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Instructor Class Description

Time Schedule:

Elizabeth A Umbanhowar
L ARCH 352
Seattle Campus

History of Landscape Architecture

Survey of the development of landscape architecture as an art form from Mesopotamia to the present. Relationships to physical landscape, climate, culture, religion, and other arts. Open to non-majors. Offered: A.

Class description

This course provides a critical and historical analysis of the breadth of landscape architecture as idea, art form, experience, place and practice. Landscape architecture is a both a theoretical investigation of the symbolism, production and use of space and the professional practice of designing and building real places. While much of the history of landscape architecture reflects the prerogatives of the wealthy and powerful—because that is often only what remains in both documentation and extant sites—the impulse to understand, order and/or change one’s surroundings is an instinct common to us all. We manipulate the environment around us at various scales, from forest, to field, to city, to garden—from wilderness to designed space. We create landscapes as both individual and collective expressions of ideas, ideals and needs—for shelter from the elements, protection from danger, practice of religious rites and beliefs, demonstration of status and power, financial gain, expression of national or local identity, cultivation of food and other resources, maintenance and improvement of health, play and exercise, and for creating beautiful, moving, memorable sites to which we are connected.

During the quarter, we will explore the intimate and complex relationship between people and their environment from pre-history through the mid-nineteenth century. We will examine the ways in which we have been shaped by our surroundings and at the same time, how and why we have striven to make our own marks upon the land, both subtle and transformative, metaphorical and actual, negative and positive, archetypal and deeply personal.

In lecture and discussion, we will explore several key questions: What is “landscape”? How do designed landscapes from the past reflect ideas about nature and culture throughout history? How has the role of “designer” manifested itself in the design of landscapes through time and across geographical boundaries? How does our interpretation of history shape our perception of our environment and how do these perceptions change over time? Throughout the course, we will explore approaches and tools to discern and critique the connection between people and land/scape, to appreciate differing historical interpretations and methodologies, and ultimately begin to see how landscape architecture plays a critical role in our present lives.

Landscape responds to social, economic, political, natural and intellectual forces and also serves as an agent to reflect those influences as they are wrought in our built environment. The study and practice of landscape architecture is dynamic, one that embraces ideas, materials and processes that are complex and dynamic—water, earth, vegetation, climate, time. Landscape architecture is peculiarly situated among diverse disciplines— geology, ecology, horticulture, engineering, fine arts, philosophy, psychology, sociology, planning, politics—and as such draws from multiple and divergent influences and approaches. Landscape architecture encompasses enduring forms and functions, and at the same time, ephemeral phenomena such as growth and decay, daily cycles and annual seasons, human foibles and changing tastes and technologies, natural catastrophes and human-caused destructive acts.

Why study the history of landscape architecture? Ultimately, it provides a richer understanding of the “who’s” “what’s” “where’s” “when’s” why’s” and “how’s” of our own surroundings and how we relate to, influence and inhabit that environment. In an era of global climate change, economic and political flux and other unprecedented technological, social and environmental transformations, it is vital to understand how we are affected by and the impact we have on world around us.

Student learning goals

Articulate major themes in diverse historical narratives and identify the character and details of specific important sites in time and across geographies in landscape architecture—from prehistory to the mid-nineteenth century, from classical Greece and Rome to Renaissance Europe, from traditions in Japan, China, and India to the park movement in the United States

Understand the complex, diverse and often ephemeral processes and materials, such as vegetation, water and time, that are employed in landscape design

Identify how historical and social narratives and theory shape and at the same time are influenced by landscape architecture practice in history and in the present time

Engage in research about landscape architecture and explore relationships among landscape, architecture, fine arts and other media and disciplines

Cultivate new skills and approaches in critical thinking and formal analysis of built work and contribute thoughtfully to discussions of landscape theory, historiography and practice

Build proficiency in effective research and compelling writing about landscape architecture, including organizing and composing a description, analysis, and argument in a variety of written formats

General method of instruction

Lecture course with formal discussions sections with evaluation through grading of tests, written work and classroom contributions.

Recommended preparation

This is a 5-credit, intermediate-level, readings, and writing-based lecture course. It is a requirement for graduation for all students enrolled in the landscape architecture program and is open to all students at the sophomore level or above. This course also offers writing credit.

Class assignments and grading

• Weekly readings • Engagement and attention during lectures • Participation in discussion section • Research of primary and secondary sources • Written assignments • Undergraduate Discussion: Weekly quizzes (10 total with the lowest grade removed), 3 short papers • Graduate Discussion: Seminar presentations, reading summaries and 1 long research paper

Students are graded based upon

1) Completion of written assignments in a timely, thoughtful and effective manner that demonstrate an understanding of basic themes and content of the course 2) Contribution and engagement in classroom lectures and discussion sections 3) Completion and demonstrated understanding of assigned readings 4) For undergraduates, successful completion of 10 quizzes 5) For graduate students, successful completion of 10 reading summaries


The information above is intended to be helpful in choosing courses. Because the instructor may further develop his/her plans for this course, its characteristics are subject to change without notice. In most cases, the official course syllabus will be distributed on the first day of class.
Last Update by Elizabeth A Umbanhowar
Date: 09/24/2013