Designing Critical Practices

Today, landscape architecture is a field in active transformation. At a broad scale, the climate crisis is transforming the built and natural environment surrounding us—putting frontline communities at risk of warming, expanding oceans, inland flooding, and pollution, scorching our cities and open spaces, destroying the foundation of global biodiversity, threatening agricultural production, and entirely reconstituting what it means to design for places in the midst of profound and uncertain change. At the same time, shifting market forces, supply chain crises, technological advancements, diversifying client pools, and evolving societal attitudes toward open space are reshaping practice as we know it, rapidly expanding the reach and scope of design services while grappling to value them appropriately.

The ground has shifted beneath us, and the way we have practiced landscape architecture for the last century must be explored. Our context requires new approaches, affecting both the work of design and the structure of the business itself. For too long, self-regard and siloed competition across the design fields has prevented us from looking elsewhere for inspiration—but today, emerging professionals and leaders alike have much to learn from the business models, operational structures, and management structures of firms in creative industries, tech, manufacturing, and beyond.

The central premise of this course: to prepare students for a changing market, we will honestly examine the current state of play in the design industry, analyzing a wide cross-section of firm typologies and scales, while also looking beyond the field for methodologies across other sectors. We will investigate these ideas through detailed case studies, guest lectures, workshops, discussions, readings, and student-led research.

The course is divided into three sections. The first examines methods and structures for practicing landscape architecture today, the second looks outside the field, and the third asks students to imagine alternative frameworks for practice. Throughout the semester, students will be asked to consider both the broader forces affecting design today alongside real, actionable ways to meet these challenges through practice, culminating in a final project that will be shared and presented to the class for discussion.

This course assumes entry-level familiarity with the basics of professional practice in landscape architecture—including business types, design phases and processes, RFP/Q processes, and other essential elements of contemporary landscape architecture firms. At the beginning of the semester, we will briefly review these basic fundamentals of practice, including workplace culture, systems, norms, and team hierarchies, in order to set the stage for examining new modes of practice.

This course will support students’ future endeavors in professional practice by introducing diverse perspectives inside and outside the field of landscape architecture, built on the premise that being a successful leader in landscape architecture requires a broader look at adjacent fields and structures to develop new modes of practice.