The MLA design thesis is an original academic research and design project in the field of landscape architecture. Over the course of two semesters, the thesis is framed, researched, tested, and ultimately defended independently by each student—it is the capstone learning experience for the program. Recognizing the potential for landscape architecture to play a greatly expanded role in addressing the social and environmental challenges within Asia, the thesis contributes to the discipline through broadening knowledge, diversifying methodologies, and challenging its accepted limitations. We expect each student to articulate their own critical position within the field and then test this proposition through a rigorously analytical and rational design process.
The thesis project is divided into two parts: the Thesis Prep and the Thesis Design Studio. In Thesis Prep, students prepare a thesis proposal that describes their disciplinary context, theoretical framework, research methodology, and working hypothesis. In the Thesis Design Studio, students develop these proposals through a design and research project. Though framed as an independent project, students work closely with their thesis advisors to shape the approach and outcomes of their thesis. The full process is intended to be iterative and focused, with students given the chance to refine their ideas and proposals through frequent presentations that engage their peers and the lager faculty in discussion about the role of design and the nature of the profession.
Thesis work in 2014 engaged a diverse set of topical issues and was broadly indicative of the students’ awareness of landscape architecture’s emergent capacities and the broad, multidisciplinary approach to the field delivered in the program. Students considered accommodating shifting urban and rural demographics, coastal adaptation under sea-level rise, regional resource management strategies, the role of landscape in brownfield site mitigation practices, urban food security, rural land management practices, flexible planning practices, and the potential for landscape-based infrastructures. Though most theses worked with specific environmental, social, and economic scenarios in Hong Kong and China, many projects articulated their responses to resonate with the discipline’s global challenges and to contribute to the discourse of landscape architecture at an international level.