Dom Malacaman

About Dom:

Hometown: Manila, Philippines; Buffalo, New York

Degree Program: Bachelor of Science in Landscape Architecture '22

Dom's Portfolio


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

I came into landscape architecture through a love of cities and urbanism. Having lived in places like Manila, Los Angeles, Buffalo, and Boston, I became interested in how these cities affect the people that live in them, and how that differed from place to place. At first, I was interested in urban planning and how policy shapes the city through zoning, transit, density, and other elements of the city. But I began to focus on public spaces: how they related to the larger city, how these spaces were used, and how they were beloved by people and defined their relationship with their cities and hometowns. And I found that many of these beloved spaces were parks, streetscapes, plazas: works of landscape architecture. At that point, I had never practiced design in any form, taken any art classes, and knew nothing about plants, but I became interested in landscape architecture out of a desire to shape these urban public spaces.

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

With my background of cities and urbanism, much of my design ethos is about context: both spatial and temporal. I have always viewed design as a product and a progression of its environment, whether this environment is a city, a campus, or a rural space. This requires much understanding of that place, not just of surrounding form but also how the city has changed through time. Two of my favorite projects have focused solely on this temporal context: one is a walking tour of East Boston explored through the lens of immigration and marginalization; the other is a study of Haudenosaunee’s impermanent settlement patterns in Western New York portrayed through design representation. Neither of these projects are even about design in the traditional sense, but I believe the processes of research and personal understanding, as well as narrative and storytelling, are necessary prior to design.

Are there any particular courses you've been seeing at Cornell that leverage your interests?

My broader interests in cities and storytelling have allowed me to explore multiple avenues for refining how to tell narratives about site and design. In Spring 2021, I took a course on Cities in Film, which perfectly melded these two interests. Throughout the semester, we studied how real and fictional cities were portrayed through the medium of film, culminating in the making of our own films at the end of the semester. My film documented three minutes of real-time in Boston’s Park Street subway station at rush hour, representing the rhythms, chaos, and order of the station.

Other courses have allowed me to learn more about cities and sociology, including The Promises and Pitfalls of Planning in the City and Urban Regional Department, and Race and Ethnicity in the US in the American Studies department. I’ve also taken courses focused on storytelling, including an Asian-American Literature course and a Creative Writing Course. Although these don’t seem directly related to landscape architecture, they’ve influenced how I view sites, cities, projects, and design.



Being at Cornell, has living in the Finger Lakes region informed your view on the field, or even broader, the environment?

Prior to coming to Cornell, I studied landscape architecture in Boston for two years. That education was heavily rooted within the complex urban systems of Boston, dealing with issues of sea-level rise, histories of immigrant populations and lost access to green space, and intense transit and transportation issues. This allowed me to enter the field through my interests, more focused on urban design and histories. 

Transferring to Cornell and Ithaca and living in a smaller city allowed me to expand my understanding of landscape architecture and my own interests in the field. Having prior knowledge of ecology or planting design, there are few ecologically richer places to begin to learn about these systems. Taking Restoration Ecology in my first semester here allowed me to immerse myself in gorge geology, successional forestry, wetland design, and ash and hemlock disease management. This allowed me a more holistic understanding of landscape architecture outside of the initial interests I came in with.


Reflecting on your interests, how do you hope to define your concentration in the program?

My concentration continues a lot of my initial interests in the field, focusing on “Urban Narratives and Representations.” Defining this concentration has mostly taken the form of my work in the aforementioned courses, City in Film, Promises and Pitfalls in Planning, Creative Writing, etc. But I find that this concentration also makes its way in other courses and studios that have not been explicitly dedicated towards my concentration. Tracing and uncovering histories has been a key part of much of my studio and design courses, placing as much thought into the narrative as I do design and representation.

And though it is not a formal concentration, I’ve also been interested in teaching and mentorship during my time here. I’ve been a Teaching Assistant twice, leading workshops, preparing precedent presentations, and critiquing work. But what I enjoyed most was always one-on-one feedback and conversation, being able to engage directly with students, share what I know, and get to know them and their work. Even when I’m not currently a teaching assistant, I’m always available in studio to help out with any software questions, and always happy to listen to my peers try out new design ideas.


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

In my junior year at Cornell, I was a co-director of LABash 2021, a student-run landscape architecture conference. Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic and conversations regarding social justice, equity, and representations within the field, we designed the conference to respond to these issues surrounding the profession. Our efforts of diversity and inclusivity became the driving force behind many aspects of the conference, from our theme of “Compacted Grounds,” selection of guest speakers, to taking advantage of the format of a virtual conference to be the most affordable and accessible LABash.


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

I would tell my younger self to create something! Before beginning my studies in landscape architecture, I hadn’t done anything to make something of my own, or to express myself subjectively; had never created. And since beginning my design studies and having much of my education revolve around creation, I’ve now experienced creating as challenging but incredibly rewarding.

And I would tell my older self to keep exploring! In my final year at Cornell, I’ve started to already see myself falling into routine and the familiar, even in my design interests. But there’s such a richness in the first few years of design school, exploring different experiences and interests. I’d like to keep this spirit of exploration alive as I progress throughout my career.