A milestone appointment took place at the College of Architecture (CoA) at Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) this week. On September 25, IIT announced that associate professor Maria A. Villalobos Hernandez has been appointed director of CoA’s Master of Landscape Architecture and Urbanism (MLA+U) program. “Maria is a leader whose influence goes beyond the classroom walls,” CoA professor and former MLA+U Director Ron Henderson said in a press statement.
Villalobos’s appointment marks the first woman of color and first Latinx individual to be named director of a CoA program. A press release from ITT notes that Villalobos will “bring a deep-rooted sense of equity and justice to the program.”
“The weight of this appointment holds resonance beyond personal achievement, as it is a great responsibility to be the inaugural Latin American Director of a program in the College,” Villalobos said. “Representation matters.”
As a practitioner, Villalobos is deeply influenced by having seen the oil industry’s impact on local communities, specifically her childhood home of Los Puertos de Altagracia near Lake Maracaibo in Venezuela. The experience of watching fossil fuel extraction take its toll on Venezuela impacted her decision to pursue landscape architecture with a particular sensitivity for environmental and social justice which she demonstrates in her practice, Botanical City.
Villalobos’s academic achievements are vast. In 2017, she became the first woman to win the Venezuelan Architecture Biennial for rehabilitating the Botanical Garden of Maracaibo. Villalobos first joined CoA in 2019 where she’s been an active member of Dark Matter University. In 2022, she became the first CoA faculty member to receive the Council of Educators in Landscape Architecture Excellence in Design Studio Teaching Award. In 2023, she was promoted to associate professor. Her published works include Intangible Heritage: Expeditions, Observations, and Lectures by Roberto Burle Marx which she co-authored.
As a practitioner, Villalobos has worked on important projects in Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood, the Bronzeville Trail, which offers South Side residents a new enlivened promenade to Lake Michigan. She’s collaborated with the Chicago Planning Commission on major projects. She’s served in advisory role for both the Lincoln Yards Advisory Council and the Department of City Planning’s Committee on Design.
Former Chicago Planning Commissioner Maurice Cox praised Villalobos’s contributions to Chicago. “Maria imparts a valuable lesson to students: that they have a civic responsibility to apply their talents to topics that have importance and impact on the lives of others,” Cox said. “Maria has earned deep appreciation from the city of Chicago.” Villalobos is currently working on a biography about Maurice Cox with CoA professor Michelangelo Sabatino.
In addition to her role as director, she will continue teaching students in the MLA+U program.