Help!! Advice about master in landscape architecture

Landscape Architecture for Landscape Architects Forums EDUCATION Help!! Advice about master in landscape architecture

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    Yi Ning Ku

    Hi, I am Elaine and I am from Taipei, Taiwan.

    I am now in Virginia Tech for my first year of master degree in landscape architecture.

    But I feel very struggle, because my interest is in “design” rather than doing research which may be the focus of VT.I prefer studio project supported by some theory or research to mainly focusing on research.

    Now I am planning to re apply for my master degree, and my choices this time are

    1. Harvard university

    2. Upenn




    6.University of Washington

    I applied for Upenn last time, but I was rejected by them. I think my portfolio doesn’t strong enough and I will remake it this time. 

    Actually, I have a lot of passion for drawing and design, such as illustration, graphic design, painting, etc. So I just wonder if RISD will be my best choice and may be I can take dual degree in landscape and illustration.

    I also find that RISD ask student to finish a thesis to graduate, does anyone know the details about that? Is it similar to dissertation?

    My GPA of college is 3.95/4.3,

    TOEFL is 107

    Verbal , quantitative and analytical Writing of GRE is 150, 159, and 3.0 respectively.(I know I didn’t do well on GRE.)

    I have taken summer session in UCB for landscape classes, 2011 after graduation of college. After that I had a job in a landscape architecture company in Taipei which is a pretty big one in my country.

    Does anyone can give me advice about application or other possible choices of school I can try to apply for?


    Jason Granado


    Are you down in Blacksburg or Alexandria? I am currently working on my thesis at VT in the Alexandria campus. I think your going to find that any Masters program is going to be heavy on research, that’s just the nature of the beast. I don’t think my masters program is directly teaching me how to become a better designer, but its geared more to understanding about landscapes and asking questions and thinking through the problem in an analytical and rigorous way. The vehicle you use to solve the problem is through design, there is only so much research one can do.

    I also work at a firm, and have been all through graduate school and that’s really where I learned how to design. I learned how to draw documents and think through details. I do a lot of research at the firm, but it’s different than what I do in university. I feel it’s much more precise and finite, where university study I’m always asking why or what if.

    I hope you stick at Tech because I love this university but if you don’t good luck on where ever you choose to go to.

    Goustan BODIN

    If you speak french, there is an interesting masters getting into the specifics of wood design in Bordeaux. PM me if you want more details.

    Tosh K

    I suppose it depends on what you mean by ‘design’ – some programs are more about the art and aesthetics and have little vigor in construct-ability, others (like VATech, as I understand, are more into the construction end).  Penn and the GSD, as far as I know emphasize a lot of research as most other programs do – so much of the industry work hinges on good research (whether it’s art related, construction, code, materials, site history, ecology), and a few are more interested in creating academics than practitioners. 

    A thesis is a research based project, some schools do design projects (very difficult to do both research and application in a year), while others do a thesis document.  It depends on the school (for example, UGA used to have documents/reports UVA does projects).  In the US ‘thesis’ is used primarily for master’s and bachelor’s degrees, have some level of rigorous research but are often based on a position/argument you want to make and supporting documentation, while it can have a theoretical basis they often are not that rigorous.  ‘Dissertation’ is for PhD, based on a philosophical position, and takes a theoretical position that is then applied to very rigorous research over several years.

    The range of programs you are looking at suggest that you should look into the programs further, very different programs (areas of emphasis, size of program, alumni distribution).  I’m not sure how important the test scores are in comparison to your portfolio, statement of intent, and recommendations (when I was in grad school my class realized how poorly on average we had done on the GRE and in college, but we all got in based on the other materials).

    You are a hop and a skip away from UVA, might be worth a visit, though they love their research too (they encourage a thesis project but don’t require it).  CCNY is a good one to visit as henry mentioned.

    Yi Ning Ku

    Hi, I am in Blacksburg now.

    I agree that master program may focus on logic training and finding questions, and I also know VT is a school which is good at that. But I really want to keep practicing my design ability.

    I think research is a great tool for me to support my design, and I am willing to learn the basic knowledge of doing and analyzing it, while I prefer spending more time on studio.

    I don’t have much understanding of master program in the US and I just know that Upenn and GSD seem to provide choices between thesis and project for student to get the degree, which may be the idea situation for me. Does the majority of graduate schools in the US put more attention on research than studio?   

    Yi Ning Ku

    Thanks for your reply.

    Just as I said to Jason, I am willing to learn to utilize research as a support of the design as well as how to find questions. I also understand theory and research are the important elements for graduate program and I don’t intend to get rid of them at all. But I really want to join a school focusing on studio more, and providing the choices between thesis and project for the degree, which is the reason why I take Upenn and GSD under consideration.

    Actually, at first I think my weakness is construction and the concrete concept of landscape architecture, so I choose VT. But after these weeks, I figure out I still have a stronger passion for the whole consideration of design which means the concept, aesthetics, creativity, presentation, and so on.  

    Jason T. Radice

    How are you enjoyng the WAAC? I will be moving to NoVA in the near future and want to check out the 1 year plus thesis program they offer.

    Jason Granado

    Hey Jason, 

    lets just say the waac has its ups and downs. I think its a great school and a lot of educated people here, let me know when you are around and ill give you a tour. I hopefully will wrap this thesis up in December, but i still work and live in old town.

    Tosh K

    I’d look into what any school means by thesis – as I mentioned for some schools it is a research paper, but for many it’s a self guided design project based on research (being able to determine constraints, the design problem and the parameters you wish to explore – not all students are suited for self-guided projects, so a required thesis is rather odd).

    I’m not at sure what you want to accomplish in landscape architecture – it’s very different from fine arts (which seems to be why you have RISD on the list?).  I think being more specific about the post-graduation intention will help you find more programs (look at alumni in areas of work you are interested in and see where there faculty is now, programs go through changes – the past 5 yrs was a big one for many). 

    I echo henry’s recommendation – you need to look between the coasts at others.

    Tosh K

    oddly, VATech is one of the reputable design/build programs as I understand it…

    Jason T. Radice

    Cool, thanks.

    Yi Ning Ku

    Thanks for all the advice.

    I am so confused about the definition of research or thesis in each school. For my situation now, there are lots of courses telling you each step, meaning to build your thesis. For example, the professor will talk about what postpositivism is or discuss some journal which focus on the circumstance in landscape, etc.This is not a bad thing, but my concern is that the time for design is too little.

    I ask a TA who graduated from GSD about five years ago, and she said there were many studios when she took her master degree. I am not sure if they modify the curriculum, and I think I have to check it again.

    As I said, I like art as well as landscape architecture, and I think art can support the design of landscape, which is why I consider RISD and want to take dual degree. Maybe my understanding is not practical , so I am so thankful for all the opinion everyone provided.

    Fred Besancon

    I can help describe RISD and its thesis process (RISD ’08). At RISD’ all graduate programs require a thesis to graduate, though how that is defined depends on the major. In the landscape program, you choose a thesis topic or open question which is researched through design. In some respects, the actual site is not as critical as thinking it as a proving ground for what you want to explore.

    For example, I was interested in exploring how landscape design can be thought of as a changeable, amendable infrastructure that communities. I had friends who looked at how how of the concepts of aerodynamics can be used to analyze circulation (Air Force pilot), one looked at how Chinese calligraphy can inspire movement in design, et cetera. Essentially anything goes, as long as you can support it with theory, design, writing, and hard work.

    The thesis process is one of the reasons I wanted to go to RISD – the overall theme at the campus is having everyone find their values and voice as an artist / designer. As one professor who came out of UPenn’s program described it, “most students are asked to think their way out of a problem, you RISD student make your way through it.”

    As for double majoring, I don’t know how that would work. My gut reaction is that you would have to do a each program separately as each has a full curriculum, and that illustration is very, very hard to get into. That said, another great asset at RISD is the “wintersession” where you are encouraged to take classes outside of your department. I was able to take a couple great illustration courses. I also know a number of artists who went through the oh program to further their art exploration.

    A last thing to consider is that RISD architecture and landscape programs have a strong focus on how to design such that regardless of your background, you will have to take “design principles” your first term there. It’s a hard class to explain, but it sets up the fundamental methods and views on what design is all about. I came into RISD with a bachelor of architecture and about eight years of professional experience in architecture and that class fundamentally changed how I perceived materiality and process.

    Other pros – great location near Boston and NYC, very supportive faculty, great camas denies amount students, inspirational art and design being made everywhere you look, etc.

    I can easily go on about the program. I loved my time there and my experiences and look back to that with fondness, and admittingly, a wish to do it again. If you have any questions, feel free to ask.

    Yi Ning Ku


    As I understand from your reply, in RISD, the thesis is a way to demonstrate how to realize a position of landscape design supported by research and theory. Am I right?

    In VT, the research is also a tool to inspire students to find their own questions of landscape architecture, but as a scholar rather than an artist/designer which is my expectation of myself. That is why I want to reapply for schools which focus on design.

    Could you tell me about the research class in RISD?

    And in your opinion, is RISD a studio-oriented school? (I think so, but I just want to make sure)Do you think it is closer to what I expect?


    Yi Ning Ku

    I don’t want to be a scholar or professor, and why I want to take the master degree is that I think what I learnt from college in Taiwan is not enough after a few years of working. 

    So I consider further studying in designing necessary for me.

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