Theories and Practices of Landscape Architecture

What do you need to know in order to understand this landscape? This course explores how cultural values are embedded in the design of landscapes. In each class, we will map the assumptions that inform how landscape is designed and interpreted. Looking primarily at case studies from the 20th century, we will examine how landscapes have grappled with inherited dichotomies, whether among humans or between human and non-human, nature and culture, discreteness and continuity, or between process and outcome. By learning to read landscapes and related projects of landscape architecture, we will study the “constructedness” of landscape and, conversely, the ways in which landscape architecture shapes identity and ecology, reproduces or contests power and inequality, and commemorates diverse cultural meaning.

The course weaves together three kinds of investigations: one that focuses on built forms, another on the ideas and conceptual frameworks that guide the production of those forms, and a third that examines the retrospective interpretation of those forms. We will attend to diverse projects and topics, including border regions, urban landscapes, agricultural landscapes, colonial plantations, scientific gardens, territories of extraction, zones of environmental risk, successional forests, migrating ecosystems, national parks, native lands, domestic spheres, and postcolonial gardens. Through these sites, we will critically explore the spatial forms of exclusion, inclusion, conflict, and cooperation between and among people and their surroundings. 

Each week, course readings and recorded lectures will be made available via Canvas. Synchronous sessions for student presentations and discussion sections led by Teaching Fellows will take place via Zoom weekly. All-class synchronous meetings are scheduled every Friday between 10:00am and 12:00pm EST, to advance discussion of central topics arising from lectures, readings, and discussion sections, and for lectures from guest speakers and other activities. At the end of this class, students will understand the value of theory in design, will be able to articulate the diverse intellectual, social, and political dimensions of landscapes, and to refer to a history of landscape architecture projects oriented to related issues. Assignments will include a combination of case study presentations, written responses to assigned readings and hands-on exercises designed to train students in the analysis of landscapes.