What is the Savanna Studio?

The traveling Savanna Studio is a unique feature of Iowa State’s Bachelor of Landscape Architecture program, serving as both a foundational experience within the curriculum and as a learning community for all sophomore landscape architecture students who have been accepted into the program.

Taught every fall, students in the studio spend six weeks exploring, as a group with 2-3 faculty members, the savanna landscape region that extends from Canada to Texas. By doing this, students learn first-hand about the many different elements of landscape architecture while engaging in active learning, collaboration, and problem-solving.

The course also provides students an opportunity to form lifelong friendships with their peers and connect to faculty and staff who will continue to support them throughout their journey at Iowa State’s College of Design.

We go on the road, and our whole purpose is to figure out what landscape architecture is all about. The Savanna Studio is unique in the country, and it informs students for the next three years and beyond.

Gary Hightshoe – Former Landscape Architecture Professor and Studio Founder

Studio structure and travel

The studio is an integrated suite of five classes comprising 16 credits taught by three instructors. While taking these courses, students spend six weeks traveling across the savanna region of the U.S., from Montana to the Gulf of Mexico.

During their travels, students visit and study a range of landscapes from urban to rural, from city plazas to national parks. The semester is devoted to hands-on learning in the field. Students learn how to observe and inventory sites; identify plant species and communities; draw and record landscapes, and analyze cultural aspects of design, among other skills.

As part of the semester, students also visit museums and historic sites, tour landscape architectural offices, meet practitioners and alumni, and learn life skills such as CPR.

Savanna Studio students sketching.

Studio Courses

Prior to and in between two three-week trips, students learn studio-based design and technical skills to enhance their site-based experiences. These courses also lay a solid foundation for the next few years of study within the Bachelor of Landscape Architecture program. The studio courses include:

  • LA 201: Landscape Interpretation and Representation
  • LA 221: Native Plants of the Savanna Region
  • LA 241: Developing Identity as a Landscape Architect
  • LA 272: Cultural Landscape Studies
  • LA 281: Landscape Form, Process and Detail

The semester then concludes with an exhibition of work produced throughout the experience.

College of Design student working on class project.

A Cyclone in the Making

Find your place at Iowa State University’s College of Design, where we like to ask questions, poke and prod, create something new, and make a difference through design.