Alison B. Hirsch, Ph.D., FAAR

Director, Graduate Programs in Landscape Architecture + Urbanism; Associate Professor


Ph.D., Architecture, University of Pennsylvania MLA, University of Pennsylvania MS (Historic Preservation), University of Pennsylvania BA, Art & Art History, Wesleyan University

Research areas: cultural landscapes; working landscapes (intersections of land and labor); spatial politics of landscape architecture; contested landscapes; activist design methods (participatory design, co-design, etc); landscape's intersections with performance and choreography.


Alison B. Hirsch, FAAR, is a landscape theorist, historian and designer. Both her design and written work focus on how understanding cultural practices and social histories and memories can (and should) contribute to the design of meaningful places. As Director of the Landscape Architecture + Urbanism program, Alison has established the Landscape Justice Initiative which serves as a platform to address questions of environmental, spatial and climate justice at local and systemic scales.


Alison has recently immersed herself in work on the production landscapes of California’s Great Central Valley, focused most particularly on the San Joaquin Valley as a landscape of extremes that embodies the most pressing (socio)environmental questions of our day, particularly as they pertain to global food production. For this forthcoming exhibition and book on the future of the San Joaquin Valley, she was awarded a Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts Research and Development Grant in 2019 and the Landscape Architecture Foundation (LAF) Fellowship for Innovation and Leadership (2020-2021). For short interview related to teaching around this topic, see:

Alison is also currently working on a book, The Performative Landscape, which emphasizes sociocultural dynamics as catalysts for physical design, challenging common conceptions that participatory or socially-oriented design processes must sacrifice the spatial, material and formal qualities of the landscape architectural project.

Her 2014 book, titled City Choreographer: Lawrence Halprin in Urban Renewal America, was released by University of Minnesota Press ( and received grant support from the Foundation for Landscape Studies (David R. Coffin Publication Grant) and the Graham Foundation. The book provides an analysis of the creative process landscape architect Lawrence Halprin developed with his wife, dancer and choreographer Anna Halprin, and how aspects of this process have the potential to enrich contemporary approaches to structuring the city. It has additionally provided a foundation for Alison's ongoing research on participatory methods that contribute to the creative design process.


Alison is co-founder of foreground design agency, a critical landscape practice whose work is both situated and speculative, operating in an intermediate space between practice and theory and the physical and representational ( Recipient of numerous recognitions, including prize-winners of the Pruitt Igoe Now competition, foreground provides Alison a platform to test her research in applied action. Prior to initiating her own practice, Alison worked in the design offices of W-Architecture and Landscape Architecture and James Corner Field Operations in New York City.


Alison co-edited a book of essays by James Corner, titled The Landscape Imagination (Princeton Architectural Press, 2014) and has published many book chapters and articles in numerous journals, including Landscape Journal, the Journal of Architectural Education (JAE), and Studies in the History of Gardens and Designed Landscapes. With her partner at foreground, she has authored essays about the firm’s design research in Journal of Architectural Education, International Journal of Interior Architecture and Spatial Design, Geography Research Forum and forthcoming in Future Anterior.


Prior to joining the faculty at USC, Alison taught landscape architecture theory and design at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design (GSD), University of Virginia and University of Toronto. Alison was a 2017-2018 Prince Charitable Trusts/Rolland Rome Prize Fellow at the American Academy in Rome.


Six Selected for 2020-2021 LAF Fellowship for Innovation and Leadership

Director of USC's Landscape Architecture + Urbanism program, Alison Hirsch, is one of six selected to be in the Landscape Architecture Foundation’s '20-'21 cohort of the LAF fellowship.

Landscape Architecture and the Health of the Valley

Landscape architecture program director Alison Hirsch speaks with arcCA DIGEST about her graduate thesis studio, co-taught with Aja Bulla-Richards, that focused on issues of environmental and socio-economic injustice, particularly in relation to the agriculture industry, in the San Joaquin Valley.

Posthuman Habitats Shortlisted in SxSW Interactive Innovation Awards, Speculative Design Category

Assistant professor Alison Hirsch’s project Posthuman Habitats is one of five finalists in the South by Southwest Interactive Innovation Awards in the Speculative Design category. The project, developed with Hirsch’s agency partner Aroussiak Gabrielian, responds to impending food and water scarcity, stresses on energy and water infrastructure, and the nomadic existence that characterizes our age of migration.

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Currently Teaching
  • 565
    Global History of Designed Landscapes
    Global History of Designed Landscapes

    Understanding of the global history of landscape design in relation to social, political, religious, environmental and aesthetic principles; current design theory, projects and their historical references are critically reviewed and analyzed.

  • 566
    Cross-Cultural Topics in Landscape Architecture History (Hirsch)
    Cross-Cultural Topics in Landscape Architecture History (Hirsch)

    FOOD LANDSCAPES: Industrial Production + Alternative Practices

    This seminar will explore landscapes of global food production with a particular focus on California’s Central Valley, which produces 40% of the nation’s fruits, vegetables, nuts and other table foods on 1% of total U.S. farmland, and exports to growing global markets. The seminar will introduce the history of our current food system and practices in place that relate to land use and formation. It will introduce both climate change and population pressures as major factors in the futures of our food system and will critically examine approaches to mitigating currently unsustainable global practices. It will introduce alternative practices (including but also well beyond urban farming) that resist current production models and consider how design and planning might contribute to imagining alternative food futures.

    The seminar will include field trips to alternative food organizations in the city, as well as one overnight trip to the San Joaquin Valley to visit some industrial production and processing facilities (to be scheduled according to student availability; overnight accommodations to be subsidized). The seminar will have weekly readings, with a term project that involves research, writing and diagramming based on fieldwork. 

  • 642
    Landscape Architecture Design
    Landscape Architecture Design

    Prerequisite(s): ARCH 542abL

    This course is an option research studio that tackles questions integral to the current practice of landscape architecture. Options offer diversity in scale, scope and geography, often with international possibilities. Opportunities for collaboration with other disciplines in the school (including Architecture and Heritage Conservation) are sometimes offered at this level. The expectation for this course is students have developed skills and values that ensure more self-direction in research and design development, culminating in a diversity of final proposals. 

    View the Fall 2020 Virtual EXPO Gallery

  • 698aL
    Advanced Design-Research: Seminar
    Advanced Design-Research: Seminar

    Directed research option for the MLArch degree.

    This research seminar provides a foundation for the Advanced Design-Research studio course in the Spring (ARCH 698b). The seminar may be oriented toward topical, geographical and/or methodological study. The Advanced Design-Research sequence integrates students into a deep research process that culminates in proposals that have replicable potential and the potential for impact on environmental and urban policy. 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. 

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