The curriculum has four distinct interconnected sequences that are required of all students (except those who may be allowed to waive certain requirements because of previous experience or training). These are the Design Studio, Workshop, Theory, and Media sequences.
A three-year student is expected to take six semesters of design studio work, the first three of which are considered core requirements (501, 502, and 601) and the last three are elective choices. All studios meet for 12 hours per week, and the core studios are supplemented by the media courses, which meet for 3-4 hours per week.
For students in the three-year MLA program, the LARP Studio II and III, Media II and III, Workshop II, III and IV all have pre-requisites. Students must have successfully completed Studio I, Media I and Workshop I, prior to moving through the additional courses in those sequences. Each core course is a pre-requisite of the one that numerically follows it. The Department of Landscape Architecture will drop a student from a core Studio, Media or Workshop course if the student has not successfully completed the course in the previous semester or resolved an "Incomplete" grade prior to the start of the subsequent semester, unless special circumstances prevail.
Students in the two-year MLA program must successfully complete or resolve "Incomplete" grades in Studio III and Workshop III prior to taking Studio IV and Workshop IV. The Department will drop a student from a course if they have not met the pre-requisite prior to the start of the subsequent semester, unless special circumstances prevail.
At Penn, design is the primary focus of our teaching and research. By "design", we mean four things: material practice (the physical making of things, places, environments; the experiential aspects of things made, including drawings and models); synthetic practice (the inter-relating of things, ideas, places in newly synthetic ways; the development of an inclusive creativity); inquiring practice (the asking of questions, exploring of ideas, and speculating upon alternative sets of possibility); and process-based practice (the recognition that landscapes are formed and evolved by processes in time, and that creativity too is dependent upon the processes one works through to develop a project).
These studies of design occur in the studio, where hypothetical scenarios surrounding the development of real sites and programs are used to make projects. Such projects vary from the design of pathways and platforms in forests and quarries (first year) to gardens and parks, plazas and waterfronts, brownfield and derelict land reclamations, housing and mixed-use urban developments, and regional plans.
By way of sequencing exercises and studios, we work with five general steps: first is the development of visual and manual acuities-learning how to see and record, primarily through training in observation, drawing, and making things. In particular, we emphasize "materials in process" situations, such as the complementary states of wetness and dryness. Second is the development of spatial, tactile, and temporal sensibilities-learning how to imagine and work with a variety of scalar and spatial configurations as well as temporal effects. Third is the development of approaches toward working with sites and places-learning how to "see" potential and uniqueness of sites; and how to record and transcribe these findings through design. Fourth is the development of imaginative, speculative, and critical capacities-learning how to imagine and create alternative worlds that are critically informed by past and current ideas. And fifth is the development of programmatic, political, social, and technical creativity-learning how to organize utility, efficacy, and cultural program in newly creative ways, studying infrastructure and large-scale organization as well as programming techniques and planning.