Maria A. Villalobos Hernandez Named Director of the Master of Landscape Architecture and Urbanism
Associate Professor Maria A. Villalobos Hernandez has been appointed director of the Master of Landscape Architecture and Urbanism (MLA+U) program at Illinois Institute of Technology’s College of Architecture (CoA). “Maria is a leader whose commitment inspires rigor and passion from students, faculty, and colleagues,” says CoA Professor and former MLA+U Director Ron Henderson.
Growing up near Lake Maracaibo in Los Puertos de Altagracia, Venezuela, Villalobos witnessed the environmental, cultural, and political consequences of the hegemonic oil industry—a devastating record of extracting the health and wealth of local communities. As the daughter of a public servant and a local teacher, Villalobos learned early to question the relevance of canonical landscape responses to regional conditions, especially in urban settings. Subsequently, she started a practice, Botanical City, through which she works to create inclusive and botanically diverse approaches that highlight the power of landscape design to foster environmental and social justice. As the director of IIT’s program, she intends to continue this focus together with the MLA+U team.
“The weight of this appointment holds resonance beyond personal achievement, as it is a great responsibility to be the inaugural Latin American Director of a program in the College,” she says. “Representation matters.” She is also the first CoA faculty member to receive the Council of Educators in Landscape Architecture Excellence in Design Studio Teaching Award (2022), based in part on her dedication to teaching as a collective pedagogy. Villalobos, who joined the CoA in 2019, was promoted to associate professor in 2023.
“Maria imparts a valuable lesson to students: that they have a civic responsibility to apply their talents to topics that have importance and impact on the lives of others,” says former Chicago Planning Commissioner Maurice Cox. “Maria has earned deep appreciation from the city of Chicago.” Villalobos worked with Cox as a member of both the Lincoln Yards Advisory Council and the Department of City Planning’s Committee on Design. She has also been active with the Dark Matters University nationally, and a host of Chicago community organizations. Villalobos’s landscape vision is at the center of projects like the Bronzeville Trail, which will provide residents with a culturally meaningful and botanically rich public promenade to Lake Michigan. Similarly, the Englewood Nature Trail, an initiative to expand the neighborhood’s urban agriculture and culture, will create the United States’ first Agricultural-eco district.
“Maria has been one of the most grounded, liberatory…people we know. She has been a huge blessing, by helping us imagine the possible, healing the land and the people connected to it. Her insight[s]…on space and place are a gift for many of us who proudly call the South Side home,” says Anton Seals Jr., lead steward of Grow Greater Englewood.
Villalobos’s recent scholarship includes co-authoring the book Intangible Heritage: Expeditions, Observations, and Lectures by Roberto Burle Marx and Collaborators (Arquine 2023, in Spanish and English). She is also working on a biography of Cox, co-authored with CoA Professor Michelangelo Sabatino. Villalobos won first prize in the 2017 Venezuelan Architecture Biennial for rehabilitating the Botanical Garden of Maracaibo—making her the first woman to have won the award.
“Having Maria in this position promises great things for the college and the city,” says CoA Dean Reed Kroloff. “In projects on the city’s South and West sides, she’s already demonstrated a unique capacity for marshaling scholarship, practice, and community engagement into a potent force for change. I am confident she will bring the same energy to the MLA+U—the only graduate landscape architecture program in Chicago—as we position it as an engine for social justice and inclusion.”
In addition to her role as director, Villalobos will continue teaching in the MLA+U program. For more information on the MLA+U program, please visit: arch.iit.edu.