Los Angeles, which Reyner Banham famously interpreted in 1971 as a construct of four ecologies, is an ideal urban nature setting for studying landscape architecture — where urgent contemporary issues can and must be addressed while testing the boundaries of design research, design thinking and implementation. The growing ecological crises and intense population pressure of the city’s coasts, flatlands and foothills are a pars pro toto, a microcosm, of the challenges facing state, nation and globe, ones that necessitate a paradigm shift to complex systems thinking.
Graduate landscape architecture at the University of Southern California (USC) is based on the knowledge and skills to engage complex issues, and to undertake ambitious design explorations. Upon completion, graduates are prepared for both design and leading leadership opportunities in professional practice, public service as well as in higher education; they are able to address the necessary balance of ecology and development our future environments will require.
Landscape architecture at USC is about unraveling the complex and continually evolving social and environmental conditions of sites and territories in order to develop thriving communities and environments. The design-centered program develops a trans-disciplinary capacity, approaches that reach across scales, and combines the tangible and the imaginary to provoke conversations that promote social equity, environmental justice, and spaces for creative expression. An exceptional core faculty brings to the program its cutting-edge, topical research and outstanding teaching skills, while adjuncts and critics from an expanded network of LA and the wider world of landscape and affiliated fields convey fresh perspectives.
Sequential studios and complementary courses, taught by both in-house and invited experts, that focus on history and theory, techniques and tools, develop relevant means towards the major challenges of society and towards the built environment. Climate change, resource and food security, landscape toxicity and water scarcity require the skills of the landscape architect, who has for too long been absent from (the power and) responsibility of the territory. At USC’s Graduate Program of Landscape Architecture + Urbanism transformation of the territory is premised on extensive fieldwork and an understanding of the latent qualities of existing sites and the (development) agencies that act upon them. Social and cultural transformations of territories are a means to strategically reformulate reality.
The USC Landscape Architecture + Urbanism program develops real-world issues, formulates and re-formulates problems, explores and proposes operative strategies and becomes part of the discourse with stakeholders and cities. The resistive capacity of the landscape to the ever-globalizing, homogenization of territories is created as a means to shape possible futures for parks, neighborhoods, city districts and the larger stewardship of the landscape.
USC’s program draws its inspiration from the, energy and dynamism of Los Angeles itself, a complex, blend of urban life and cultural diversity. Blessed with a mild climate, yet at risk from earthquakes and other natural or, manmade disasters, LA is a city that has learned to take environmental and ecological questions seriously. Above all, Los Angeles is a highly original, experimental city that, consistently challenges preconceptions, and serves as an incubator for new ideas and practices.
The design research thesis is a full academic year design research exploration. It is a tightly guided process taking advantage of the expertise and on-going research of our program professors that guides students through an academically rigorous design research process. In the fall semester, students choose from one of two professors as their instructor for their year-long thesis work: professors present either umbrella themes or geographies that are broad enough for students to be able to identify individual passions / interests and develop their own direction during the course of the year. The fall semester begins as a studio (ARCH 642) with specific exercises, however, by the mid-semester review, students are asked to identify individual design research questions to pursue for their thesis. By the end of the fall semester, each student has a design research question and site as well as a series of relevant case studies and literature review to support their work.
At the conclusion of the spring semester, final design research thesis is presented as an 11”x11” booklet encompassing the work of the entire year. It is typically structured as a 1) design research question (or questions); 2) identification of a particular with archival and interpretative fieldwork mapping; 3) critical literature review and relevant case studies; 4) design research; 5) development of a position as a landscape architect in light of the design research question (conclusion). The booklet is image-heavy with extended captions.
The work and is read and evaluated by four individuals: the director, the professor guiding the work, one other faculty member from the landscape architecture program at USC and one landscape architect from practice in Los Angeles. At the end of the spring semester all the students present in a public format. The design research thesis defense is not a project review but a one-hour session with a student presentation and discussion with the Thesis readers.
MLA Thesis & Design Research Studies
Accreditation is a non-governmental, voluntary system of self-regulation. Its core is the concept of self-evaluation. The Landscape Architectural Accreditation Board (LAAB) accreditation process evaluates each program on the basis of its stated objectives and compliance to externally mandated minimum standards. The program conducts a self-study to evaluate how well it is meeting its educational goals. LAAB then provides an independent assessment, which determines if a program meets accreditation requirements. Programs leading to first professional degrees at the bachelor’s or master’s levels in the United States are eligible to apply for accreditation from LAAB.
The USC Master of Landscape Architecture first professional curricula (3-year and 2-year curricula) are accredited by the American Society of Landscape Architects Landscape Architecture Accreditation Board (LAAB). The LAAB Conditions of Accreditation (including the Student Performance Criteria) are posted on the ASLA website:
LAAB Accreditation Standards Procedures
USC MLA Accreditation 2011
PUBLIC INFORMATION POLICY
Landscape Architectural Accreditation Board (LAAB) accredited programs are required to provide reliable information to the public. Programs must report on accreditation status and its performance. This information is to help potential students make informed application decisions.
The three- and two-year programs in landscape architecture are accredited by the Landscape Architectural Accreditation Board. For more information on LAAB, see:
RETENTION AND GRADUATION RATES
A highly desirable faculty: student ratio plays a central role in our high retention rates. Faculty members continually support and monitor student performance to ensure timely graduation.
MASTER OF LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE, 3 YEAR CURRICULUM:
38 of 43 students entering in the past four years earned their degree within 3 years
- 1 student continued for a fourth year to earn the degree.
- 43 students total have entered the program in the past 4 years; 4 of them subsequently left for personal reasons
MASTER OF LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE, 2 YEAR CURRICULUM:
37 of 40 students entering in the past four years earned their degree within 2 years
- 40 students total have entered the program in the past 4 years; all of them have graduated or are currently working toward a timely graduation (3 students continued for a third year to earn the degree)
USC requires students to maintain a minimum GPA of 3.0 to earn a graduate degree. The average grade point average (GPA) of Master of Landscape Architecture students is 3.51 (on a 4.0 grade point system).
Close to 75% of recent graduates find employment in landscape architecture within 6 months of graduating.