Landscapes are the dynamic synthesis of natural systems, sociocultural forces and the physical material of the constructed world. The Graduate Program of Landscape Architecture + Urbanism uses the complex regional geography of Southern California as its primary laboratory to generate and test responses to the planet’s most pressing environmental challenges, including resounding impacts of climate change, rapid urbanization, social and environmental injustice, and the interface of nature and technology. Looking regionally and globally, we conduct rigorous design-research to develop multi-scalar innovations in performative regional infrastructures, equitable urban frameworks and public spaces, and healthful biophysical systems. We focus on pressures of urbanization and how to utilize landscape strategies to shape those systems, spaces, cities and infrastructures to imagine more resilient futures – socially and ecologically.
We are fortunate to inhabit one of the most culturally and environmentally diverse geographies in the world - within an hour’s drive from the Pacific Ocean, the San Gabriel Mountains and the western edge of the Sonoran Desert. Clearly Southern California offers a wide range of landscape challenges to which we apply design exploration, strategic thinking, technical resolution and creative expression. Those challenges include increasing water scarcity impacting urban and agricultural territories, warming temperatures, rising sea levels, reduced biodiversity, wildfire-flood-debris flow cycles, as well as deeply institutionalized practices of discrimination that have marginalized and burdened communities of color, and rapid urban development that is leaving many populations behind or displaced. More optimistically, there is an increasing investment in public space, urban nature and environmental resilience in our region, which is characteristically experimental and creative.
Our program curriculum is focused on a balanced core of design studios, media and fabrication, history and theory, performance technologies, plant materials and ecology, construction and practice, and urbanism. It is field-based and hands-on. The studio sequence begins with local urban sites where intensive field work is critical to site understanding and builds up to territorial-scale design-research studios. Students synthesize their courses in media, history, plant materials, ecology, construction and urbanism with their studio work. Second-year studios provide opportunities to investigate design responses to urban development, as well as climate change causes and impacts, and have options both to travel outside the region and to collaborate with architecture students in an integrated setting. Elective courses in our curriculum come from a wide range of offerings in the School of Architecture and other courses including those in urban planning, spatial sciences, art and cinema. We have a number of international opportunities to study other geographies – both during the summer global studies programs and studios within the curriculum.
Our curriculum is increasingly focused on opportunities for applied research that has real impact on the ground or in shaping policy. The aim of the program is to develop critical thinkers and design leaders unafraid to tackle some of the most contested landscapes and environmental questions of our day.