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; working 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 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: http://arccadigest.org/landscape-architecture-and-the-health-of-the-valley/.
Alison is also 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.
Her 2014 book, titled City Choreographer: Lawrence Halprin in Urban Renewal America, was released by University of Minnesota Press (https://www.upress.umn.edu/book-division/books/city-choreographer) 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 (www.foreground-da.com). 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.
IN THE NEWS
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 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.
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.
- 565Global History of Landscape ArchitectureGlobal History of Landscape ArchitectureThis global history of the built environment will focus on how the constructed landscape has informed the shape of the city as an embodiment of public life and public values. We will consider landscape as design laboratory, as infrastructure, as theater (etc). The course will introduce the evolution of urban landscape theory and form, particularly as situated in historical, geographical and cultural context. Readings consist of primary sources, as well as subsequent social, politico-economic and cultural histories that reveal: (1) shifting receptions and interpretations of our urban inheritance; and (2) our evolving cultural and professional values. Cultural attitudes toward Nature will be an integral thematic concern, particularly as Nature is situated in ideological and physical relationship to the city.
- 566Cross-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.
- 642Landscape Architecture DesignLandscape 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.
- 698aLM.L.Arch. ThesisM.L.Arch. Thesis
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.