The Digital Landscape Architecture Conference is Coming to Cambridge, MA

by Stephen M. Ervin, FASLA

Digital Landscape Architecture Conference attendees
130 landscape architects from 30 countries attended the 20th Digital Landscape Architecture Conference in 2019. / image: DLA

Digital Landscape Architecture (DLA) Conference
Abstracts due: November 1, 2019
DLA Conference: June 1-3, 2020 at the Graduate School of Design (GSD), Harvard University, Cambridge, MA

Not too many US landscape architects may have heard of the International Digital Landscape Architecture (DLA) conference, coming to the US for the first time next year in June 2020. The conference attracts a mix of landscape architecture academics, students, practitioners, allied professionals, technologists, scholars, and interested lay people from all over the world. In 2019, participants represented 30+ countries worldwide!

DLA was started in 1999, at the Anhalt University of Applied Sciences in Bernburg, Germany, a small agricultural town 100 km (62 miles) south of Berlin with a strong international landscape architecture program. In its first years DLA was primarily an academic conference, held in Bernburg. In recent years it has become larger, more international, and multidisciplinary, and has recently been held regularly at the nearby Dessau campus—the home of the famed Bauhaus school from the early 20th century. The architect Walter Gropius was the director of the Bauhaus in its most impactful era, in the 1930s, before he left Germany just before World War II, came to Cambridge, and became the head of the Architecture Department at the Graduate School of Design (GSD) at Harvard University.

The links between Harvard and the DLA conference go back to the beginning, when I co-founded the conference with my German colleague Professor Erich Buhmann. GSD Professor Carl Steinitz, Hon. ASLA, now Emeritus, was among the speakers at the first conference; we have both been regular attendees, speakers, and organizers over the years. In recent years, the DLA conference has grown (in 2019, speakers were from more than 30 countries world-wide); and has traveled further and further afield from its base in Germany (the conference has recently been held in Switzerland and Turkey). Next year for its 21st meeting, DLA2020 will be held for the first time in the US, at the GSD just following Harvard commencement, June 1-3, 2020. The conference theme will be Cybernetic Ground: Information, Imagination, Impact.

A pre-conference DLA Workshop in 2015 / images: Stephen M Ervin

Conference topics range widely over many interpretations of “digital landscape architecture,” with a natural emphasis over time on CAD, GIS, visualization, virtual reality, parametric and other algorithmic design methods, as well as reports on using web tools for participatory planning and design, approaches to teaching design with software, data, and digital tools, and research on emergent topics such as geodesign (of which Prof. Steinitz is considered an intellectual ‘grandfather’), augmented and mixed reality technologies, Landscape Information Modeling (LIM), and other topics. The conference published proceedings for its first fifteen years of meetings; since 2015 the papers presented at the conference have been published annually in the Journal of Digital Landscape Architecture (JoDLA), published by Wichmann.

Proceedings from 2012, and JoDLA Journal from 2018 / images: Stephen M Ervin

Abstracts for papers for next year’s conference are due on November 1, 2019.

The conference website gives details on preliminary schedules, keynote speakers, and topics for presentations and panels. The organizers are also hoping to transform some of the campus around the GSD into a demonstration interactive “digital landscape” of some sort.

The conference organizers are eager to attract members of the design community, both for papers/presentations and for attendance, and are offering a discounted registration to ASLA/BSLA members for conference attendance, which will include presentations by several distinguished keynote speakers, a festive conference dinner on Tuesday, June 2, and optional field trips to some notable local landscapes on Wednesday, June 3.

For more information, email

Stephen M Ervin, FASLA, is Assistant Dean for Information Technology at Harvard Design School, Director of Computer Resources, and lecturer in the Department of Landscape Architecture, at the Harvard Graduate School of Design

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