Maren Johnson

About Maren:

Hometown: Tallahassee, Florida

Degree Program: Master of Landscape Architecture '23

Undergraduate Degree: Ecology and Biodiversity; Spanish

University of the South


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

By the end of my senior year of college, I didn’t see any options for integrating people and the environment in the way in which I wanted until I stumbled on landscape architecture. This field is perfect in that there is space for you to bring all of your interests together and doing so strengthens your design.


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

I would characterize my design ethos as being fundamentally about equity. What that often looks like for me is the equal prioritization of the environment and people.

I would say that since I started at Cornell, my approach has evolved from being very pragmatic to looking to push boundaries. I want my designs to be provocative, and maybe even uncomfortable when people first experience them.


What kinds of professional and personal trajectories are you setting for yourself at the moment?

The two opportunities that I have had since starting here that stand out the most, in terms of allowing me to bring my background into my design education, are working as a research assistant for Professor Josh Cerra with his Climate-adaptive Design Studio and as an intern with Jihany Hassun on her thesis work in the Caatinga biome of Brazil. I have found that no matter what you studied before you chose to come here, there are opportunities for you to keep engaging with that background if you want. 


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

With my background, I’m not sure I would say that this region has impacted how I approach either the field or the environment. I will say that living here provides endless opportunities for exploration, and I have really enjoyed getting to know the area on hikes with my classmates.


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

I haven’t decided on a concentration yet, but it will definitely involve social justice and the environment. I don’t think it is enough to design with both things, I think you need to design for both things. I am looking forward to taking more courses that allow me to explore these themes.


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

I spend most of my time participating in activities within the department. I have been very impressed with the initiative shown by certain students in particular. When people see a need for something, they step in and take responsibility for it.


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

It’s cliche, but I would tell my younger self that it’s ok to not have everything figured out. I still don’t have everything figured out… and at this point, I think nobody does. Hopefully, my future self is wiser, but I would probably remind myself to keep learning.