Claire Johnson

About Claire:

Hometown: Portland, Oregon

Degree Program: Master of Landscape Architecture '24

Previous Degree: Bachelor of Arts in Geology

What kind of questions or curiosities did you have when you decided to pursue a degree in landscape architecture?

As a former geologist and paleoecologist, I studied past climate change and metazoan (animal) adaptations through deep time. These explorations were intellectually stimulating and it was amazing to study past alien worlds, but my research had little to do with mitigating the current ecological crisis in terms of boots-on-the-ground solutions. Animals are adapting quickly and into new ecological niches as their environment continues to evolve, and I am interested in the ways they are discovering novel ways of life in the built environment and productive landscapes. I hope to design for these emerging, non-traditional, urban, suburban and agricultural ecospaces as our planet continues to warm.

How would you characterize your design ethos? How has that been adapted since arriving at Cornell?

I come from a world where aesthetic design is not at the forefront; rather there is a clear designated path from hypothesis to research methods to results and conclusions. There is a problem or question, and there is an answer or solution.  I am finding out at Cornell that design is an iterative process, one in which the path is not clearly defined and there are multiple solutions to the same problem. I am enjoying adapting my analytical brain to a creative mindset, though at the same time using the scientific method in an approach to solving design questions.

Are there any other particular courses at Cornell that leverage your interest?

Cornell’s MLA particularly attracted me because the program is within the College Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) and not in a traditional design-focused college, which opens doors to being more ecologically minded. I am hoping to take the Wines and Vines course in the Viticulture and Enology department to broaden my knowledge of winemaking and to combine that with my interest of animal cohabitation in the productive landscape, which grape growers are at the forefront of. I am also interested in taking the Designing with Birds course, as a way to further explore my interest in design with animals. I am also toying with taking the Planetary Surfaces course taught by the Earth and Atmospheric Sciences and Space Sciences departments, which explores uses of GIS and photogrammetry on extra-terrestrial landscapes, which would connect me back to my geologic past and combine my new interests in landscape form and formation. Ultimately, I am very excited to be taking the in-depth studio courses offered by the LA department, which are a true joy and I am loving the creative challenge. I hope to take courses that leverage both sides of my brain in fun and exciting ways!


Reflecting on these interests, how did you define/ are you defining your concentration in the program?

Drawing on my background as a scientist, I am focusing my energies into the ecological side of design, and particularly design with non-human animals in mind. That said, my first forays into the studio have left me with an appreciation for aesthetic significance and the human impact as well, and I hope to grow my skills in those directions. As a first year student, I have time to continue to learn about what interests me in the design field and how to mold Cornell’s resources into a comprehensive design and ecology educational program.


What kind of organizations or activities have you become involved in within Ithaca?

I have recently settled into Ithacan life and am looking forward to several happy years! Since moving here I have enjoyed small boat sailing at the Merrill Family Sailing Center at Cornell, getting to know the local cideries and meeting new people. The LA department has a great mix of people of different backgrounds, and I have enjoyed meeting new friends and colleagues in the plant sciences division as well. I hope to continue recreating in the gorges until the snow comes, then I hope to cross country ski on my time off! I also would like to find more of the LGBTQ+ community on campus and in Ithaca.


What would you tell your younger self from ten years ago? What would you tell your future self ten years ahead?

Ten years ago I was just entering college as an undecided major and anxious about that fact. I would say to that person just continue to follow your nose and sniff out the things that interest you! It will eventually lead to a path in life you are truly passionate about, even if it takes a little while and is a roundabout way. I hope to be much wiser in 10 years than I am now, so I don’t have any advice but I hope you’re living a life that fulfills you!