María A. Villalobos Hernandez
courtesy IIT CoA María A. Villalobos Hernandez

The following is a Sept. 25 press release from the Illinois Institute of Technology College of Architecture naming María A. Villalobos Hernandez the director of its Master of Landscape Architecture and Urbanism program.

The College of Architecture (CoA) at Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) has appointed Associate Professor Maria A. Villalobos Hernandez as the director of its Master of Landscape Architecture and Urbanism (MLA+U) program. Villalobos is the first woman of color and first Latinx person to be a director of a CoA program, and she will bring a deep-rooted sense of equity and justice to the program.

An exemplar of dedication and vision, Villalobos’s inspiring commitment to her work and to the community has driven passion and rigor among students, faculty, and peers. “Maria is a leader whose influence goes beyond the classroom walls,” says CoA Professor and former MLA+U Director Ron Henderson.

Hailing from Los Puertos de Altagracia near Lake Maracaibo in Venezuela, Villalobos Hernandez brings a unique blend of personal and professional experiences. Having witnessed firsthand the impacts of the oil industry on local communities, she’s cultivated an approach to landscape architecture that prioritizes environmental and social justice. This ethos is embodied in her practice, Botanical City, and she intends to infuse the MLA+U program with the same spirit.

“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,” says Villalobos. “Representation matters.”

Villalobos is also the first CoA faculty member to receive the Council of Educators in Landscape Architecture Excellence in Design Studio Teaching Award (2022), based in part on her dedication to teaching as a collective pedagogy. Villalobos, who joined the CoA in 2019, was promoted to associate professor in 2023.

Former Chicago Planning Commissioner Maurice Cox praised Villalobos’s contributions to the city, noting her influence on students and her proactive role in city development initiatives. “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,” says Cox. “Maria has earned deep appreciation from the city of Chicago.”

Villalobos worked with Cox as a member of both the Lincoln Yards Advisory Council and the Department of City Planning’s Committee on Design. She has also been active with Dark Matter University nationally, and a host of Chicago community organizations. Villalobos’s landscape vision is at the center of projects like the Bronzeville Trail, which will provide residents with a culturally meaningful and botanically rich public promenade to Lake Michigan. Similarly, the Englewood Nature Trail, an initiative to expand the neighborhood’s urban agriculture and culture, will create the United States’ first Agricultural-eco district.

Villalobos’s achievements extend to academic publications as well, including co-authoring the book Intangible Heritage: Expeditions, Observations, and Lectures by Roberto Burle Marx and collaborators (Arquine 2023, in Spanish and English). She is also working on a biography of Cox, co-authored with CoA Professor Michelangelo Sabatino. Notably, in 2017, she became the first woman to win first prize at the Venezuelan Architecture Biennial for rehabilitating the Botanical Garden of Maracaibo.

CoA Dean Reed Kroloff lauded Villalobos’s vision and expressed optimism for the future.

“Having Maria in this position promises great things for the college and the city,” says Kroloff. “In projects on the city’s South and West sides, she’s already demonstrated a unique capacity for marshaling scholarship, practice, and community engagement into a potent force for change. I am confident she will bring the same energy to the MLA+U—the only graduate landscape architecture program in Chicago—as we position it as an engine for social justice and inclusion.”

In addition to her role as director, Villalobos will continue teaching in the MLA+U program. For more information on the MLA+U program, please visit: