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Ten landscape architecture projects by the University of Southern California

Dezeen School Shows: a park in downtown LA built beside a railway station is included in Dezeen’s latest school show by students at the University of Southern California.

Also included is a scheme that aims to implement landscape architecture methods that stop diseases from spreading, as well as a project examining the impact of wildfires.


Institution: University of Southern California
School: School of Architecture
Course: Master of Landscape Architecture and Urbanism
Tutors: Alexander Robinson, Jessica Henson, Aroussiak Gabrielian, Jennifer Toy, David Maestres, Greg Kochanowski and Aja Bulla-Richards

School statement:

“Landscapes are the dynamic synthesis of natural systems, sociocultural forces and the physical material of the constructed world.

“The USC Graduate Programme in Landscape Architecture and Urbanism (MLA and U) prepares students to be leaders ready to take on challenges of climate change and environmental injustice through the design and planning of landscapes across scales.

“Landscape architecture is a broad field that encompasses the design of a complex range of environments outside our buildings.

“Our programme is focused on the public realm, spanning scales of impact from site design to urban design and infrastructure to territorial responses to climate stress that impact our immediate region and around the globe.

“With access to one of the most culturally and environmentally diverse geographies in the world – a biodiversity hotspot within an hour’s drive from the Pacific Ocean, the San Gabriel Mountains and the western edge of the Sonoran and Mojave Deserts – Southern California offers a robust laboratory from which to learn, while offering applications all over the globe.

“The programme has formalised its priority areas in environmental, social and climate justice through the Landscape Justice Initiative.

“The initiative strengthens the programme’s standing commitment to applied research and practice in communities that design has not historically reached.

“It includes Test Plot, a programme focused on the future of land care.

“The Landscape Futures Lab offers a rigorous curriculum in biodesign and material experimentation, and the Los Angeles River Integrated Design Lab provides a hydraulic modelling facility that engages students first-hand with the complex hydrological pressures of urbanisation today.

“Students graduate from the MLA and U programme with a proactive toolkit to address the impacts of climate stress on vulnerable humans, species and natural systems.”


Visualisation showing a concrete square with plants and waterfalls on a university campus

The Tidepools by Danielle Vonlehe

“Catalina Island is located 47 miles from Los Angeles. Notable for its magnificent kelp forests, the Catalina Island Fox and minimal human development, this dynamic coastal ecology is integral to the biodiversity of the southern California region.

“This project, executed during the first semester of the three-year MLA programme at USC, is a translation of tidepool ecology from Cata­lina Island to a barren concrete square on the USC Campus.

“The ground is structured on five different levels. Three high and two low levels correspond to the three high tides and two low tides per day on Catalina Island.

“The design is a multifunctional assemblage that takes into account the university’s circulation – some areas serve as intimate spaces in which to study or think, while others offer more expansive space to host large social groups or an outdoor class.

“A path matching the USC grid cuts through the more curvilinear plan to be conducive to heavy foot traffic. All materials and planting are representative of geologic and vegetative patterns on Cata­lina Island.”

Student: Danielle Vonlehe
Course: Studio 1 of 6 – Introduction to Landscape Architecture Design
Tutor: Alexander Robinson
Email: dani[at]terremoto.la


Visualisation showing green areas cutting through LA

Superhighways to Superblooms by Andrea Binz

“Pollution in Burbank and Glendale is among the worst in all of California and mainly stems from freeway traffic.

“We have spent decades and billions of dollars expanding highways to ‘solve’ gridlock, but this strategy has failed – conversely, removing or narrowing roads can reduce traffic.

“A framework plan is proposed to address the high burden of traffic and pollution in Burbank and Glendale. The strategies include pollution mitigation with green infrastructure along existing roads, road diets, vehicle electrification, high-speed rail and public transit investment and reclaiming highways into linear parks.

“Roads and interchanges become linear parks, stormwater infrastructure and community hubs.

“The freeways cut through many of our most polluted, underserved communities, and as our transit patterns change we have the choice of how to remake them.

“As landscape architects, we can choose to promote a healthier, more equitable Los Angeles.”

Student: Andrea Binz
Course: Course: Studio 3 of 6: Edge Conditions
Tutor: Jessica Henson
Email: abinz[at]alumni.usc.edu


Visualisation showing a river beside a city

The Water Agency Project by Leslie Dinkin

“The Water Agency Project envisions transforming the grid-locked Los Angeles River, prioritising ecological and social benefits while also addressing flood and drought risks.

“Instead of displacing over 100,000 residents required for total river renaturalisation, the project suggests rerouting I-710 through the existing Alameda Corridor and implementing a River Rail system.

“This approach would double the size of the riverbed, creating space for a semi-naturalised, semi-urban river.

“The redesigned Los Angeles River includes features like low-flow braided channels, terraced banks, detention ponds, riparian woodlands, parks, multi-use trails, dry meadows, affordable housing and green streets connecting neighbourhoods to the river.”

Student: Leslie Dinkin
Course: Studio 3 of 6 – Sepulvida Basin
Tutor: Jessica Henson
Email: dinkin[at]usc.edu


Diagrams showing ocean life

Toward a Sustainable Seafood Future by Colin Amos and Andrea Binz

“Our oceans are increasingly threatened by overfishing. The current structure of the commercial fishing industry is exploitative of both the environment and working-class communities.

“To transform the industry and reestablish it from the bottom up, this project proposes a resilient and sustainable modular ‘aquahabitat’ system for Southern California that would generate kelp forest habitat and launch a new mariculture paradigm growing marketable local fish species alongside algae and shellfish.

“This integrated multi-trophic aquaculture approach creates a permeable, functional habitat to attract and serve wild marine populations while creating novel opportunities in the Blue economy and reconnecting communities with the ocean and our food sources.”

Students: Colin Amos and Andrea Binz
Course: Studio 4 of 6 – Landscape Beyond Land
Tutor: Aroussiak Gabrielian
Emails: colinamos45[at]gmail.com and abinz[at]theolinstudio.com


Diagrams showing power lines

Wellness Against the Wires – An Alternative Approach to the Powerline Landscape by Wanxing Lin

“The site includes four types of transmission lines, power towers and one LADWP substation. Different land use types under power lines bring different potentials for urban space.

“Here are four types of relationships between the power line and the site that we could utilise to create variable experiences for spaces – expressive, implicit, hidden and exposed.

“Utilising all the ‘anti-EMF’, ‘anti-Noise’ and ‘anti-Heat’ kit of parts, the proposed framework, ‘powerline wire-zone revitalisation’, uses programming languages to bring a safe and wellness-minded open space back to the community.”

Student: Wanxing Lin
Course: Studio 5 of 6 – Corridor of Power: Designing a multi-sectorial framework for The Just City
Tutors: Jennifer Toy and David Maestres
Email: wanxingl[at]usc.edu


Visualisation showing various geographical features

Dam(m/n)ed Earth by Jared Edgar McKnight

“This research project focuses on soil rebuilding processes through the introduction of mortuary composting burial procedures in the semi-arid endorheic basin of the Owens Valley, California.

“Excess salinity in this region is exacerbated by severe access to water issues and generations of contentious water politics and constructed hydrologic conditions, that have dammed/damned and depleted regional ecologies, habitats and resources.

“The proposal defines phased parameters for salinity remediation while redefining rituals of death to progressively restore the habitat through resilient green burial processes for rebuilding soils.

“This responsive system of burial morphologies thus awakens an interconnectedness between the burial plot and the dormant ecologies of its context, through an emotive, healing and emergent topography that unfolds and temporally evolves with one’s stages of grief and acceptance [or decomposition] over time.

“Could the future of our burial landscapes facilitate a new form of engagement, whereby our landscapes of life and death reconcile and reconfigure our roles and purpose through one’s own body as a measure of resiliency?

“Damned Earth was exhibited in ‘The Future of _____Space’ show at the A+D Museum in 2020.”

Student: Jared Edgar McKnight
Course: Studio 4 of 6 – Landscape at the Intersection of Life and Death
Tutor: Aroussiak Gabrielian
Email: jarededgarmcknight[at]alumni.usc.edu
Award: Winner of the ASLA Honor Award in the General Design category and the 2020 Student Excellence Award from the Society of American Registered Architects (SARAs)


Visualisations showing the impact of wild fires

Learning from Animal Adaptations to Wildfire by Diana Nightingale and Andrea Binz

“As wildfires in the San Gabriel Mountains become more frequent and severe, we need to expand our suite of management tools beyond firefighting and fuel clearance by seeking new inspiration.

“Around the world, wildlife has complex relationships and strategies for coexisting with wildfire.

“In this research project, animal adaptations to wildfire inform a land management framework designed to catalyse regeneration of habitat niches in post-fire landscapes to support ecological resilience.

“Framework goals include increasing soil moisture (beaver), developing a mosaic of ecosystems (woodpecker), promoting dynamic stability (beetle), and supporting soil ecosystem services (ground squirrel).

“Interventions respond to local topography, strategically reuse materials produced by wildfire cycles and engage forest management, residents and volunteers in land care.

“The post-fire landscape is re-imagined as an opportunity to reshape the land over time through natural processes, promote recovery and adaptation, and provide for wildlife.”

Students: Diana Nightingale and Andrea Binz
Course: Studio 6 of 6 – The Wild
Tutor: Greg Kochanowski and Aja Bulla-Richards
Email: dianalnightingale[at]gmail.com and abinz[at]alumni.usc.edu


Visualisation showing a map of a city

Beyond Barriers by Viraj Chauhan

“Sepulveda Basin is a 2000-acre flood mitigation infrastructure in the heart of San Fernando Valley, LA.

“Yet, this massive public property is cut off from the communities closest to it due to a lack of accessibility due to transport and flood mitigation infrastructure and complimentary amenities.

“The project aims to reconnect the basin and its amenities to communities in dire need.

“It aims to increase biodiversity, habitat and shade equity in the region while naturalising the LA River and expanding the capacity and hydrological performance of the basin for flood mitigation.”

Student: Viraj Chauhan
Course: Studio 3 of 6 – Sepulvida Basin
Tutor: Jessica Henson
Email: vcchauha[at]usc.edu


Visualisation showing a plan view of an urban square

Angel’s Knoll: A Los Angeles Landmark Park by Zhiya Azalea Huang

“Lying in the topographic heart of Downtown LA’s fevered cultural renaissance lies an incredible and seemingly disregarded treasure – a steep vacant lot bracketed by the antique funicular railway station named ‘Angel’s Landing’.

“The site resembles a perfect park, so much so that it was used as the generic park bench setting in a scene in the beloved romcom ‘500 Days of Summer’.

“On this site, the project proposes a verdant park and series of winding paths to link between the old downtown and new downtown, while also celebrating one of the last remaining undeveloped pieces of Los Angeles’s famous Bunker Hill.

“The project capitalises on the site’s natural assets and a growing interest in stair streets and pedestrian passages to create a dynamic Los Angeles landmark landscape.”

Student: Zhiya Azalea Huang
Course: Studio 1 of 6 – Translations and Dialectics
Tutor: Alexander Robinson
Email: zhiyahua[at]usc.edu


Visualisations and diagrams showing structures in a rural area

Resilient Fields: Enhancing Disease Prevention through Diverse Landscape Strategies by Adrian Porter

“When it comes to reducing pathogen burden and avoiding the chances of stripe rust spreading throughout the Central Valley, there has been only one singular solution towards its prevention.

“Breeding programmes – many of which have been operated by only a handful of companies – create gene-resistant varieties able to withstand the disease.

“However, over-prioritisation of breeding programmes as the only means of defence has allowed for spatial and temporal assemblages to become vulnerable to disease spread if gene resistance were to fail.

“This project looks at other landscape methods of stopping disease spread, such as windbreaks, topography and species diversity to create a stronger system of disease evasion and mitigation.”

Student: Adrian Porter
Course: Studio 4 of 6 – Edible Matters
Tutor: Aroussiak Gabrielian
Email: adrianpo[at]usc.edu

Partnership content

This school show is a partnership between Dezeen and the University of Southern California. Find out more about Dezeen partnership content here.

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