure projects.
Guanxin Luo, Xinyu Lai, Diya Li, and Ruxuan Xue: LA02 studio,
Design Discovery 2022
Lydia Healy: LA04 studio, Design Discovery 2022
  • Urban Planning & Design is the analysis and synthesis of forces that shape and reshape the built environment at the scale of the city, with a focus on envisioning and illustrating places that reflect and support the diverse needs of society.
Lydia Li: Studio 06, Discovery Virtual 2022
Damanjot Chatha: UPD04 studio, Design Discovery 2022

Schedule


Below is a sample schedule for the program. Most students work evenings and weekends in the studio.

MondayTuesdayWednesdayThursdayFridaySaturday + Sunday
10:00-11:00am
Lecture by design or planning professional
10:00-11:00am
Lecture by design or planning professional
10:00-11:00am
Lecture by design or planning professional
10:00-11:00am Lecture by design or planning professional10:00-11:00am
Work time in studio
Studios open during weekend
11:15am-Noon
Introduction to studio problem
11:15am-Noon
Design Seminar
11:15am-Noon
Making techniques wkshp
11:15am-Noon
Making techniques wkshp
11:15am-Noon
Making techniques wkshp
Noon-1:00pm
Lunch
Noon-1:00pm
Lunch
Noon-1:00pm
Lunch
Noon-1:00pm
Lunch
Noon-1:00pm
Lunch
1:00-6:00pm
Review of studio problem
1:00-6:00pm
Studio
1:00-6:00pm
Studio
1:00-6:00pm
Studio
1:00-6:00pm
Studio
Studios open until 12:00amStudios open until 12:00amStudios open until 12:00am6:30pm
Movie screening
Studios open until 12:00am

Evaluation + Certificate


Each successful Design Discovery participant receives a written evaluation from his or her instructor and a certificate from the Harvard University Graduate School of Design. Although the GSD cannot offer undergraduate academic credit for Design Discovery, some colleges and universities will award academic credit for a student’s participation in our program.

Requesting a copy of your evaluation

Participants will receive a digital copy of the written evaluation following the conclusion of the program.

Although we cannot provide an official transcript of your work in the program, we can send a letter explaining the nature of the Design Discovery program. If you would like to request this letter, please email [email protected], including the following information:

  • Full Name
  • Email Address
  • Year attended CD/DD
  • Documents requested: written explanation of program
  • Brief description of how you intend to use these documents

Faculty + Staff


Section Instructors

Design Discovery sections are taught by graduating or advanced GSD students who have a professional and academic specialty in the design discipline they are teaching. Sections strive for a maximum of ten students per instructor. Each section is coordinated by current GSD faculty.

2022 Coordinating Faculty

Architecture

Urban Planning & Design

Landscape Architecture

Program Director

Headshot of Jenny French

Jenny French

Assistant Professor in Practice of ArchitectureView Profile

Photo of Yun Fu

Yun Fu

Design Critic in Urban Planning and DesignView Profile

Headshot of Montserrat Bonvehi Rosich

Montserrat Bonvehi Rosich

Lecturer in Landscape ArchitectureView Profile

Photo of a female looking at the camera and smiling

Megan Panzano

Senior Director of Early Design EducationLecturer in ArchitectureView Profile

Lecturers

Design Discovery invites exceptional professionals and academics to give lectures and join career panel discussions on design, history, theory, office practice, and other aspects of each profession. Speakers are often available for informal conversations afterward.

Past speakers have included:

tuition + Financial Aid


Tuition for the 2023 Design Discovery Program is $2,700. Please expect to purchase additional materials and supplies for projects throughout the course of the program. Depending on your location this could be as much as an additional 250.00 USD.

Payment Policy

A nonrefundable application fee of $85 be be paid in full for each application before the application deadline of April 17, 2023 in order to be considered for admission to our 2023 program.

Financial Assistance

Financial aid takes into account many factors; however, as a guide, if the applicant and/or parents (if appropriate) have a combined gross income that exceeds $40,000, an aid award is unlikely.

To apply, please submit a Financial Aid Application Form along with the required documentation by the program application deadline. Please see the application for more information. This form will be available to complete within your program application.

Please Note: Design Discovery financial aid is not federally subsidized and is available to U.S. citizens and permanent residents only. International students are not eligible to apply. Requests for aid will not be considered without a completed program application. Late applications will not be considered.

Tuition and Financial Aid FAQ

A: Yes. Further payment instructions will be provided in your admittance letter. Tuition payments must be completed online via the online system by the deadline of May 8, 2023.

A: Tax forms from parents are required for every applicant under the age of 30.

A: No. We are unable to waive the application fee.

A: No. Design Discovery financial aid is not federally subsidized and is available to U.S. citizens and permanent residents only. International students are not eligible to apply for financial aid.

A: Yes. The Design Discovery Virtual financial aid application form is part of the program’s online application. Once you indicate an interest in applying for aid, the aid application application form will appear for filling out. In order to apply for aid, submit this form and supporting documents online with the rest of your application by the application deadline.

A: Design Discovery financial aid funds are need-based awards, which means that funding is based on the financial situation of the student. Financial aid takes into account many factors; however, as a guide, if the applicant’s and parents’ (if appropriate) combined adjusted gross income exceeds $40,000, an aid award is unlikely.

A: Yes, you need to complete the Design Discovery online application in order to access the financial aid application form. We advise submitting the financial aid application form prior to receiving your admissions decision letter.

A: Yes, we will notify all aid applicants of their admission along with their aid award by email by May 1, 2023.

A: We cannot accept applications for financial aid beyond the program application deadline.

A: Awards only apply towards tuition and possible support for a computer device. Aid for Design Discovery in-person does not cover housing, which is up to each student to arrange. See this link for more information.

COVID-19 Health + Safety Information


Due to the impact of the global pandemic, participants of the Design Discovery in-person program at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design will be required to follow Harvard University protocols with respect to health and safety when convening on campus for the summer of 2023.

For the summer of 2023, testing will not be required during program participation, but each participant will be guaranteed access to 1 rapid test kit as part of the Design Discovery program. These test kits are available on an on-demand basis. Please plan to ask your studio instructor for a kit if you would like to test. Beyond this, testing is to be completed by each individual.

As a participant of the Harvard GSD Design Discovery in-person program, you are required to have health insurance that covers major illnesses and accidents within the United States. If you do not have such coverage with a US or other carrier, you are required to purchase it to match these requirements. Upon acceptance of your application, you will be asked to verify that you have insurance to match the above coverage requirements.

Please check back for more current information, as updates occur on a rolling basis.

Housing


The cost and reservation of Boston area housing for the Design Discovery in-person program is up to each accepted participant to arrange.  Neither Harvard nor the GSD have dorms to offer to Design Discovery participants. Upon acceptance of your application to the program, we encourage you to review the housing resources we have collected for you here and make your housing arrangements for the duration of the program as early as possible.

Things to consider when looking for housing:

  1. Location: You will be spending many nights in the studio. Be sure to take into consideration how far your rental is from the school and if transportation is easily accessible.
  2. Budget: Apartments in the Cambridge area can be costly. Take into consideration what amenities you absolutely need and which ones you can live without.
  3. Roommates: Do you want to share a room with another person for the program? If so, with whom? A GSD student or another Design Discovery participant? The GSD Housing Facebook Group is a great way to connect with other Harvard Students looking for roommates, sublets, and rooms.

Housing Resources

Apply


To apply for the Design Discovery Virtual program, please submit the following required materials with your online application:

  • Application Fee: A non-refundable $85 application fee is due upon application submission.
  • Statement of Intent Please tell us (in 250 words or less) what you hope to achieve by attending this design program.
  • Resume or CV (PDF) which includes the following information: employment; education; extra-curricular collegiate and community activities (note whether an office held was elected or appointed); honors; awards; professional registration; professional societies; publications; avocations; hobbies; travel. If you served in the military, indicate rank on entry and rank on separation.
  • Academic History
  • University Transcripts (upload scanned copy, does not need to be official) Transcripts should be submitted with the program application from all colleges and universities from which the applicant has received credit. When uploading a transcript, please make sure the scanned version is legible. Transcripts that are not in English must be accompanied by a certified English translation. If the university or college does not issue transcripts, a certified letter and certified English translation must be provided. It should list courses and examinations taken, grades, and degrees and dates of degrees received. Admitted students who have attended a school outside of the U.S. may be asked to submit a WES (World Education Service) certified transcript, at the applicant’s expense.
  • Upload .jpg, .tiff, or PDF image files of your original design work or photography (optional)
  • Financial Aid Application (optional, U.S. applicants only)

Application Deadlines

Applications and application fees are due by the program application deadline of April 17, 2023. Early completion of the application and application fee are encouraged! Application decisions will be communicated to all applicants via email on May 1, 2023. Tuition payments and program registration are due in full by May 8, 2023.

DeadlineDate
Online Application OpensJanuary 2023
Application Deadline (including Financial Aid Applications)April 17, 2023
Admission + Aid Decisions Sent to Applicants May 1, 2023
Registration/Tuition Payment DeadlineMay 8, 2023
Cancellation Deadline for Full (100%) Refund*June 30, 2023
Withdrawal Deadline for Partial Refund**July 14, 2023

*Contact Design Discovery to cancel your enrollment by this date to receive a full (100%) refund of the $2,700 program fee.

**Contact Design Discovery to cancel your enrollment by this date to receive a partial (50%) refund of the program fee (amounting to $1,350).

Frequently Asked Questions


Video content: To hear about the following subjects, scroll to the video timestamp indicated. 00:06: Introduction 00:45: Program History 03:52: What do you learn in the six-weeks? 04:40: What does a designer do? How does a designer solve a problem? 06:55: Pedagogical format/What do you mean when you talk about studio? 11:57: Who are the instructors? 13:40: Trajectory of the six weeks 16:30: What do people do after the program? 22:10: When is the best time to enroll in Design Discovery? 24:03: How is the program funded? 26:25: Is there financial aid? 27:37: Do participants receive credit? 28:45: Questions and Answers

A: Admissions and aid decisions will be emailed to applicants on May 1, 2023.

A: No, the Design Discovery program does not grant deferrals. If you are admitted but unable to attend, you would need to reapply in another year.

A: No. Any former applicant wishing to reapply to the GSD Design Discovery Program must resubmit all forms and documentation.

A: Applicants must be at least 18 years old and must have a high school diploma or the equivalent. A high level of academic skill is necessary to take full advantage of our rigorous program.

A: A valid visa for study within the U.S. is required to be supplied by international citizenship participants of the Design Discovery in-person program. We can only accept valid visas of international students who will be returning to their domestic home school to complete their study after the conclusion of the DD program. Harvard will not sponsor visas for enrollment in this program. We invite international students who do not hold such visa status to enroll in our Design Discovery Virtual (DDV) program. DDV is just as robust, rigorous, and inspiring as our in-person program. Please see more information about that program at this link.

A: Transcripts should be submitted electronically through the online application. Applicants should scan a copy of their transcript(s) and upload these documents into the online application. During the application process, it is not necessary to send an official transcript.

A: Scanned transcripts can be unofficial or official. If we need further information, we may ask for an official transcript to be sent to our office for review.

A: Please contact the Design Discovery office by emailing us at [email protected].

A: Yes. Design Discovery is a program designed to introduce Architecture, Landscape Architecture, and Urban Planning & Design to those who have interest in the areas but have little to no experience with design.

A: Participants of the program are exposed to all three concentrations through lectures, but your studio work will focus on only one chosen concentration. Within 3 weeks of the program start date, we cannot make changes to a selected concentration.

A: That is exactly what we teach. The program is as much about the ‘mindset’ as it is about the ‘toolset’ of designers. Many of our students have gone on to other disciplines, taking with them what is now called ‘design thinking’; the processes, mental habits, and methods of research and collaboration that are second-nature to designers which can be beneficially applied to all fields and areas of study.

A: The cost and reservation of Boston area housing for the Design Discovery in-person program is up to each accepted participant to arrange.  Neither Harvard nor the GSD have dorms to offer to Design Discovery participants. Upon acceptance of your application to the program, we encourage you to review the housing resources we provide on our website here and make your housing arrangements for the duration of the program as early as possible.

A: Participants are given access to all programs on the GSD network. It is required that all participants bring a laptop. Wireless internet is available in Gund Hall as well.

A: To request a copy of your evaluation please follow the instructions here.

A: To unsubscribe from our mailing list, email a request to [email protected] with your name and address as they appear on the mailing label.

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