Alexander Robinson, FAAR

Associate Professor


MLA, Harvard Graduate School of Design BA, Studio Arts, Computer Science (concentration), Swarthmore College

Landscape architecture, landscape infrastructure, sustainable design, landscape performance, design research, landscape modeling, urban rivers, terminal lakes, materials & technologies, arid climates, fieldwork, attention, American West

Alex Robinson is a landscape architect, researcher, and scholar. His work seeks to reinvent our most consequential anthropogenic landscapes through collective authorship, multidisciplinary tools, and community engagement. As an Associate Professor in the Landscape Architecture + Urbanism program, he researches how civic infrastructure can function as landscape, exploring methods to re-envision ecological function and community value.


Alex currently focuses on the Los Angeles River, which he has studied since working on the award-winning Los Angeles River Revitalization Master Plan. His aim is to build a user-friendly tool that invites the community to redesign the LA River, one of the country’s most ambitious and environmentally destructive flood control projects. Alex combines physical hydraulic modeling and other advanced technologies, including robotic fabrication and augmented reality, to make a design interface where technical design practices are made imaginative and accessible. Housed in the City of Los Angeles’s Hydraulic Research Laboratory along the LA River, the tool invites engineers, community activists, ecologists, earth scientists, environmental health scientists, and other community stakeholders alike to engage in an iterative and playful redesign. The project is in partnership with the United States Army Corps of Engineers, the City of Los Angeles, USC’s Viterbi School of Engineering, USC’s School of Cinematic Arts, and CalTech.


His most recent book, The Spoils of Dust: Reinventing the Lake that Made Los Angeles (AR+D) is a history, field analysis, and design investigation into Owens Lake. The book explores landscape architecture’s role in the City of Los Angeles’ two-billion-dollar attempt to redeem Owens Lake without refilling it. It was reviewed in Nature, the Los Angeles Review of Books, and JAE. The book’s accompanying design experiment, Greetings from Owens Lake, will soon be on exhibit at the Center of Land Use Interpretation’s Swansea location. His previous book, Living Systems: Innovative Materials and Technologies for Landscape Architecture (Birkhäuser) is a best-selling treatise on landscapes as high-performance and sustainable systems.


Alex is a Fellow of the American Academy in Rome. He received the Prince Charitable Trust Rome Prize in 2015. His design practice, the Office of Outdoor Research, won a Southern California Chapter ASLA Merit Award for the RebArena. His design research has been exhibited internationally, including at L.A.C.E., the Center for Land Use Interpretation, University of Michigan, University of Virginia, and Los Angeles City Hall. His work has been supported by the Graham Foundation, Foundation for Landscape Studies, Landscape Architecture Foundation, the City of Los Angeles, Lauren Bon and the Metabolic Studio, and others. He is also an affiliate of the USC Spatial Sciences Institute and the Wrigley Institute of Environmental Studies.


Alex is lifelong explorer of California and the American West, a passion he shares with his students. He leads an intensive summer field school on the topic: Arch 580: “Field School on the Frame.” The class travels throughout California, Nevada, Utah, and New Mexico to visit the American West’s most beloved and problematic landscapes, including the Spiral Jetty, Bingham Copper Mine, and the Bonneville Salt Flats.

Related Links: Landscape Morphologies

Currently Teaching
  • 535
    Landscape Construction Performance Approaches
    Landscape Construction Performance Approaches

    Contemporary challenges—social and environmental—demand landscape architecture projects perform greater, more diverse and precise services, in addition to the typical amenities of a park. Simultaneously, a shortage of un-utilized space challenges the profession to provide even the most basic amenities within increasingly unorthodox sites. Landscape architecture has thus been forced to not only expand what performances it designs, but also innovate how and where. Today, it must seamlessly hybridize basic social services, such as recreation and safety, with complex environmental services, ranging from climate modification to waste management, all within unprecedented post-industrial or active infrastructural sites. This course seeks to prepare students for this complex challenge (and design opportunity) through a performance-oriented survey of innovative designed landscapes and specialized skill-building. Through biweekly lectures and discussion, guided field trips, and diagramming exercises, students will examine and critique the performance “systems” of innovative landscapes—internationally and locally. The goal is to construct a platform of perspective, technical knowledge, and field-cultivated experience from which to address the considerable challenge of designing, implementing, and maintaining high performance public landscapes. 

  • 541aL
    Landscape Architecture Design
    Landscape Architecture Design

    The first of the MLA 3’s core design studios, this course introduces the fundamental concepts, principles and elements of landscape architectural design and studio culture. Students conduct a variety of exercises to develop and coordinate a theory and practice of landscape architecture design, representation, and site engagement. Studio begins with introductory design exercises and site analysis and transitions into full-fledged site design. Expertise and skill are cultivated through drawing, site observations, and active discussions and include an immersive, multi-day, site visit to Catalina Island. The course seeks to cultivate a dynamic design dialogue—a dialectic—between our interventions, bodies, and the existing conditions. Along the way, students will learn and practice digital and analog drawing and modeling techniques in coordination with the required media class.

    View the Fall 2020 Virtual EXPO Gallery

  • 639
    Media for Landscape Architecture: Dynamic Systems
    Media for Landscape Architecture: Dynamic Systems

    In this course students will learn advanced digital workflows to conduct contemporary landscape architecture design research. A specific interest of the course is to address how these workflows address dynamic landscape systems, existing and proposed.


    In recent years, the need for advanced design methodologies has become ever more pressing as landscape projects are asked to manage—or serve as—dynamic systems. Increasingly projects must perform dynamic environmental services and/or manage dynamic risks, while still providing quality open space. To effectively navigate the multifarious requirements of these projects, landscape architects must invent workflows, specific to the challenges of each project, where specialized analyses operate alongside typical design tools. For example, to design a flood control channel they might interface various advanced real-time evaluative tools (e.g. hydraulic modeling, habitat analysis, and economic evaluations) within an iterative community-inclusive design process.

  • 698bL
    Advanced Design-Research: Studio
    Advanced Design-Research: Studio

    The final studio in the design sequence, Advanced Design-Research is intended to integrate students into a deep research process that culminates in proposals that have replicable potential and the potential for impact on environmental and urban policy. The ARCH 698a research seminar in the Fall provides the research basis for this studio course. Topics are set by the instructor but offer a wide range of options for students to pursue their passions and interests as developed during their previous coursework in Landscape Architecture.

    View the Spring 2020 Virtual Expo Gallery

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