Alison B. Hirsch, Ph.D., FAAR

Director, 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; spatial politics of landscape architecture; contested landscapes; activist design methods; landscape's intersections with performance and choreography.


Alison B. Hirsch, FAAR, is a landscape theorist and designer, as well as historian. Both her design and written work focus on how understanding cultural practices and social histories and memories can contribute to the design of meaningful places. This research expands into: design in areas of sociospatial conflict and developing design methods and representational practices that take cues from ethnography, choreography and performance studies.


Alison is currently working on a book, The Performative Landscape, which emphasizes sociocultural dynamics as catalysts of 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. Related to this research, 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.

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 productively 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.

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Currently Teaching
  • 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 Fully integrated landscape place design; reclamation sites at significant urban or natural locations.
  • 698aL
    M.L.Arch. Thesis
    M.L.Arch. Thesis
    This seminar provides a conceptual foundation for the MLA research studio this fall and MLA thesis in the spring. The first half of the semester will be devoted to seminal readings on the subject of infrastructure, networks, systems thinking, and technology. In the second half of the semester, students will identify readings relevant to their chosen concentrations as they begin to develop their thesis bibliography. The course will be structured as a traditional seminar with all students participating and contributing. Directed research option for the M.L.Arch. degree. Credit on acceptance of research project. Graded IP/CR/NC.
Related News
Alison Hirsch Name 2017-2018 Rome Prize Winner
Professor Alison Hirsch and Aroussiak Gabrielian are the recipients of the Prince Charitable Trusts/Rolland Rome Prize, an 11-month fellowship that ...
Architects’ dilemma on memorials: Forget and heal, or confront and grieve
As the anniversary of 9/11 nears, America turns again to remember those lost to tragedy — and to consider the best ways to honor them. Recent ...
Architecture author landscapes a legend
Lawrence Halprin is having a moment. The late landscape architect, known as much for his idiosyncratic creative process as the public spaces he ...
Assistant Professor Alison B. Hirsch Published in JAE
The Journal of Architectural Education (JAE) recently published “Restoring Los Angeles’s Landscapes of Resistance,” an article authored by assistant ...
Faculty Members Awarded Grants by Graham Foundation
Professors Alison Hirsch and Ginger Nolan were awarded grants by the Graham Foundation for 2019. The foundation, which aims to “foster the ...
USC Architecture Appoints Alison Hirsch Director of Master of Landscape Architecture + Urbanism Program
LOS ANGELES, May 15, 2019 - University of Southern California School of Architecture today announced the appointment of associate professor Alison ...
USC Architecture Faculty Granted Graham Foundation Awards
The Graham Foundation has announced its grantee projects for 2019, in which it awarded $462,800 to 64 projects by individuals. Two USC School of ...
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