Peter Ekman

Adjunct Assistant Professor


A.B., Harvard, 2007 Ph.D., UC Berkeley, 2016

Peter Ekman teaches on the history and theory of landscape, urbanism, and the built environment. A cultural and historical geographer, he is a postdoctoral fellow of the Center on Science, Technology, and Public Life, based in USC Dornsife. He is also a fellow of the Berggruen Institute, based in downtown Los Angeles.

He holds a Ph.D. in geography from the University of California, Berkeley, where he has also been Lecturer in Human Geography. Earlier in his postdoctoral work, he was a Clarence S. Stein Fellow and Visiting Scholar at the Clarence S. Stein Institute for Urban and Landscape Studies, in Cornell University's Department of City and Regional Planning; Mellon Fellow in Urban Landscape Studies at Harvard University's Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection in Washington, D.C.; Mauk and Nunis Fellow at the Huntington Library in San Marino, California; and McColl Fellow at the American Geographical Society Library in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He holds a bachelor's degree from Harvard.

His first book, a hemispheric intellectual history of postwar urbanism, poses a series of questions about the temporality of what it is to plan the urban or metropolitan future on the basis of knowledge about the past. Routed through the case of one expressly interdisciplinary center of urban studies founded in 1959 with backing from the Ford Foundation, it reconstructs the intellectual network that codified what at the middle of the twentieth century would come to be called "organized research" on urban life. It also traces the emergence of urban studies as a composite form of expertise attuned to the dynamics of cities in the throes of ostensible "crisis" and "renewal." The book draws on material from several cities but is localized mainly on this country's Eastern Seaboard (greater Boston and New York), as well as in South America (chiefly Venezuela) and, to some extent, Western Europe. Timing the Future Metropolis: Foresight, Knowledge, and Doubt in America's Postwar Urbanism is forthcoming in November from Cornell University Press.

A second book, nearing completion, assembles a landscape history of industrial and otherwise non-elite suburbs comprehensively built and systematically abandoned since the late nineteenth century on the eastern edges of the San Francisco Bay Region. A third, in progress, engages case studies from several American cities and reimagines the historical geographies of music and sound since the bulldozer.


His teaching joins an attention to the materiality of vernacular and designed environments with a consuming interest in the history of ideas about how — and how not — to study, theorize, visualize, write about, govern, and intervene on those environments.


His writing has appeared in Planning Perspectives, History of the Human Sciences, the Journal of Planning History, the Journal of Urban History, and the edited volumes Landscapes of Housing (Routledge) and Infrastructural Times (Bristol University Press).

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.

  • 608
    Urban Theory: Los Angeles Case Study
    Urban Theory: Los Angeles Case Study

    Urban Theory: Los Angeles Case Study

    Through critical scrutiny of greater Los Angeles, this course poses a series of questions about how to make sense of urbanism and urbanization more broadly. Los Angeles provides a compelling and consistently troubling case through which to investigate the complex interdependence of the spatial and the social: how the physical form of a city and the life lived within it call each other into being. Its peculiarities also equip us to appreciate the limits of a formalist approach to urbanism — a physical determinism which still imbues design practice in much of the world — and assert the role of theory and research in unlearning it