Jake Geitner

About Jake:

Hometown: Syracuse, New York

Degree Program: Bachelor of Science in Landscape Architecture '22

Jake's LinkedIn

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

Unlike a lot of people that stumble upon the field, I was fortunate enough to have family members that went to school for a landscape architecture degree and were practicing in a variety of ways. I also came into landscape architecture with a background in construction and at that point, I was more interested in the technical aspects of the industry. In all honesty, I expected to simply expand on that skill set, learn how to use CAD, and move straight into practice. Although I did not really know it at that point in time, reflecting back, I think the foundational knowledge I had on the field allowed my curiosities to almost immediately pull me towards the opposite side of the spectrum. Over the course of my four years here at Cornell, my interest in construction started to subside, and I spent more time on bettering my representation skills and exploring research applications.

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

I would say it was not until junior year until I started to feel like I had a sense for a design ethos (a phrase that may even seem like a bit of an oxymoron to some). It was during these third-year studios that we had a chance to engage with the issues and conflicts faced by the Indigenous peoples present in Central New York, and start to pull more traditional and rigid design processes into question. It was also at this point where I began to embed research and historical engagement, which I am naturally more inclined towards, into every aspect of a project. I certainly attribute a lot of these revelations on design and process to a resource that Professor Mitch Glass introduced us to in his “Indigenous Topographies” studio, Pierre Bélanger and OPSYS’ No Design on Stolen Land, which really encourages designers to critically examine the field and the role that we play in upholding, and dismantling, a lot of society’s damaging systems. 

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

Over these last few semesters I have taken a couple of courses in the Music Department to supplement my thesis work, the first being “The History of Rock” and this most recent “Music and the (Un)Making of Race.” These courses have really interested me in the connections (sometimes explicitly, and other times less obvious) between cultural movements and landscape: the Great Migrations of the twentieth century and the transition from a Delta blues to more urban, electric styles; Woodstock and sixties’ counterculture paired with American Middle-Landscapes; or, Robert Moses’ highway planning and the impact on early hip-hop or New Orleans’ Second-Line traditions. By engaging with these topics on both a theoretical and historical level, I started to then make my own connections across the subjects, which significantly, has led me to the subject of my honors thesis and one of my biggest interests.


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

When I came to Cornell, it was only an hour drive south on Interstate 81 from my home in Syracuse, so the Finger Lakes region has never felt all that different from the landscapes that I grew up with. Even still, spending time in Ithaca has given me a chance to develop new perspectives on the region, particularly regarding how Indigenous and colonial histories have shaped the current landscape. In our history and studio courses, my classmates and I have investigated how Haudenosaunee peoples traversed their territory, along with how colonial infrastructure movements and surveying methods—like the Central New York Military Tract— dispossessed these tribes of their territory. This grounding has not only provided me with a more informed reading of my home region, but has encouraged me to incorporate these themes into future practice and research.


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

In parallel with a lot of the concentration’s requirements and ambitions, I am conducting an honors thesis with Professors Anne Weber and Martin Hogue as LA 4990: Highway 61 Revisited. As the research’s title would suggest, the work centers on Highway 61—a major north-south route that at one point ran from the US-Canada border to New Orleans—to investigate the cultural histories of the Mississippi Delta by the means of blues (and subsequently rock) traditions. The course title, which alludes to Bob Dylan’s 1965 album of the same name, points to this landscape as a well-traversed space, the subject of inspiration for many collectors, blues-enthusiasts, and white rock musicians of the mid-to late-twentieth century. In an attempt to deal with these numerous layers of history, I intend on using my thesis and concentration to argue that landscape architecture has a lot to glean from not only the cultural narratives of music making, but also the ways in which music approaches space.


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

I would say one of the most significant things I have been involved in while at Cornell was LABash 2021. The conference is presented by a different landscape architecture program each spring, and our department had the tremendous opportunity of hosting during my junior year. Our ambitions for the conference focused on bringing recent conversations around social justice and reciprocity to the forefront of the profession, and as such, was titled “Compacted Grounds.” All-in-all, the conference gave me a tremendous opportunity to work with my peers and engage with countless professionals in the field that are conducting really captivating work on leveraging landscape architecture for social change.