The natural sciences are concerned with how things are . . .
Design, on the other hand, is concerned with how things ought to be.
—Herbert Simon, The Sciences of the Artificial, 1969.

Traditionally defined as a thematic proposition offered for discussion and debate, the thesis is developed through a piece of original research specific to an academic discipline at the culmination of a program of academic study. Theses are produced in various methods and media appropriate to the disciplinary commitments of academic fields across campus. Theses in design are pursued through the methods and media specific to the design disciplines, through design research.

Design research most often refers to the process and products of knowledge produced about and through design, as distinct from knowledge produced by research methods associated with the humanities or the sciences. It can be characterized by its methods and media, as well as by its sites and subjects for work, as well as the dissemination and reception of its propositions.

Most often propositional, rather than simply empirical or descriptive, design research is predicated on a projective condition concerned more with interventions in the world than with describing the world as found. In this respect, design research is characterized by its unique capacity to propose alternative and better futures while also producing disciplinary knowledge in its own right. Thesis projects pursued through design research exhibit a dual valance, at once standing as a form of disciplinary knowledge about the world and as propositions for potential intervention in the world.

Candidates in the MLA program elect to pursue independent design theses at the culmination of their graduate work. The projects presented here represent original thematic propositions put forward through design research to stimulate discussion and debate. In this sense, they are as much about discourse and disciplinary formation in design as they are propositions for how things ought to be.

Charles Waldheim
Thesis Director Department of Landscape Architecture