UC Berkeley

Degrees: BALA, 3-year MLA, 2-year MLA post. prof, PhD, minors | City: Berkeley, CA | School: College of Environmental Design
Date Visited: 11.19.12

Established: 1913
Average Number of Entering Graduate Students: 20 – 25
MLA Program Size: 65 – 70
Female-Male Ratio 3:2

The fifth oldest landscape architecture program in the nation (they’re celebrating their centennial next year), UC Berkeley’s Department of Landscape Architecture & Environmental Planning has the advantage of living in a part of the world that has a rich mosaic of landscapes to study from. Not only does this include the natural, social, and cultural fabric in diverse Berkeley, but particularly those of their bustling neighbor San Francisco as well, just a short BART ride away.

To understand the strengths and organization of Berkeley’s landscape architecture program, one needs to start with a broader understanding of the College of Environmental Design itself. Established in 1959, the College integrates instruction from three departments and one interdisciplinary program: architecture, city and regional planning, landscape architecture and environmental planning (the landscape architecture program dates back to 1913), and the fairly recent addition of the interdisciplinary urban design program about fifteen years ago.

Concurrent master degree programs are offered between the three departments, however, students who wish to obtain a concurrent degree must apply to the concurrent programs (MLA/MArch, MLA/MCP or MArch/MCP) and not to the individual departments. There is no concurrent degreed offered with the MUD program. Each concurrent program is considered to be one program, however, the applications are reviewed by both departments that are involved in that specific concurrent program. In order to gain admissions into a concurrent program, the prospective student must be accepted to both departments at the same time. Tony Tieu, the Graduate Student Affairs Officer I spoke with during my visit, said acceptance to concurrent programs can be quite difficult and comparable to needing to apply to and be accepted by two separate graduate schools.

Since the three departments under the College of Environmental Design are interlinked, the set up lends itself to one of the greatest assets and defining features of UC Berkeley’s landscape architecture program: an interdisciplinary and flexible learning environment, where city planners, architects, and landscape architects can interact and exchange ideas. These relationships between disciplines are also ideal and conducive to forming strong teams for design competitions. In terms of flexibility, students, particularly those pursuing the 2-year MLA degree, can petition to take an MUD, MArch, or MCP studio in place of an MLA studio.

There are also opportunities outside of studio. A graduate student happy hour is held every other Thursday in the Landscape Architecture & Environmental Planning courtyard; each department switches off on the responsibility of the hosting the happy hour.

Curriculum and Studios

Other than flexibility, the curriculum at Berkeley is largely noted for its strengths in advocating change in environmental and social issues through design, an aspect of the program that has no doubt been influenced by the backgrounds of some of its professors, such as Walter Hood. In addition to its status as the only accredited graduate program in Northern California, Berkeley’s landscape architecture program has also developed a reputation for having a fairly rigorous and demanding curriculum.

Students with non-design backgrounds enroll into the three-year MLA first professional degree in order to gain a better understanding of the basic tools and skills required in landscape architecture. After their first year, however, these student then join studio courses with students on the two-year MLA track starting their first year of the program. Ultimately, this translates into a studio setting with a mixture of people of various backgrounds in different stages of their degree (and perhaps from other departments in the CED as well). Thus, class sizes fluctuate.

Since class sizes are apt to change, particularly with the option for students to join studios outside of their department, the studio setup here has grown to reflect the flexibility of the program. Located above Wurster Hall’s Environmental Design Library, the floor plan of studio takes the shape of two concentric rectangles, wherein the middle is hollow and forms a high ceiling for the library below. Studio desks are arranged in the wider portions of the space, whereas the skinnier areas are left as critique/pin-up or as a small computer lab. Since studio has no interior walls, all of the students are given a greater opportunity to interact with different years. The seating arrangements of various studios often change every year depending on class size. For instance, though the undergraduate students usually occupy the area opposite and separate from graduate students, due to size limitations this semester, upper level MLA thesis students are sharing a nearby studio space with the undergraduates.

With one-fifth of UC Berkeley’s graduate student population registering as international, the landscape architecture program receives its fair share of international students as well as it is often encouraged for broader and richer learning experiences in studio life. Tony told me that nine international students–from Thailand to Portugal–enrolled in the MLA program last year and of the small MUD class, only two out of the eight students enrolled were domestic students.


UC Berkeley’s program is also well known for their traveling studios, which usually take place over the summer, spring, or winter breaks for around three weeks in length. Though Portugal is often the most traveled-to country for MLA studios, students also have the option to join other departmental travel studios.

This past August, three professors and a handful of students traveled to Quito, Ecuador as a result of an MLA student’s professional project on watershed issues. Currently, there is an upcoming traveling studio to China headed by the urban design department.

UC Berkeley ASLA

The ASLA student chapter at UC Berkeley is an active organization mainly composed of graduate students, which differs from most other ASLA student chapters that usually consist of undergraduates.

On top of the usual activities of ASLA student chapters, the organization at UC Berkeley has also spearheaded the creation of an annual, student-run publication known as GROUND UP. Having celebrated their launch party for their first issue earlier this spring, the journal is now gearing up for their second issue and calling for submissions.

GROUND UP Description:

GROUND UP is an annual print and web publication created by students in the Department of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning at the University of California, Berkeley. Each edition examines a critical theme arising from the tension between contemporary landscape architecture, ecology, and pressing cultural issues. We operate on an open call with invited entries from academics, practitioners, students, designers, scientists, and activists. Take part!

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