Allan Greller

About Allan:

Hometown: Poughkeepsie, New York

Degree Program: Master of Landscape Architecture '22

Undergraduate Degree: Bachelor of Science in Natural Resources

Cornell University

Having been an undergraduate student at Cornell, what experiences here led you to also decide to pursue the MLA here?

As an undergraduate student, I took a handful of landscape architecture history and theory courses that broadened my understanding of the field. I was introduced to the department (and practically to the field itself) in my junior year through a course taught by (now retired) instructor Andrea Hammer called “Photography and the American Landscape.” Here, I was asked to reconsider the definitions and conceptions typically associated with the word “landscape.” Realizing that there are seemingly infinite ways to “read the landscape” I became interested in alternative ways to approach our collective world, both through documentation, representation, design, and of course through science/ecology, where my academic focus then lay. My interest in the field deepened as I continued to take two different “special topics” courses offered by the department taught by Andrea Hammer and Jeremy Foster, respectively.

Given your introduction to landscape architecture through the context of history and theory, has that informed your design process in your coursework?

It has, for sure. Not only did the courses offered by Cornell’s Landscape Architecture department inform my design approach over the last two years as a master’s student, but so too did my experiences after college, particularly those working in the Hudson Valley at Dia: Beacon and at two historic homes. Here at Cornell many of my classmates share this interest in history and like me, draw from sites’ layered histories, contexts, and memories to guide and frame their designs. We all have a unique approach of course, and mine is grounded in field research and collection, skills honed both as an undergraduate and as a recreational collector/gleaner of landscape-related artifacts such as bricks, stray road reflectors, driftwood, and concrete cores.

How has the curriculum embraced your interests? Is there any particular opportunity or course that enabled them?

Like all who are drawn to the field of landscape architecture, I have a broad range of interests and each required course I took during the last two years spoke to these interests directly. Though some classes were intuitively easier for me than others, each and every required class captivated me - from the history and theory courses to the plant focused courses (the year long Urban Eden) to yes, the more technical ones like Site Engineering and Site Assembly. In short, the entire curriculum - from the required courses to the LA department offered electives (most notably Martin Hogue’s film classes) - not only “embraced” my interests, but provided me with new obsessions and pathways to explore.

One great aspect about attending Cornell University is the ability to take courses offered by other departments (in and outside of CALS). In the spring of my second year, I enrolled in a class that seemed tailored made for me, called Field Research in the Ecological Arts. This course, offered by the Environment & Sustainability department for the first time here at Cornell, was instructed by Dr. Anna M. Davidson and combined my interests in science, art, and design. I’ve long been interested in the intersection of art and science and this class was a perfect fit for me. I was asked to pick a local site to regularly visit throughout the semester and research/investigate using a variety of techniques. I chose a space located on an abandoned landfill on West Hill here in Ithaca. I spent the semester literally digging the site and unearthing a variety of artifacts, which I documented and used to make sculptures on and off site. I probed the site not just with my traditional field research instruments, but with a camera and audio recorder, making mixed media pieces about the landfill and my design interventions. My final project for the class culminated in the creation of multiple site-specific installations and a guided tour of the site/my work

You were able to receive a grant from the Cornell Council of Arts for this work. What are you hoping to achieve for the project, or the site, with this opportunity?

I hope to reinstall a large-scale piece I completed last spring, which involved multiple components and addressed the act of surveying, classifying, and organizing human and non-human objects. I was able to install a draft of the work, dubbed IG-4 (a name taken directly from the document that originally led me there), with yellow, cotton string and plan to use the grant to purchase thicker materials. I learned a lot from installing the first iteration of the piece and hope to apply what I learned to the preparation and installation of the new work. Additionally, I hope to curate a  gallery-type show in a nearby building whose history is tied to the landfill site. I find value in not just noticing, documenting, and considering often overlooked or undervalued phenomena and landscapes, but calling attention to them and getting others to share in my delight. Though the piece is admittedly object-based, I hope to further develop a guided experience that will have just as much merit as the sculptural and mixed-media works in/about the landfill itself. The main goal of this project is to call attention to and challenge how people view and perceive liminal, often blighted landscapes and simply call attention to their existence. Though this work focuses on one site, in particular, I hope the viewer reconsiders their perceptions about other seemingly tainted spaces and the broader landscape itself.

Do you have any short and long-term plans after you graduate from the MLA program?

Truthfully, not yet. There are of course some organizations I dream of working for, but we’ll see. I do of course have a lot of interests that continue to grow and expand every day. I hope to explore those regardless of what I do professionally, but hopefully, I’ll be able to find some overlap.