Preparation of MLA Design Thesis
“The natural sciences are concerned with how things are . . .
Design, on the other hand, is concerned with how things ought to be.”
—Herbert Simon, The Sciences of the Artificial, 1969
A thesis is a thematic proposition offered for discussion and debate. A thesis is typically developed through a piece of original research specific to an academic discipline, often at the culmination of a program of study. Theses are produced through various methods as appropriate to the disciplinary commitments of academic fields across the research university. Design theses are pursued through the methods and media specific to the design disciplines, through design research. Design research most often refers to the process and products of knowledge produced through design, as distinct from knowledge produced by research methods associated with the humanities or the sciences. Design research can be characterized by its means and methods, as well as by its sites and subjects for work, as well as the dissemination and reception of its propositions.
Design research is propositional and projective rather than simply empirical or descriptive. It is most often predicated on intervention in the world rather than simply describing the world as found. Design research is characterized by its capacity to propose alternative and better futures while simultaneously producing disciplinary knowledge in design. Candidates in the Master in Landscape Architecture Program elect to pursue independent design theses at the culmination of their graduate work. The projects presented here represent original thematic propositions put forward through design research to stimulate discussion and debate. In this sense, they are as much about design discourse and disciplinary formation as they are propositions for how things ought to be.
This research seminar is intended for Master in Landscape Architecture candidates electing to pursue a design thesis in their final year of study. The course defines the parameters of a design thesis and assists candidates in the development of their own individual design thesis proposals. The course addresses a series of broad themes essential to developing a cogent thesis proposal including design research, projective practices, discursive agendas, site contexts, programmatic drivers, and representational strategies. The course examines the role of precedent projects and design methods as well as the status of design and design research as forms of knowledge in the research university.
Course readings, video lectures, and videos of advice from faculty and recent graduates are made available via Canvas. The course meets weekly for workshop presentations and discussion of thesis projects in development. In addition to the regularly scheduled class sessions, tutorial workshops, and formal reviews, individual meetings with faculty advisors are an important aspect of the course. Students will be invited to identify and secure a GSD faculty thesis advisor by the end of August. By the end of the term candidates will prepare an independent thesis proposal of their own formulation as a critical contribution to contemporary discourse and debate in landscape architecture. The course welcomes individual design thesis projects exploring topics of contemporary relevance to the future of landscape architecture including questions of racism and resistance, class and climate, among others.