Behzad Mirzaei Yeganeh
Sustainability in landscape curriculum

Investigating the education for sustainability in official landscape architecture masters programmes

An Investigation of Sustainability in Post Graduate Landscape Architecture Programs

Behzad Mirzaei Yeganeh & Kianoush Suzanchi

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Extended abstract:

As landscape architects, we are concerned with the future of development, management, and protection of our landscapes. We believe that sustainable development and human well-being are fundamental to our work as designers. In order to protect and further develop our landscapes, sustainability issues should be one of the major concerns. Education can provide a solid foundation for sustainability and can spreads sustainability concerns and knowledge among landscape designers. According to the “IFLA/UNESCO Charter for landscape architectural education”, Educational programs should promote landscape architectural design which considers the cost of future maintenance, life-cycle costing, and site sustainability (IFLA, 2012). As "Sustainable Architectural Education White Paper” suggests: “Sustainable environmental design should be seen as a priority in the education of building practitioners from the beginning of their studies and through to continuing professional development” (Altomonte, 2012).

One of the most simple and widely used definitions of sustainability comes from the Brundtland Commission as “meeting the needs of today’s population without diminishing the ability of future populations to meet their needs.” The concept of a sustainable landscape also has been a controversial Idea. The Council of Educators in Landscape Architecture (CELA) published a definition or sustainable landscapes in 1988: sustainable landscapes “contribute to human well-being and at the same time are in harmony with the natural environment. They do not deplete or damage other ecosystems. While human activity will have altered native patterns, a sustainable landscape will work with native conditions in its structure and functions. Valuable resources—water, nutrients, soil, etcetera—and energy will be conserved, diversity of species will be maintained or increased” CELA (Thayer, 1989). The aim of landscape architecture declared by “ECLAS Guidance on Landscape Architecture Education” is to create, enhance, maintain, and protect spaces so as to be functional, aesthetically pleasing, meaningful and “sustainable” while appropriate to diverse human needs and goals. Landscape architects are concerned with the variety of facets of sustainable development, sustainable management of natural resources, sustainable use and management of cultural landscapes, and many other aspects of sustainability (Bruns et al., 2010).

Exploring and studying the indicators of landscape sustainability is necessary for sustainability-friendly education in universities. Traditionally, the three pillars of sustainability are: Economy, Society, and Environment. In landscape research and practice, scientists have reinterpreted the definition of sustainable development in order to include the holistic basis of landscapes. For example, designers emphasize that more attention needs to be paid to the aesthetic, experiential, and ethical issues. Given this, one can argue that aesthetics or beauty, experience, and ethics, are the fourth, fifth, and sixth pillars of the landscape sustainability (Musacchio, 2009).

Landscapes represent the most operational scale for understanding and shaping the relationship between the society and environment, or ecology and ecosystem services (Wu, 2013). One of the biggest challenges in landscape education will be the question of how to operationalize the environmental, economic, equity, aesthetic, experiential, and ethical aspects of landscape sustainability in landscape research and practice. The focus of landscape education programs must be on all aspects of sustainability. Educational qualifications to practice in the field of landscape architecture should be based on a vision that is sensitive to the diverse needs of sustainability. Therefore an approach to landscape planning and design interventions must be developed that enhances social sustainability, cultural and aesthetic needs, as well as the physical requirements of people (IFLA, 2012).

We believe that the emphasis of the curriculum in sustainability-oriented landscape architecture programs should be placed on all aspects of sustainability. Admitting the importance of sustainability goals in Master programs of landscape architecture, this study explores the following items in the curricula for selected universities:

-       Is landscape sustainability considered as a separate course in the curricula?

-       Is the subject of sustainability mentioned in some curriculum of courses?

-       Does the curriculum focus on diverse accept of sustainability?

Exploring the role of sustainability in post-graduate programs in landscape architecture, we have conducted a review of the curricula of 24 landscape architecture programs around the globe. The programs were selected from different geographical regions based on university rankings by QS World University Rankings (Collier, 2018), DessignIntelligence 2018 Landscape Architecture Program Rankings (DesignIntelligence, 2018), Keystone Academic Solutions ("Best Master's Degree in Landscape Architecture," 2019) and accredited university programs by the Canadian Society of Landscape Architects (CSLA, 2018). This review includes the following institutions: Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), University of California, Berkeley (UCB), Harvard University, The Bartlett School of Architecture: UCL (University College London), Delft University of Technology, ETH Zurich (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology), National University of Singapore (NUS), Tsinghua University, University of Hong Kong (HKU), The University of Melbourne, The University of New South Wales (UNSW), University of Cape Town, Cornell University, University of Pennsylvania, University of  British Columbia, University of  Guelph ,University of  Manitoba, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, Estonian University of Life Sciences, Latvia University of Life Sciences and Technologies, Cracow University of Technology, Czech University of Life Sciences (CULS), Universidade da Coruña and CEPT University

The study demonstrates that landscape sustainability is not available as a separate course in the official curricula of any of the above-mentioned institutions. Meaning “sustainability in landscape architecture” does not exist as a stand-alone topic in these master programs of landscape architecture. However, ecology and sustainability have been mentioned in the content of a few courses such as landscape ecology, landscape protection and Sustainable environmental technologies as a part of Master of Landscape Architecture programs. Among all programs, only a few courses were designed with a focus on sustainability. The only aspect of sustainability considered in these courses was ecological impacts.  It is worth noting while this study evaluated the title and the content of courses in curricula, the concept of sustainability may have been introduced by the lecturers.

The authors suggest “sustainability in landscape architecture” to be considered as a separate course or a chapter in similar courses in related master programs. The topic can raise awareness and make researchers more sensitive to sustainability-related issues. In addition to this, sustainability should be integral to the vision of the curriculum. This can help to establish goals related to sustainability in different courses such as landscape architecture design studios. Focus on sustainability should be extended to all aspects of sustainability and not limited to ecological headlines. Considering landscape sustainability and landscape design, the master programs should include sociocultural, economical, aesthetical, experimental, and ethical aspects of sustainability in curricula of landscape architecture. Finally, it is recommended that landscape sustainability be incorporated in teaching contents, thesis, and research activities as a significant concept in landscape architecture programs.



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