Landscape Architecture I: First Semester Core Studio

What is public about a public space?

STU-1111 is the first in a sequence of four core studios that, together, constitute the foundation of your education at the GSD. In the studios, the hands-on experience of design is a synthetic act, bringing together theory, technique, and aesthetic sensibility in the making of a landscape. In this studio, you will apply the skills and knowledge acquired through other first-year courses—Histories of Landscape Architecture, Landscape Representation, and Ecologies, Techniques, Technologies—to the conceptualization and design of landscapes. Upon successfully completing this studio you will have laid the foundation on which the rest of your study at the GSD will stand.

The central topic of this semester’s studio is landscapes in the public realm: how is the public defined? Who defines it? What is a public landscape? How do we recognize it? How is it different from private ones? What and who do they represent, and how are they funded?

These questions will be explored through three themes that build upon one another— material culture, spaces for free assembly, and spaces for equity and health. As a discipline that deals with the transformation and the production of space, landscape architecture is in essence a materialist practice, whose outcome is made out of real, physical things. More specifically to landscape architecture, design entails the transformation of living systems, and require deep knowledge about materials, how they live, reproduce, die, their interactions with time and weather, and their origins and evolution.

While you learn to work with living materials, we will put emphasis on how the spatial configurations produced by landscape architecture can have significant consequences that transcend the purely physical: the landscapes we design enable and inhibit different forms of relationships between different entities. In urban contexts, people and their rights as citizens—and as human beings– constitute the central subject and object of those interactions. Within urban landscapes, it is the public space, more specifically, what constitutes the fundamental domain in the provision and protection of democracy, for it is in the public space where the most profound manifestations of social conflict, individual self-expression, and cultural exchange take place.

Thus, this studio explores two types of public space commonly found in the American city, the public square—City Hall Plaza in Boston—and the riverfront park–the right bank of the Charles River in Allston—and the physical and political implications in their transformation. Through these two different sites, we will investigate public space as representation of our shared conditions of existence, as expression of difference, values, individuality, universality, knowledge, and power, and we will study how the changes we introduce in the received configuration of the public imply, inevitably, the affirmation, the manipulation, and the suppression of some of those conditions.

While the landscapes we design are nested within larger landscapes and urban systems that are determined by broad and intricate networks of social and economic processes, in this studio we will focus on how the specific forms of discreet sites might constitute in themselves powerful tools in the transformation of those larger processes. Thus, although this studio starts with a rather small site (a site-less enclosed space) and ends with a presumably large one (a portion of the Charles River in Allston), we will not be bound by the simplistic idea that a larger site is necessarily more “difficult” as a design process, or that each is typologically bound to a predetermined historical format. Rather, we will focus on all the scales embedded in any landscape, finding the minute in the large, and the expansive in the small.


TThe first day of GSD classes, Tuesday, September 5th, is held as a MONDAY schedule at the GSD. As this course meets on Monday, the first meeting of this course will be on Tuesday, September 5th. It will meet regularly thereafter.