Los Angeles, which Reyner Banham famously interpreted in 1971 as a construct of four ecologies, is an ideal urban nature setting for studying landscape architecture—where urgent contemporary issues can and must be addressed while testing the boundaries of design research, design thinking, and implementation. The growing ecological crises and intense population pressure of the city’s coasts, flatlands, and foothills are a pars pro toto, a microcosm of the challenges facing state, nation and globe, ones that necessitate a paradigm shift to complex systems thinking.
Our accredited graduate program in landscape architecture at the University of Southern California (USC) is based on the knowledge and skills to engage complex issues and to undertake ambitious design explorations. Upon completion, graduates are prepared for both design and leading leadership opportunities in professional practice, public service, as well as in higher education; they are able to address the necessary balance of ecology and development our future environments will require.
Landscape architecture at USC is about unraveling the complex and continually evolving social and environmental conditions of sites and territories in order to develop thriving communities and environments. The design-‐‑centered program develops a trans-‐disciplinary capacity and approaches that reach across scales and combines the tangible and the imaginary to provoke conversations that promote social equity, environmental justice, and spaces for creative expression. An exceptional core faculty brings to the program its cutting-‐‑edge, topical research and outstanding teaching skills, while adjuncts and critics from an expanded network of L.A. and the wider world of landscape and affiliated fields convey fresh perspectives.
Sequential studios and complementary courses, taught by both in-‐‑house and invited experts, that focus on history & theory and techniques & tools, develop relevant means towards the major challenges of society and towards the built environment. Climate change, resource and food security, landscape toxicity, and water scarcity require the skills of the landscape architect, who has been absent for too long from (the power and) responsibility of the territory. In USC’s Master of Landscape Architecture + Urbanism program (MLA+U), transformation of the territory is premised on extensive fieldwork and an understanding of the latent qualities of existing sites and the (development) agencies that act upon them. Social and cultural transformations of territories are a means to strategically reformulate reality.
The MLA+U program develops real-‐‑world issues, formulates and re-‐formulates problems, explores and proposes operative strategies, and becomes part of the discourse with stakeholders and cities. The resistive capacity of the landscape to the ever-‐‑globalizing, homogenization of territories is created as a means to shape possible futures for parks, neighborhoods, city districts, and the larger stewardship of the landscape.
USC’s program draws its inspiration from the energy and dynamism of Los Angeles itself, a complex blend of urban life and cultural diversity. Blessed with a mild climate, yet at risk from earthquakes and other natural or manmade disasters, L.A. is a city that has learned to take environmental and ecological questions seriously. Above all, Los Angeles is a highly original, experimental city that consistently challenges preconceptions and serves as an incubator for new ideas and practices.
Design Research Thesis
The design research thesis is a full academic year project for all MLA+U students. It is a tightly guided process in order to take advantage of the expertise and ongoing research of professors and to guide students through the design research process. In the fall semester, students choose from one of two professors as instructors and mentors to follow for the year-‐‑long thesis work: professors present either umbrella themes or geographies that are broad enough for students to explore collectively, as well be able to identify individual passions/interests to develop their own direction during the course of the year. The fall semester is begun as a studio (ARCH 642) with specific exercises; however, by the mid-‐‑semester review, students are asked to identify individual design research questions to pursue for their thesis. By the end of the fall semester, each student has defined a design research question and site a well a series of relevant case studies and a literature review that supports their work. The latter is aided by the thesis seminar (ARCH 698a), which is also taught by the professor leading the studio. The seminar course includes methods of research, fieldwork, working in archives and reviews methods of interpretative reading/ mapping case studies, in addition to structured exercises of related literature for the group and individually focused on each student’s particular research needs. By the end of the fall semester of the third year, the students should have completed a rigorous literature review, intensive fieldwork, and archival work and studied relevant case studies, interpretative analysis of the site at various scales—all through the lens of their identified design research question.
Students work independently on their thesis topics in the spring with faculty guidance. At the end of the spring semester, the final design research thesis work is produced in an 11”x11” booklet. It is usually structured by 1) a design research question (or questions); 2) identification of the site with archival and interpretative fieldwork mapping; 3) critical literature review and relevant case studies; 4) design research; 5) position in the field of landscape architecture in light of design research question (as way of conclusion). The booklet is image-‐‑heavy with extended captions. All of the work is expected to have proper academic referencing, including images that are not the students’ own.
The work is evaluated by four persons: the director, the professor guiding the work, a faculty member from the landscape architecture program at USC, and one landscape architect or allied professional from Los Angeles. Copies of the booklet are delivered to readers approximately 10 days before a 3-‐‑day presentation in May where all of the students present their work and defend their positions in a public format. Students are provided with comments and then produce a final booklet that meets graduate level academic standards.
MLA Thesis & Design Research Studies
The three year first professional degree program in landscape architecture received its initial accreditation in 2011 by the Landscape Architectural Accreditation Board (LAAB). We initiated our scheduled 6 year LAAB evaluation in August of 2017. We were visited by the LAAB review committee in early November 2017. We will provide an update on this process in March when the results of our visit are provided. Until then our program is considered fully accredited.
USC MLA Accreditation 2011
PUBLIC INFORMATION POLICY
Landscape Architectural Accreditation Board (LAAB) accredited programs are required to provide reliable information to the public. Programs must report on accreditation status and its performance. This information is to help potential students make informed application decisions.
The three- and two-year programs in landscape architecture are accredited by the Landscape Architectural Accreditation Board. For more information on LAAB, see:
RETENTION AND GRADUATION RATES
A highly desirable faculty: student ratio plays a central role in our high retention rates. Faculty members continually support and monitor student performance to ensure timely graduation.
MASTER OF LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE, 3 YEAR CURRICULUM
47 students matriculated into the 3-year professional degree in the past four years.
· 16 students earned the degree in three years.
· 26 students are in progress to complete the degree in a timely manner.
· 5 students departed from the program after modifying their degree objectives.
MASTER OF LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE, 2 YEAR CURRICULUM (as of 2016 Advanced Placement Status requires previous LAAB Accredited Degree)
34 students matriculated into the 2-year professional degree in the past four years.
· 24 students earned the degree in two years.
· 3 students earned the degree within three years.
· 7 students are in progress to complete the degree in a timely manner.
USC requires students to maintain a minimum GPA of 3.0 to earn a graduate degree. The average grade point average (GPA) of Master of Landscape Architecture students is 3.51 (on a 4.0 grade point system).
Close to 75% of recent graduates find employment in landscape architecture within 6 months of graduating.