Teaching Design and Planning Studios

In design education, the studio is the heart of the curriculum, the place where students apply knowledge and skills gained in other courses to a design/planning project. The studio is about learning through doing, then reflecting on those actions.

The studio teacher poses a problem to be solved, whether hypothetical or real. There are advantages to both approaches, and I often have combined the two, presenting students with an actual place and people to meet with and consult, but asking them to undertake a hypothetical project.

I taught landscape design and planning studios for twenty years, but most of the work produced in those classes is now destroyed or tucked away in attics or in archives. Fortunately, from 1996 to 1998, I taught a succession of studios on “Transforming the Urban Landscape,” in which students posted all their work online where it can still be seen.


Transforming the Urban Landscape Studio – 1996-1998, University of Pennsylvania

This course challenged students to be pragmatic visionaries: grounded in an understanding of people, place, and politics, yet never losing sight of visions of what might be. Their proposals ranged from detailed designs to strategic landscape plans.

Although the students worked in a real place (the Mill Creek neighborhood of West Philadelphia) and met with real people (community gardeners and teachers and students at a local middle school), the projects they were asked to design were mostly hypothetical. However, one of the student projects was constructed, and others inspired the City of Philadelphia to initiate new programs and to undertake similar projects.

The course drew from the resources of the West Philadelphia Landscape Project, an action-research program integrating research, teaching, and community service since 1987.

To visit the studio, to read the brief, and see design proposals, go to TEACHER > VISIT A CLASS and look for Transforming the Urban Landscape.