Sustainable Design (M.S.)

Program Director: Rob Fleming 


Building on the University’s mission to provide professional skills combined with a broad general education, the sustainable design program seeks to prepare students for the built environment industry by teaching specific skill sets necessary to conceptualize, measure and construct a sustainable environment. This is balanced by broader, theoretical avenues of study that emphasize systems thinking, which place the technical knowledge gained in the program into context. The program culminates with a two-semester thesis project that is meant to provide a component of depth in a specific built-environment discipline or a particular subset of sustainability.

The M.S. in Sustainable Design is a post baccalaureate master’s degree program that serves students from a wide array of disciplines that range from architecture to engineering to design to construction. The faculty members of the program are drawn from similar disciples to underscore the transdisciplinary nature of the program. The emphasis of the program is on the sustainable built environment with students exploring different avenues of study including design, entrepreneurship and policy development. This approach is supported by a curriculum that comprises four “platform” courses, followed by a collaborative studio and culminating in the thesis project. Electives are used to provide opportunities to explore related topics involving sustainability, or for a short study abroad experience. The total credit requirement for the degree is 34 credits and features multiple pathways for completion including full-time and part-time online study. 

Program Learning Outcomes

Graduates of the M.S. in Sustainable Design will:

  • Apply the core skill sets necessary to accomplish an effective sustainable design project as a response to environmental, social and economic forces.
  • Provide leadership, team building and organizational skills for diverse groups through the integrated process.
  • Work effectively within groups of varied disciplines.
  • Synthesize theories of sustainability into comprehensive research and design projects.
  • Develop diversity initiatives that are integral to the sustainability problem-solving process as a reflection of an emerging global marketplace.
  • Apply ethical values to the integrated design process and to the selection of systems and materials for a built project.
  • Embrace the realities of prevalent societal structures as a base to build new enterprises focused on the optimization of environment, equity and economic goals.

Curriculum Design

The Curriculum of the MSSD Program features three teaching/learning strategies:

Lectures build an overall knowledge base about sustainability while providing detailed information on green materials, construction systems, life-cycle analysis and green-building documentation metrics such as the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system. 

Labs will develop an “informed intuition” about the relationship between the forces of nature, built environments and human confort as the basis of sustainable design. 

Studios will synthesize the sustainability knowledge-base and informed intuition into larger, more complex projects that draw upon collaboration and innovation as key approaches to problem-solving and design conceptualization. Studio-based learning incorporates one-on-one communication with faculty, group projects with other students from diverse disciplines.

Thesis Projects are the culminating educational experience that allows each student to conduct a specialized research or design project.

Foundation Course Requirements and Advanced Standing

Foundation course requirements will vary according to the applicant’s completed undergraduate major as well as his/her professional experience. The foundation courses are geared toward students without a background in the built-environment professions. Credits earned in the Foundation courses do not count toward the requirements for graduation. For those applicants with extensive experience in the field advanced standing of 3 credits may be awarded at the discretion of the Program Director. Applicants will be advised on an individual basis by the graduate program director prior to enrollment concerning prerequisites, required foundation courses, or the granting of advanced standing.

Degree Options

The MSSD Program offers students three ways to complete their degree: a 2-Year Full-Time Program, a 2-Year Online Program, and a Hybrid/Flex Program. There is also a Graduate Certificate in Sustainable Practices.

2-Year Full-Time Program

(34 credits)
This full-time program allows students to spend the time needed to delve deeply into the more detailed aspects of sustainable design, engineering and architecture. Students in this track will be encouraged to plug into ongoing research projects as well as other grant-funded projects at the University. This track is most suitable to those students who are accepted as graduate research assistants or for international students seeking educational opportunities in this country.


Fall Semester
SDN-601 Principles and Methods for Sustainable Design 3 credits
SDN-602 Adaptive Design 3 credits
SDN-603 Sustainable Systems 3 credits

Spring Semester
SDN-6XX Ecological Design Studio 4 credits
SDN-6XX Landscape Ecology Seminar 2 credits
SDN-XXX Elective 3 credits


Fall Semester
SDN-900 Thesis in Sustainable Design I 3 credits
SDN-611 Sustainable Design Studio 4 credits
SDN-604 Green Materials and Life Cycle Assessment 3 credits
Spring Semester
SDN-901 Thesis in Sustainable Design II 6 credits


M.S. in Sustainable Design – 2-Year Online Program

(34 graduate credits)

This program is ideal for students who can’t move to Philadelphia but still want to complete the degree. All courses are offered completely online. 


Fall Semester
SDNX-601 Principles and Methods for Sustainable Design 3 credits
SDNX-602 Adaptive Design 3 credits

Spring Semester
SDNX-603 Sustainable Systems 3 credits
SDNX-604 Green Materials 3 credits

Summer Semester
SDNX-XXX Elective 3 credits


Fall Semester
SDNX-621 Ecological Design Studio 4 credits
SDNX-623 Landscape Ecology Seminar 2 credits

Spring Semester
SDNX-622 Sustainable Design Studio 4 credits
SDNX-900 Thesis in Sustainable Design 3 credits

Summer Semester
SDNX-901 Thesis in Sustainable Design II 6 credits


M.S. in Sustainable Design – Hybrid/Flex Program

(33 Credits)
This program is designed to accommodate those who do not wish to pursue the traditional two-year day program or the 100% online program. Those who wish to accelerate their degree, or attend part time, or start online and finish on campus would select this option. Interested students will be directed to meet with the MSSD Program Director to design a course sequence that will meet the student’s unique needs. Students will receive a written detailed course of study that details a clear progression of courses leading towards graduation in the time frame agreed upon by the student and Program Director.