Landscape Architecture (MLA)
Frank Sleegers Program Director
The University of Massachusetts, Amherst, is the only public university in New England offering a Master’s in Landscape Architecture (MLA) degree. Established in 1903, our Landscape Architecture Program is the second oldest in the country and is fully accredited through the Landscape Architectural Accreditation Board.
In the United States, the professional practice of “landscape architecture” began in the mid-nineteenth century, specifically with the work of Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, who together coined the term to describe their work designing Central Park in New York, Prospect Park in Brooklyn, the Buffalo park system, and other public landscape projects. The planning and design of park and parkway systems was an early and distinctive form of American urbanism. The systems of public landscapes Olmsted designed in Boston, for example, created a framework for urban growth based on a response to regional landscape features and systems (such as topography and hydrology) and the design of multi-functional landscapes that served as infrastructure ( including multi-modal transportation and storm water management) and offered profound and varied experiences of landscape beauty.
In the twentieth century, landscape architect Norman T. Newton defined the practice as “the art—or the science, if preferred—of arranging land, together with the spaces and objects upon it, for safe, efficient, healthful, pleasant human use.” Today, terms such as “landscape urbanism” are used to describe many of the same principles and methods of the profession, with a new emphasis on sustainable development and innovative technologies that address the great challenges of the twenty-first century: increased worldwide urbanization and population growth, climate change, environmental degradation, and social and economic inequality.
Landscape architects today design parks, communities, commercial developments, private residences, and institutional grounds. The profession has a special commitment to the stewardship of landscapes and their natural and cultural resources and seeks to create sustainable patterns of development that mitigate environmental impacts and maximize benefits to individuals and society. The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) offers this legal description of the practice of landscape architecture:
“Any service where landscape architectural education, training, experience and the application of mathematical, physical and social science principles are applied in consultation, evaluation, planning, design … relative to projects principally directed at the functional and aesthetic use and preservation of land.” For more information on the profession, see:http://www.asla.org/yourpath/docs/WhatISLA.pdf.
The Master's in Landscape Architecture program prepares students to become leaders throughout the broad range of professional activities which define the profession. The program seeks to provide:
- An understanding of the history of peoples' relationships to the land, and of the fundamental theories of planning and design intervention.
- An understanding of the physical, cultural and biotic forces which influence environmental design.
- Opportunities to creatively engage a broad range of real contemporary problems in planning and design.
- A working knowledge of the information, processes and techniques used in the landscape planning and design professions.
- The capacity to communicate with specialists in other design fields and in relevant social and natural sciences.
Graduates of the program work in numerous capacities: as environmental stewards and as guardians of our cultural landscape heritage; as avant-garde designers whose forms and spaces express the fundamental issues of our times; as planners and managers whose design perspective qualifies them to evaluate and create environmental policies; as private practitioners who imaginatively interpret and resolve design problems; and as educators who continue to explore and teach in colleges and universities throughout the world.
The Master’s in Landscape Architecture program is designed to serve three groups of people. The first group of students are those who have discovered an interest in landscape architecture after earning a (non-design) college degree. These people take a year of preparatory courses and then take an additional 48 credits toward their Master's degree, which is typically granted within a three year period.
The second group of students are those who have earned a degree in a related field such as environmental design or architecture. These students can enter into the second year, but they often need to take several of the core requirements of the first year preparatory curriculum. These students usually take such required courses in lieu of the elective courses of the second and third year curricula.
The third group of students are those with an undergraduate degree in landscape architecture from an accredited school. These students enter the master's program to expand their knowledge in a special area of interest over a two-year period, and often work with a particular faculty member on a funded research project.
Students from a great diversity of cultural and educational backgrounds enrich the program with broad-ranging perspectives which are brought to bear on common planning and design problems. In a studio-based curriculum, students experience expert guidance while engaging real landscape problems ranging across all scales and types, including greenways, gardens, housing and open spaces, parks, and institutional and recreational landscapes. Through a series of lecture and discussion classes, labs, workshops, and individual research projects students gain the scholarly context necessary for the applied problem-solving of the studios.
The basic admission requirements and procedures of the University Graduate School and the Department are as follows:
A Bachelor's degree or the equivalent from an accredited college or university with recognized standing.
A minimum undergraduate cumulative grade point average of 3.0.
In addition to the information required on the application form:
a. Two copies of official transcripts of all previous college work (undergraduate and any graduate work)
b. Official scores of the Graduate Record Examination (GRE).
c. Two letters of recommendation.
d. A personal statement that outlines your goals for graduate study (1-3 pages).
e. A portfolio of creative work.
All students applying to the MLA or Dual Degree Programs must submit a portfolio to enable us to assess your creative potential. Since many applicants do not have a design background, the portfolio may contain graphic and/or written work which you feel express your creativity. Past portfolios have included reproductions of sketches and paintings; photographs of landscapes or places visited; creative writing examples; photographs of sculpture, pottery, quilts, furniture, stone walls and jewelry created by the individual. You shouldn’t create work solely for the portfolio; it should contain examples of how your creativity is currently manifested in your life.
These materials should be submitted to the Graduate School. Incomplete applications or those not received by the specified deadline will be considered only if the program's quota of entering students has not been filled.
While in graduate school, many students are in need of financial assistance. The Department offers a number of fellowships, assistantships, and work-study programs. Although preference is given to students already enrolled, entering students in need of financial aid are encouraged to discuss this possibility with the Department Head or their Program Director. The Department’s ability to assist students financially varies from year to year. Any student receiving an assistantship receives a tuition waiver plus the waiver of some fees for that semester. Funding promised to incoming students is guaranteed for the first year only. Incoming foreign students are eligible to apply for a tuition waiver through the Department Head. Current foreign graduate students with one of these waivers need to reapply during the spring semester of their first year for a waiver for the following year. They are not automatically renewed.
In addition, the university maintains an office dedicated to helping graduate students with grants and fellowships. The Graduate Students Grants Office (http://www.umass.edu/gradschool/funding-support) can be reached by phone at 413-545-5279 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Landscape Architectural Accreditation Board (LAAB) accredited programs are required to provide reliable information to the public. Programs must report on accreditation status and its performance. This information is to help potential students make informed application decisions. MLA Public Information.