Landscape Futures Lab is a design-research platform directed by Dr. Aroussiak Gabrielian that serves as an incubator for climate innovation and imagination. 

As assistant professor of Landscape Architecture + Urbanism, Gabrielian’s lab is one of the four main initiatives under the Landscape Architecture + Urbanism program within the USC School of Architecture. 

The aim of the Landscape Futures Lab is to expand our climate imaginary by advancing projects that address our multilayered environmental challenges in ways that mutually benefit humans, other species, and the physical environment with the overall goal of designing more ethical, regenerative, and vibrant futures. 

“Our collective response to climate stress will require not just innovative tools and technologies, but social and economic transformation – a shift in our thinking about the biophysical world and our role and responsibility in it,” explained Gabrielian.

Operating concurrently at two fundamentally different scales – the design of ecological systems at the territorial scale and biological design at the material scale – the work coming out of the Landscape Futures Lab deploys a multi-scalar futures framework that recognizes environmental, organismal, and human health and wellbeing as fundamentally entangled and interdependent.

Projects at the Landscape Futures Lab are developed in collaboration with faculty and experts from across USC and in close dialogue with partner organizations from the Southern California region and beyond. 

“The Lab explores the productive interface of nature and technology through design, as well as material testing and fabrication. The productive interface between Art + Science collaborations across both the faculty and students, as well as the facilities, provide the perfect ingredients for advancing climate innovation and imagination here at the USC School of Architecture,” said Gabrielian.

Bringing together faculty from critical disciplines across USC, including from the Department of Computational Biology (biological science), the Spatial Sciences Institute (soil science), The Natural History Museum (urban ecology), Thornton School of Music (sound studies), the School of Cinematic Arts (interactive media), and industry partners – from Technology to Futurology – the Landscape Futures Lab develops multimodal and multi-scalar research that explores the implications and applications of technology within the biophysical world and establishes experimental methodologies with which to generate alternatives to our current environmental trajectories and the existential threats we now face.

The lab advances these aims through three specific areas of focus: (1) enhancing transdisciplinary exchange: collaborating across disciplines to develop innovative and cutting edge, pie-in-the-sky proposals for funding to advance convergent research; (2) experimentation: developing possible new directions and methods for the field of landscape, climate research, and interdisciplinary inquiry in general; and (3) developing multi-modal community and science/technology engagement opportunities, such as novel outreach processes through art, design & emerging media.

Projects in the Landscape Futures Lab are led by graduate students under Gabrielian’s guidance and developed closely with the Lab’s collaborators. Students in the Lab are currently executing various grants awarded through the University, in addition to self-initiated design-research projects established by Gabrielian in connection to her own areas of inquiry. 

Landscape Futures Lab student Makaya Tome added, “As we lean more on interdisciplinarity to drive the future of humanity, incubators such as the Landscape Futures Lab that encourage collaboration across disciplines, are becoming increasingly important. Our Provost work dives into the development of bio-based, carefully designed strata to encourage kelp growth and reintroduce the climate-based benefits of kelp forests. As an Environmental Science and Health student, I have been learning a tremendous amount from my peers about design, narrative composition, fabrication, and modeling. The exchange of knowledge and understanding from different disciplines is what propels our ideas forward."

Recent work in the Lab includes:

  • exploring landscape prostheses – or the design of experimental strata particularly for optimizing kelp growth – in collaboration with USC Dornsife Biological Sciences
  • inventing novel uses and applications of kelp/algae-based materials and the development of biomaterials in general, in collaboration with the Architecture & Fine Arts Library
  • researching carbon farming potentials with kelp-based fertilizers, in collaboration with the USC Research & Extension program in the blue economy and AltaSea
  • researching the potentials of microscopy in understanding landscape symbiosis at various scales, in collaboration with Keck Medicine/Children’s Hospital
  • experimenting with expanding media to bring awareness to (1) the disappearing world of our threatened co-species, in collaboration with the Audobon, the arts organization Clockshop, and USC Libraries; and (2) to create narrative experiences through which communities can tell their own story, in collaboration with arts organization LA Commons, the Willowbrook Inclusion Network, and LACMA

“By extending themes and subject matter from the lab to the classroom, the students benefit from the same affiliate faculty associated with the Landscape Futures Lab, who regularly visit the classroom as consultants, engaging and exposing students to cutting-edge work at both the biological and ecological scales. My students come from all disciplines within the USC School of Architecture including from both graduate and undergraduate Architecture, Landscape Architecture, Building Science, and Heritage Conservation programs, as well as from the Geodesign program at the Spatial Sciences Institute, the Environmental studies program, and the Media Arts + Practice program from the USC School of Cinematic Arts,” noted Gabrielian.

Learn more about Landscape Futures Lab here.

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