B.S. in GeoDesign

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A cutting-edge name for time-tested principles

GeoDesign brings together spatial science, architecture, landscape architecture, and urban and regional planning to address challenges, issues and opportunities presented by the built environment. By integrating analyses of place, space, and time, practitioners and researchers are equipped to approach environmental challenges and questions in multidisciplinary ways, and can view the world from multiple dimensions.

“Geodesign is a vision for using geographic knowledge to actively and thoughtfully design.”
–Jack Dangermond, President, Esri

Thanks to increasingly robust scientific and technological advances, the interdisciplinary world of geodesign continues to build upon the urban planning theories of Patrick Geddess, Ian McHarg, and Carl Steinitz as it rapidly evolves.

Watch Professor and Institute Director John Wilson and keynote speakers from the 2014 Esri GeoDesign Summit speak about GeoDesign.

The USC B.S. in GeoDesign degree is a joint interdisciplinary program among the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, the USC School of Architecture, and the USC Sol Price School of Public Policy. Because of this unique and innovative collaboration, students benefit from the globally-recognized strengths of each school’s diverse faculty and spectrum of disciplines.

Many courses in the GeoDesign curriculum use a studio framework and iterative learning process, approaches fundamental to architecture and planning. From the spatial sciences, student gain the ability to assemble, organize, and visualize different kinds of data. Simply put, the sum of the GeoDesign major is greater than its parts.

The GeoDesign major trains students in design, planning, geographic information science and geospatial technologies. It provides students with valuable skills so they can pursue professional careers and/or graduate study in one or more of these three fields as well as a variety of environmental areas. With a B.S. in GeoDesign, students have the basis for careers as:

  • Archaeologists
  • Architects
  • Cartographers
  • Civil Engineers
  • Developers
  • GIS Specialists
  • Heritage Conservationists
  • Historical Preservationists
  • Landscape Architects
  • Landscape Ecologists
  • Researchers
  • Scientists
  • Urban and Regional Planners

The GeoDesign major is structured to provide students with sufficient elective credits to explore minors or other programs at USC so they can broaden their education to better prepare themselves for the next stage of their lives.

  • Learn about the myriad ways in which places can be constructed, interpreted, and experienced in different ways by different people (i.e., migrants, people of color, the elderly, the poor, teenagers, toddlers, working adults, and more).
  • Learn about the principles of design and how these can be used as a force for good in building healthy, livable and sustainable communities.
  • Learn how urban and regional planning provides a framework promoting civic engagement and collective action.
  • Learn how geographically referenced data can be gathered and organized to support a large number and variety of collaborative projects.
  • Learn how geospatial data can be analyzed, modeled and visualized to inform design and planning and by doing so, support public participation and urban development.
  • Learn how form and function co-exist and evolve in urban settings and how globalization connects near and far away places and actions.



Behavior of firms and consumers, functions of the price system, competition and monopoly, labor markets, poverty, government regulation, international trade, and the environment.
Finite mathematics with application to the social sciences; elementary set theory and logic; counting techniques; probability; statistics; matrices and systems of linear equations. Selected topics.


Methods for direct observation and recording of the directly experienced built environment through drawing, diagramming, photographing, and writing. Course includes exercises and field experience.
Introduction to design principles and processes; sequence of exercises emphasizing development of basic skills, ideas, and techniques used in the creation of simplified urban space design projects. Prerequisite: ARCH 203.
Emphasis on developing advanced urban spatial design solutions set within contemporary urban conditions, with a particular emphasis on ecology, public space, neighborhoods and districts. Prerequisite: ARCH 303.
Gateway to B.S., Public Policy, Management and Planning and minor in Planning and Development. City building and development process; who plans; politics of planning and development; major topics include land use, fiscal policy, transportation, sustainability, and economic development.
Historical evolution of planning and development. How changing modes of planning and development have shaped the built landscape throughout the century.
Theories and concepts of livable communities and good city form; case studies of historical and current best practices; field visits; collaborative design project. Syllabus.
Sociological measurement, univariate description, elementary correlation, introduction to statistical inference. Syllabus.
Role of maps and spatial reasoning in the production and use of geographic information for representing and analyzing human and environmental activities and events. Syllabus.
The various ways in which geography can be used to acquire, represent, organize, analyze, model and visualize information. Laboratories are organized around ArcGIS software suite. Recommended preparation: SSCI 301L. Syllabus.
Application of geographic information science concepts and skills to a local opportunity or problem in a studio setting. May involve site visits, community contact, and presentations. Syllabus.


Application of design concepts, planning protocols and spatial analysis skills to a complex planning or design problem sponsored by a local public, private or not-for-profit client in a studio setting.


The major electives provide students with opportunities to explore one or more facets of the built environment and a series of complementary analytical and visualization tools in more detail. A suite of courses that further the development of practical, theoretical, and field knowledge and skills, including computer graphics, drawing, policy analysis, public finance, and statistics. Choose additional electives from the two lists equal to six courses (24 units) in all. No more than two courses may be lower division (100 or 200 level). At least two courses must come from Group A and two courses from Group B.


Lectures, laboratory exercises and field trips introduce basic knowledge of incorporating ecological factors in urban design and interaction of landscape science with the human environment.
Critical observation of the architecture of public buildings and places and the importance of design in promoting a better contemporary public life.
The American city in interdisciplinary perspective; emphasis on growth and change in relation to architecture, urban planning, demography, and ethnic politics.
Cities and the rise of states; globalization and localization; federalism and decentralization; comparative politics of urban regions in developed and developing countries. Recommended preparation: comparative or urban politics.
Urbanization and urban development and growth through an international scope; globalizing cities.
Exploration of the role of the National Environmental Policy Act and the California Environmental Policy Act; study of environmental impact assessments including the regulatory aspects, stakeholder and participatory processes, and legal framework.
Policy and planning as shaped by sustainability theories; sustainability indicators; topics include water resources, air quality, land use regulations, environmental design, carrying capacity, ecological footprint analysis. Syllabus.
Organization of urban society, including such topics as segregation, urban decay, local politics, residential change, and community conflict.


Training of archaeology students in the use of GIS through the understanding of basic principles and theoretical restrictions of geospatial sciences.
Exploration of digital tools with an emphasis on building information modeling (BIM), parametric modeling, and interoperability including special topics in Architecture/Engineering/Construction (AEC) and sustainable design.Recommended preparation: basic computer skills.
Survey of opportunities, specializations, and professions related to architecture provides a resource for professional growth for architecture majors, and introduction to the field for non-majors.
Introduction to the basic elements and processes of visual communication and design. Instruction includes studio projects, lectures and readings. Various media used. Duplicates credit in the former FA 102.
Reading and doing quantitative research with historical data. Course covers research designs, statistical analysis, and software packages appropriate for the use of historians.
Introduction to graphic design, photodocumentation, and geographic information systems as employed in planning, policy, and development. Visual explanations. Computer and by-hand applications. (Duplicates credit in former PLDV 410.)
Basic GIS concepts, ArcView and other GIS software, planning applications and databases, basic cartography; students select, research and prepare a planning GIS analysis project.
Integration of the production of visual representation into the disciplined study of social relations by using the camera as data gathering technology. Syllabus.


All students will take four units of a capstone experience during their senior year. This may be fulfilled by taking SSCI / ARCH / PPD 412L GeoDesign Practicum (4 units) which may be offered by any of the three units cross-listed. The final capstone of the degree will be team-taught by faculty from each of the three schools and will ask students to try to solve a real-world problem involving a real-world client.

Talk with Dr. Darren Ruddell, Director of Undergraduate Studies, Spatial Sciences Institute about the advantages of being a GeoDesign major, or adding GeoDesign as a double-major. E-mail him or call him at (213) 740-0521. Follow him on Twitter at SSI_Prof.
Candidates for the B.S. in GeoDesign can receive an honors degree by meeting these requirements: a 3.7 GPA in the courses counted towards the major at the time of graduation; completion of an honors research project or thesis under the guidance of a faculty member (SSCI 412L). Admission to the program is granted by Spatial Sciences Institute Director of Undergraduate Studies in the semester preceding enrollment in SSCI 412; students should have a 3.7 GPA in the major at this time.
The USC Progressive Degree Program enables superior USC undergraduates to begin work on a master’s degree while completing requirements for their bachelor’s degree. Students who are admitted to a master’s program with a progressive degree option can complete both their bachelor’s and master’s degrees in five years.

With a progressive degree path, B.S. in GeoDesign could lead to a:

A B.S. in Policy, Planning, and Development or a B.S. in Architectural Studies could lead to a M.S. in Geographic Information Science and Technology.

Consult the USC Progressive Degree Program information and discuss specific details about your interests and goals with Ken Watson, SSI academic advisor.

Interested in attending USC because of the GeoDesign major? Learn more about this major from:
Ken Watson, academic advisor, Spatial Sciences Institute, University of Southern California, 3616 Trousdale Parkway, AHF B55, Los Angeles, CA 90089-0374, (213) 740-8298, or
Dr. Darren Ruddell, Director of Undergraduate Studies, Spatial Sciences Institute, University of Southern California, 3616 Trousdale Parkway, AHF B55, Los Angeles, CA 90089-0374, (213) 740-0521.

On campus for a tour? Stop by the Spatial Sciences Institute.

For general USC undergraduate admissions information, please contact the Admission and Financial Aid Contact Center at (213) 740-1111.