Landscape Architecture, M.L.A. (Ithaca)

Field of Study

Program Description

The intention of this accredited, license qualifying curriculum is the teaching of the theoretical underpinnings of the field of landscape architecture while building the necessary skills for practicing this challenging profession. The program consist of design studios, courses in technical and computer skills, and the development of a concentration focused on the student's personal area of interest.

Individuals holding an undergraduate degree are candidates for the Master of Landscape Architecture Degree. Each applicant's undergraduate academic record and a personal portfolio will be reviewed to identify individuals who may be outstanding candidates in the Cornell master's program. Depending on an individual's background and academic credentials, the curriculum will typically require six semesters of work for successful completion. A  curriculum will be determined individually for each successful candidate.

Individuals holding an undergraduate degree in landscape architecture or having unique employment experience may also apply for the MLA degree. Each applicant's academic record, personal portfolio, and appropriate work experience will be reviewed to identify successful applicants. Depending on an individual's background and academic credentials, the curriculum will require three to four semesters of work for successful completion. This will be determined individually for each successful candidate.

Contact Information

Phone: 607 255-9552

440 Kennedy Hall
Cornell University
Ithaca, NY  14853

Concentrations by Subject

  • landscape architecture


2017-2018: $34,444

Application Requirements and Deadlines

Application Deadlines:

Fall, Dec. 31

Requirements Summary:

All applicants are required to submit two recommendations and a design portfolio. Applicants to two-year program should hold a bachelor's degree in architecture or landscape architecture from a recognized institution. Applicants with a bachelor's degree in an area other than architecture or landscape architecture should apply to the three-year program. A field brochure is available upon request from the graduate field office.


Learning Goals

The professional curriculum of the department provides instruction in the discipline and practice of Landscape Architecture with emphasis on creative solutions to environmental problems that are responsive to cultural values and natural processes specific to a site. Cornell’s approach to Landscape Architectural graduate education integrates studio-based work and with real site-based design projects. It promotes students’ skills of critical investigation through site assessment, related design appropriateness and ultimate site suitability. This approach to education is consistent with the department’s mission, creating inventive learning opportunities that foster independent inquiry. The focus on the cultural landscape as a basis for the curriculum highlights interactions between people and the environment, utilizing diverse methodologies and means of representation.

Graduate students must acquire and display a strong facility in Landscape Architectural design at a variety of scales from residential to regional design with a focus on urban clusters and distinctive populations within upstate New York. Their designs must emerge from a critical understanding of design tradition and theory, a synthesis of scientific methods and artistry, as well as an intimate understanding of and responsiveness to social, historical, cultural, and environmental concerns. The curriculum provides a framework that can both forge and adapt to contemporary developments and innovation in the field of Landscape Architecture and society at large.

The MLA program thrives at Cornell because the resources and traditions of the University support students in exploring a wide variety of subjects that inform well-designed landscapes in their cultural and natural contexts. The college’s, as well as the department’s, current mission emphasizes the interdisciplinary study of ecological and cultural processes, historically as well as in contemporary design. Doing so within the professional practice of Landscape Architecture requires the development of design skills (field observation, critical thinking, speculation, form-making processes), the mastery of tools through which design is represented (drawing, visualization, writing), developed through clients and communities (presentations, negotiations, communication skills) and then constructed projects (technology). Research in the field as well within libraries and archives is promoted for professional practice as well as for those preparing for an academic career. The department seeks to teach a design process that leads to the discovery of knowledge through inventive responses to sites selected for their capacity to test theory through practice.

A graduate of the master’s program in the Department of Landscape Architecture is expected to demonstrate the skills and knowledge that would allow the individual to successfully embrace a variety of professional opportunities including but not limited to: professional practice, research, public/government work, teaching, planning, community design and engagement, and others. Acquiring proficiency in these skills and knowledge includes:


  •  Generating landscape designs at a variety of scales that address the complex cultural and natural systems at work on a site.
  • Developing basic graphic skills, both hand-drawing and computer applications, that are required of the contemporary landscape graduate at entry-level, minimally, but that position students to be immediately effective in communicating innovative designs;
  • Demonstrating knowledge of plant materials, including plant identification and the understanding of the physical and cultural characteristics of plants that determine their usefulness in the landscape;
  • Gaining insight into the professional skills and the roles of the Landscape Architect in practice, as well as the problems and/or opportunities encountered in real world situations;
  • Mastering the requisite technical skills (engineering and construction) necessary for the professional Landscape Architect;
  • Engaging scientific processes, such as landscape ecology, to a level that enables the student to work effectively with scientists and to translate their findings into design and communication with clients and other constituencies.
  • Advancing socially and environmentally responsible design by understanding that shaping the physical form of a community requires learning the social and cultural dynamics that foster sustainable landscape change.

Assessment of Learning Outcomes:
In a design curriculum, a major part of assessment of learning outcomes is done through scheduled presentations by the students of their work to a panel of faculty and invited critics, in addition to those faculty who taught their course. Such public presentations highlight each student’s progress within the expected level of skills and knowledge at that point in his or her academic career. Written comments and responses are provided each student with the additional opportunity of speaking individually with the faculty members or critics present. A semester end review of each student’s final semester project also highlights whether the student has achieved the skills and knowledge necessary to continue in the curricular sequence.

Achievement and advancement in the design professions and academia are typically portfolio-based rather than grade-based, so students use feedback from these assessments toward continuing development of a portfolio of collected work. These collective portfolios are assessed during the required course in professional practice, taken in the final year of the degree program.

The nature of several courses within the curriculum such as taxonomy of plants, best practices and technology and historical surveys allow for the more typical form of written exams and research papers or term reports to evaluate a student’s progress within the class.

The master degree, MLA, is a professional landscape architecture degree, accredited by the Landscape Architecture Accreditation Board, (LAAB), which is in turn accredited by CHEA. The Cornell program is evaluated every five years by a nationally and independently selected visiting team composed of a landscape architecture practitioner, an academic practitioner and a university administrator. The team receives a lengthy self-evaluation (SER) study generated by the faculty and staff of the department. The SER is structured around a number of “indicators” that have been nationally developed by the LAAB. These visits to the program last for a period of three days. The LAAB visiting team subsequently submits a follow up report, reviewed by the LAAB, highlighting strengths and any weaknesses of the program based on the list of nationally established standards or indicators. These indicators measure explicit programmatic outcomes. The program must address issues as identified by the LAAB and submit annual reports to update progress toward fulfilling indicators and related outcomes.

The department also completes an annual report to the Council of Educators in Landscape Architecture, CELA. This annual report also provides data that is compiled by CELA which identifies indicators of program success as self-identified by the department’s objectives and mission statement or strategic plan.