Graduate Programs

Master of Landscape Architecture I

Designing The Urban Ecological Future

CCNY Master of Landscape Architecture students explore design, planning and policy-making to promote civic engagement in complex urban landscape systems, and to advocate for social and environmental equity in response to globalizing economic forces and diminishing natural resources.

The Graduate Program in Landscape Architecture in the Bernard and Anne Spitzer School of Architecture of the City College of New York prepares students to meet the challenges of future city design within the dynamic environmental scenario of climate change and the exploding growth of metropolitan areas around the nation and the globe.

The program’s position within New York City’s flourishing design community offers students a unique vantage point to participate in socio-environmental design discourse. Our students and faculty are breaking new ground and winning awards in projects such as:

  • Professor Catherine Seavitt Nordenson awarded $250,000 grant from the Rockefeller Foundation to design strategies to improve coastal resiliency of Jamaica Bay, a 31-square mile estuarine embayment located in Brooklyn and Queens.
  • We Live with Animals installation of human and animal interaction in the city, developed by Professors Catherine Seavitt Nordenson and Denise Hoffman Brandt, presented as part of Performa 13, and supported by a New York State Council on the Arts grant.
  • Program Director Denise Hoffman Brandt led a team of first- and second-year MLA students in building Red Carpet Encrypted, a project that explores themes of surveillance and power. Consisting of a series of inactive and “live” hillside stakes (plantings of red dogwood) in the Architecture Omi grounds, the project will be on view for the 2014-15 season and exhibited in the gallery in January 2015.
  • Waterproofing New York Symposium and publication
  • First place in the 2012 Wayne Grace Memorial Student Design Competition (LARBF) for Spoil Islands, a student thesis
  • First place in the Parks for the People competition sponsored by the National Park Service and the Van Alen Institute for Finding Common Ground, a proposal for Nicodemus National Historic Site
  • Student Projects exhibited in Barcelona, Spain, at the International Exhibition of University Projects in the Schools of Architecture and Landscape
  • Travel studios exploring American landscape in California, Kansas, Colorado, Michigan, and the Gulf Coast
  • PLOT, an internationally distributed student-edited journal, and accompanying film series
  • SLUM Lab: Last Round Ecology, multi-disciplinary journal produced in collaboration with ETH Zurich and Columbia University, 2010

Per-semester courseload: 15 credits



The Master of Landscape Architecture I program is accredited. See Landscape Architecture Program Accreditation Information for full details.

first Year

Fall Term 1 LAAR 61100Landscape Architecture Studio I


6 credits

This studio introduces a range of technical, spatial, and cognitive skills involved in urban landscape design. Students are expected to bring both critical and creative dimensions to the analytical and inventive phases of their work.

The objective of this first term is to simultaneously increase quantitative/qualitative analytical and representational skills through building an understanding of environmental, social, and cultural processes that define landscape. Tactics for shaping space through design are communicated by the instructor throughout the semester. Aesthetic qualities of spatial design are inherently connected to environmental and social context.

All research leads to skills to be brought together in the second half of the semester. Assigned readings will enable students to anchor their programmatic design proposals conceptually and provide a basis for written and verbal presentation.

LAAR 61300Landscape Technology I

3 credits

This course initiates an understanding of the relationship of physical development to landforms. Through the analysis of small sites, the course presents the fundamental principles of site planning: environmental and ecological factors of siting, building, grading, drainage, site structures, and material selection. The course teaches students to evaluate underlying issues of environmentally responsible design, zoning requirements, and affordability and describes methods for site inventory, site analysis, and site selection. Students apply new knowledge through class exercises in the development of conceptual site designs. Grading-an environmental necessity, functional requisite and aesthetic expression-is a key component of the course, and it is used to integrate pragmatic design decision-making into the design process (for example, through drainage and road alignment).

LAAR 61400Digital and Traditional Drawing

3 credits

This course will provide the basic drawing, image capturing, and presentation skills required in the documentation, exploration, resolution, and description of a landscape design problem. Orthographic projection drawing of plan, section, elevation, and axonometric views with digital and traditional media re covered in the course. Emphasis is placed on digital media and graphic design in conjunction with hand drawing instruction in the first semester studio. Graphic support for understanding communication with fonts, color and layout are also included in the instruction and they are linked to the production of a book in Studio I. At the end of the semester students are introduced to 3-D Modeling software such as Rhino and animation software such as AfterEffects so that they can develop strategies for representing qualitative characteristics of sites and system change over time in subsequent studios.

LAAR 61500Introduction to Ecology and GIS

3 credits

This course provides an introduction to ecological theory and physical geography used as a basis for understanding ecological systems. The interrelationships of geophysical form, climate, surface and subsurface hydrology, and soils are communicated to enable students to understand the complexity of design intervention in natural processes. GIS instruction is incorporated into this class so that students cement their understanding of the system dynamics through data analysis and geospatial mapping.3 hr./wk.; 3 cr.

Spring Term 2 LAAR 62100Landscape Architecture Studio II

(Land Planning and Design)

6 credits

The second design studio expands the student’s understanding of scale and deepens their understanding of urban context. A site with richly layered historical significance, occupied by a mixed socioeconomic population is chosen for analysis and design transformation at multiple scales.

This studio uses analysis of environmental process (soils, hydrology, geology, plant communities, and climate) and socioeconomic factors. This multi-scalar analysis is combined into a class-wide document, and the students build a large site model, to support team management skills. The studio emphasizes computer-based presentation techniques. Design proposals take the form of strategic plans for implementation at an urban or regional scale, supported by case studies at the human scale.

LAAR 62200Introduction to Landscape Architecture History

3 credits

Synoptic themes in landscape architecture history will be presented with theoretical texts to provoke critical thinking about the evolution of landscape form and ideas in Western and non-Western culture. Students will research and document a thematic aspect of world landscape architecture to produce a verbally and visually articulate presentation. Topics include but are not limited to: the role of gardens in American cities, case studies through time in ecologically sustainable practices, and critical assessments of urban infrastructure form and function. 3hr./wk.;3 cr.

LAAR 62300Landscape Technology II

3 credits

This course is a continuation of the content related in LAAR 62300, with problems increasing in scale, complexity, and application constraints. In addition, the course provokes a deeper understanding of the relationship between urban development and constructed landform. The semester projects examine large areas and complex sites with multiple human and environmental overlays. Students deal with complex issues of grading, drainage, site structures, and material. Site grading continues to be used as a focus to integrate design intent with the practical aspects of site planning and design.

LAAR 62700Field Ecology for Landscape Architecture

3 credits

The course examines the functions within and the structures of ecological systems, leading to an understanding of the effects of human activity on the biotic and abiotic component of these systems. The ecological and ethical ramifications of global or local alteration of natural systems are explored to present the larger context in which landscape design is practiced. Special emphasis is placed on the impacts of urbanization on regional ecologies through studying plant communities.

second Year

Fall Term 3 LAAR 63100Landscape Architecture Studio III

(Detailed Urban Landscape Design)

6 credits

The third design studio introduces a problem in which the student is assigned an urban open space area within an existing urban complex that is in a transitional state of decline due to deterioration or change of use. The premise is that the site is in need of a comprehensive urban landscape design intervention. Using knowledge and skill gained in previous studio courses, each student conducts a thorough analysis of the individual study area, defines a set of social/environmental issues, and explores the resolution of these issues as a set of alternative open space design solutions that will be developed with detailed plans, sections, grading and planting plans and material documentation.

This studio is generally instructed by two faculty members, each taking one section of students. The students can select their instructor based on their interest in working with a specific faculty member representing their unique design approach. This allows the class to experience multiple perspectives on the approach to site design within the same semester. At least one instructor will emphasize community-based design in collaboration with a nonprofit organization or community district. This involves developing an understanding of the urban site based on active observation, hunting for clues, listening to stories, and engaging in activities as well as more traditional methods of investigation utilizing drawing and photography to document the neighborhood and translate the findings into community-based design proposals.

For the end product of this studio, the students prepare in both narrative and graphic form a presentation package defining the problem, the method of solution, the objectives, and a proposal at the level of Design Development. This format offers an effective method for teaching students how to organize themselves graphically and verbally in the identification of a design problem and the presentation of its solution in detail. This product is also an effective tool for demonstrating the students’ skills as they seek summer internships during the spring semester. Students will have an understanding of current environmental issues and technologies; the historic, contemporary, and transitional cultural ideas of landscape that affect how individuals and communities live in and respond to landscape; and the economic and social opportunities and constraints inherent in work in the urban environment.

LAAR 63300Environmental Planning

3 credits

This course provides an overview of the physical environment of the New York City metropolitan region, including geology, soils, surface water, dominant weather systems, the changing climate, and plant communities, as the basis for an examination of urban infrastructure: circulatory, energy, economic, water supply and management, and solid and liquid waste systems. Large-scale planning initiatives in the New York area are examined from the perspective of how they address the complex local environmental ecologies. Theory and history readings are assigned and discussed weekly to support the class presentations. Each student prepares a colloquium presentation (short paper and slides) on a design practitioner/practice working at the scale of the urban plan. The presentations explore, assess and communicate valuable tactics for ecologically viable design in the urban realm. This course is also an elective in the MS Sustainability in the Urban Environment and Urban Design programs.

LAAR 65160Urban Plants/Plant Identification

3 credits

This course uses the environs of New York City as a living laboratory for the study and investigation of plant material. Students identify and observe local flora, seeking to understand function in natural systems and the potential for growth and propagation. Plants in native communities – as components of natural systems are compared with plants in the designed landscape to ascertain functional changes in habitat and in soil/ hydrology systems. The class work is augmented by field trips to botanical gardens and arboreta.

LAAR 66200Advanced Visual Representation

3 credits

Current research and professional practice demand a great range of advanced visual representation techniques.Students will be instructed in how to conceptualize landscape design and research techniques including data-based infrographics, advanced 3D rendering, animation, and 3D printing. 3 hr./wk.;3 cr. Prerequisite: 61400 Digital/Traditional Drawing.

Spring Term 4 LAAR 64100Landscape Architecture Studio IV

6 credits

The fourth design studio focuses on the complex and dynamic public space of New York City Housing. Working in collaboration with the Master of Architecture program, students build on previous study to investigate the physical structure of the landscape in relationship to the cultural structure of the site (its history and the ongoing experiences and memories of the people who live, work, and play in the landscape). For the master plan projects, the student must articulate design concepts and find strategies to physically create meaning in place. Design paradigms are presented in conjunction with each design project to expand the student’s approach to conceptual development, design, and presentation.

At the close of the initial four-semester studio progression, students have an understanding of the complexity of the environmental, social, and cultural processes that constitute the urban landscapes at a range of level of specificity from planning to detailed design. They will have the representational skills to communicate that understanding and to continue their exploration of landscape design at multiple scales. They will also have the means to articulate a clear conceptual premise to support their design agenda, both verbally and in graphic form.

LAAR 64400Planting Design

3 credits

This course provides instruction in the use of plant materials in landscape design. Students explore the aesthetic potential of plant material to create compelling spaces. Techniques for anticipating growth rate and mature form as well as seasonal character change are studied. Environmental tolerances of plants in the designed landscape, particularly in constructed urban soil conditions and in areas devoid of supporting plant and biotic communities, are an important focus of the course. Technical aspects of plant material selection, nursery practices, planting plan production and plant specification are covered as well as implication of plant selection on landscape management practices.

LAAR 00000History Elective

Elective offerings change each semester. For a sampling of recent electives, refer to the school schedule. In addition to landscape architecture electives, certain classes within architecture, urban design, and sustainability may fulfill elective requirements.

LAAR 00000Urbanism Elective

Elective offerings change each semester. For a sampling of recent electives, refer to the school schedule. In addition to landscape architecture electives, certain classes within architecture, urban design, and sustainability may fulfill elective requirements.

third Year

Fall Term 5 LAAR 65100Landscape Architecture Studio V

(Travel Studio with a focus on enabling students to apply their understanding of urban landscape design to contemporary issues in other urban contexts)

6 credits

CCNY offers a travel studio in the fall of the third year as mechanism for aiding students in understanding how to apply the ideas and techniques of their previous coursework and studios in new contexts. The studio is structured around a theme that is relevant to global urban conditions and that can be explored in both the New York metropolitan region and another part of the country or the world. If class size allows for two instructors, the studio will offer an option to afford students the opportunity to select a section to build their skills at the level they seek to engage within the discipline: production of a detailed site design proposition supported by multi-scalar research into urban systems, or to develop a large scale plan proposal that is explored and documented through case-study site design. If the studio is instructed as one section, the scope of the studio will require students to present a thorough visual analysis and a comprehensive statement describing their proposition at a macro-scale supported by detailed design plans, sections, models, and material selections for at least one case study or the key site.

All students are required to define key social, environmental, and ecological issues and explore the resolution of these issues, weighing the often conflicting demands of environmental mitigation and remediation, cultural habits of occupation, and economic and social constraints. At this point in the curriculum students are prepared to define the ethical and value-based positions that shape their design approach. Studio themes such as: “Shrinking” Cities, Urban Water Shortage and Plenty, Marine Ecologies and Shoreline Culture are examples of topics explored in the past several years in this studio.

LAAR 64150Design Research

3 credits

Design research methodology is essential to landscape design practice. This class affords an opportunity for students to pursue in-depth research to develop skills in digital media and through exploration of local archives and record repositories to evolve a research a project that interests them. Students devise independent research propositions in landscape design and are guided through the process of research and then testing and supporting their assertions. The instructor guides reading lists and offers insight into contemporary theory. The process covers professional document formatting, inclusion of graphic information, and research and communication of ideas using advanced digital media. Co Req. LAAR 65100 3 hr./wk.; 3 cr.

LAAR 64700Landscape Restoration

3 credits

This advanced course examines the theory, ethics, and practice of restoration, preservation, conservation and ecological adaptation of the terrestrial and aquatic biomes of North America. Specific research attention is given to the management and adaptation policies of the US Department of Fish and Wildlife’s publicly held federal lands, and National Wildlife Refuges. Strategies for ecological management and planting in degraded urban conditions, brownfields, canalized shorelines, and diminished wetlands due to changes in salinity, stormwater runoff, and urban fill are discussed. Students will become familiar with issues and ethics of design within these conditions as well as learning pragmatic tactics for improving the urban environment.

LAAR 65300Professional Practice

3 credits

This course introduces the range of practice undertaken by qualified landscape architects at site scale and planning scale in both the public and private sectors. The course will familiarize students with the range of legal and administrative requirements of practice and office projects, from the pursuit of work, preparation of proposals, contracting of services, design documentation, specifications, bidding, and construction administration, to final client hand-over and ongoing management of liability. 3hr./wk.; 3 cr. Prerequisite: LAAR 62300 Landscape Technology II.

Spring Term 6 LAAR 66100Comprehensive Studio

6 credits

The objective of the final project is to build independent conceptual processes and design skills in future academic and professional practitioners. To be considered complete for review, each project must test, through design, the objectives and rationale of a written project statement. It is in this phase of the program that the key objective of the school: to prepare students to design environmentally and socially vibrant landscapes for twenty-first century cities that address issues of increasing globalization, expanding urbanization, environmental and social system sustainability, the promotion of social and environmental justice, the need for transformed land management practices in response to diminishing natural resources, and the mitigation and adaptation to climate change, is tested. 8 hr./wk.; 6 cr. Prerequisite: 65100 Landscape Architecture Studio V

LAAR 00000Professional Elective

Elective offerings change each semester. For a sampling of recent electives, refer to the school schedule. In addition to landscape architecture electives, certain classes within architecture, urban design, and sustainability may fulfill elective requirements.

LAAR 00000History Elective

Elective offerings change each semester. For a sampling of recent electives, refer to the school schedule. In addition to landscape architecture electives, certain classes within architecture, urban design, and sustainability may fulfill elective requirements.

LAAR 00000General Elective

Elective offerings change each semester. For a sampling of recent electives, refer to the school schedule. In addition to landscape architecture electives, certain classes within architecture, urban design, and sustainability may fulfill elective requirements.