Histories of Landscape Architecture II: Design, Representation, and Use

Designed gardens and landscapes are cultural artifacts that encompass three main expectations: pragmatic needs, cultural significance, and aesthetic order. Although some landscape narratives often ignore needs, reduce cultural meanings to a discourse on style, and focus on order as a problem in aesthetic theory, the fact remains that, almost without exception, one or more of these three criteria—needs, meanings, or order—dominates the designed gardens and landscapes of every time and place. Moreover, because the latter are ephemeral and subject to many transformations, their practical, cultural, and aesthetic aspects are often embedded in a palimpsest of changing values.

The course is not tightly structured around landscape architectural styles. Rather, it examines a selection of topics that bring together thinkers and designers who live/have lived centuries apart. While doing so, this class unfolds several issues that have shaped the profession, such as giving form to environmental values, balancing science and art, ecology and design, reconsidering the need for the beautiful vis-à-vis the many sites challenged by pollution and abuse, the issues of reception and the study of space perception. Among the topics of discussion, this course will also take into account recent phenomena such as the late twentieth-century increase in world population and the dwindling of natural resources and consider how these have changed the reality described by the very word nature and have contributed to expand the domain of landscape architecture. The instructor’s talks will include the analysis of case studies and alternate with lectures that address the roots of contemporary ideas in earlier theoretical formulations. Within this structure the past will be presented as a way to illuminate, receive, and critique the present.

Course objectives
– To become familiar with, and be able to discuss in an informed manner, the impact of social, cultural and environmental processes upon design trends. In order to achieve this objective, completing the assigned readings ahead of class time and reflecting on how the ideas expressed in the readings relate to the case studies presented in class, is essential. It is also necessary to engage with the reading material and the arguments presented during the instructor’s talks actively, by noting in writing what one finds most relevant.
– To be able to trace the roots of contemporary design ideas in earlier theoretical formulations. This is achieved by attending all lectures for the entire scheduled time. 
– To be able to think critically, enhancing synthesis and argumentation skills. In order to achieve this, attendance of all seminars/recitation sessions is necessary but not sufficient. Full and informed participation in class discussions of the ideas and issues raised in the readings and lectures is also necessary. Researching and writing a final, term paper will also contribute to attain this goal. 

Course format: The course will involve talks by the instructor and weekly seminars with teaching fellows for the discussion of assigned readings.