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The ground has shifted beneath us, and the way we have practiced landscape architecture for the last century is no longer applicable. Our context requires a new approach, 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 have 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, technology, manufacturing, and beyond.
The central premise of this course: to prepare students for a changing market, we will honestly examine the current state at play in the design industry, analyzing a wide cross-section of firm typologies and scales, while also looking beyond the field for inspiration. We will investigate these ideas through detailed case studies, guest lectures, workshops, discussions, assignments, and student-led research.
The course is divided into two sections (1) Contemporary Landscape Architecture Practice Today and (2) Looking Outside the Field. The first examines methods and structures for practicing landscape architecture today and the second looks outside the field. Students will use the ideas shared during the two modules to imagine alternative frameworks for practice. Throughout the semester, students will be asked to consider both the broader forces affecting design today and 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.
In-class participation is essential for this seminar. Each section will begin with an in-person workshop designed to orient students with strategies, terminologies, and goals for the content to follow.

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 fundamentals of practice, including workplace culture, systems, norms, and team hierarchies, in order to set the stage for examining new modes of practice.