Theories and Practices of Landscape Architecture

What do you need to know in order to understand this landscape? How do design culture and design thinking transform over time? How are cultural values embedded in the design of landscapes? This course is framed in terms of the relationship of landscape architecture to the evolving theorizations of nature and culture. In each class, we will map various critical assumptions, ideologies, and aspirations that inform how landscape is designed and interpreted. By learning to read landscapes and related projects of landscape architecture, we will study the constructedness of landscape. Conversely, we will also examine the capacities of landscape architecture to shape identity and ecology, reproduce or contest power relations and inequality, and commemorate diverse cultural meaning.

The course elaborates a working definition of theory as it relates to landscape practice. It contextualizes the discipline’s transition from a modernist paradigm in the West, to the gradual eradication of conceptual binaries and the pluralization of narratives in the late twentieth century. It considers landscape’s ‘social’ engagements to include non-human actors, and concludes with recent materialist approaches to landscape that emphasize its performance and flows in the era of global warming.

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, that may include 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.

At the end of this class, students will understand the value and make use 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. Students will also be able to articulate their priorities within the discipline. 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.

This course is open to all Harvard GSD students and also accepts cross-registered students.

This course will be taught online through Friday, February 4th.