University of Wisconsin – Madison

Degrees: 4-year BSLA, MALA, MSLA | City: Madison, WI | School: College of Agricultural & Life Sciences
Date Visited: 10.19.12

Average Undergraduate Class Size: 23
Average Graduate Class Size: 12
Program Size: 100
Female to Male Ratio: 1 : 1
Established: 1964 (degree existed 1926)

Landscape architecture has had a long history with this land grant university. Though a separate department for landscape architecture wasn’t established until the 1960s, instruction at the university in landscape design and planning dates back to 1888. Since its inception, the department has benefited from the instruction of many famous and noteworthy designers and scholars, including guest lectures from individuals such as Jens Jensen and Frank Lloyd Wright.

Madison prides itself on being green. Not only was Earth Day started at Madison in 1970, but when it snows, the bicycle paths are plowed before the roads get done (snow plowing is run by two different organizations). As an extension of this, UW Madison is well known for environmental studies, particularly in ecological restoration. And in the landscape architecture program, this is no different.

The UW Madison landscape architecture program was one of the first research landscape architecture institutions ever established. As a testament to its legacy to research, The Landscape Journal found its origins at this department.


Unlike many other landscape architecture programs, UW Madison does not have an MLA program—rather, graduate degrees focus primarily on research. Depending on their focus of study, students have the option of either attaining an M.A.L.A, a research degree related to the arts and humanities such as historical preservation, or an M.S.L.A., a research degree related to the sciences such as ecological restoration. Most graduates from the masters program go on to teaching or PhDs; graduates who hope to teach more often than not will need a PhD since schools such a Penn State University and UW Madison now require prospective professors to attain a PhD before applying.


Heavily steeped in the ecological sciences, the BSLA has a stronger focus than most BLAs and BSLAs on ecological restoration. A four-year program (with talks in the works about adding an additional year), the BSLA at UW Madison has often enjoyed a history of being selective. Only accepting twenty-three students every year, the program calls its prospective students PLAS (pre-landscape architecture), a group that usually numbers in the 30s and 40s. Entry into the program is determined by the GPA cutoff. And interestingly, after the second and third-year studios, the senior year of the undergraduate program is dedicated to a year-long capstone project, rather than two semesters of studio courses. As part of the senior capstone project, students pair up with a non-profit or client of their choosing to research, develop, and design a site. The major advantages of this setup is that students get hands-on exposure to working with clients and the business side of landscape architecture, culminating in a final project. In addition to their senior year professional practice class, the capstone gives students a chance to learn about budgets, contracts, and client needs.

WI ASLA Student Chapter

Even for a smaller sized program, the student chapter at UW is very active. In 2012, the student organization submitted a bid to host LABASH 2014, the student landscape architecture conference. They subsequently won after presenting at LABASH 2012 in Miami, Florida.

WI ASLA Student Chapter also hosts a number of other events as well, including the recent Loamcoming, their fall formal to celebrate UW Homecoming and. Past event have also included an Alumni Panel discussion, where students invite recent alumni to share professional development stories and advice about the transition from academia to the professional world.

To supplement their coursework, students also host extracurricular workshops and tutorials for digital programs such as AutoCAD and the Adobe Creative Suite.

Studio Set-Up

Housed in a former library, the undergraduate landscape architecture studios (sophomores to seniors) at UW Madison take on a unique layout. Freshmen (PLAs) attend studio in a separate, adjacent building.

The studio spaces are split into two floors, under the same ceiling. At the center, the inner circular area on lower level is the computer lab. Ringed around the lab are the junior student desks. Directly above the computer lab on the second level are the sophomore studio desks; offices are also located on the second level. Senior desks are split up into two wings branching off of the main hub area.

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