IA+D: Before joining our department, you worked in graphic design for five years and in landscape architecture for a further 14 years. Can you tell us a little bit about your journey and how your approach to design has evolved?
MM: On some basic level, I’ve always understood the power of art and design. It is what I was drawn to even as a kid, although I wasn’t hyper-aware of how it could be used. Graphic design was my first practice of creativity with a defined purpose. At the advertising agency where I worked, we crafted print and television content that was intended to create, or reinforce, a brand. The intent was to make your audience feel a certain way – often only by images and very few words. I loved the thought and care that went into the work.
Once I understood how rich and layered design could be, I wanted to make a larger (physical) difference through the practice. It was then that I pursued my Masters degree in Landscape Architecture at the NC State College of Design. I especially loved the blend of Art and Science that went into our studies – and the contextual understanding that needed to be a part of every successful project. In order to make our designs relevant and authentic, it was important to understand what was happening historically, ecologically, and socially on the site and in the broader context of the place or region. We would look at layers of information, using Ian McHarg’s Design with Nature as a model. The practice was a blend of design driven by a love of nature that felt very comfortable and I began to focus on using it to further connect people – to each other and to the world around them.
Much of my practice focused on public places, parks and playgrounds that had the opportunity to engage a large number of people. I believe that everyone should have access to those places. At the root of each design was an effort to expose people to nature, allowing them an opportunity for appreciation and connection. Natural playgrounds, like Discovery at Cascades, were one way that I tried to connect kids to their environment.
I love designing outdoor spaces and I always hope to do so. However, I’ve also realized that if we really want to connect people to their surroundings then we also need to look indoors, where people spend most of their time.
IA+D: Congratulations on your new position as assistant professor! In addition to your role as an educator, you will be conducting research. What topics are you interested in pursuing?
MM: I am very interested in connections that can be made through design. I intend to look at both biophilic design and environmental graphics as ways to bring more context into interior spaces. In particular, I’d like to look at public spaces, such as schools, for opportunities to further link them to their environment. Providing some level of ecoliteracy and cultural awareness within everyday spaces is of great interest to me. Exhibit design is one example of this with more intentional, programmed interventions.
IA+D: These are interesting times we are experiencing right now. What encouragement might you share with our students and community?
MM: Oh man, no pressure since this is one of the strangest times ever with quarantines and social distancing! No, but I do believe that a relationship with nature is vital to our health and well-being. I’ve always felt that way, but these last few months have made that fact more abundantly clear. That relationship is also key to creating a more sustainable world, it is so true that you protect what you love. One of my favorite quotes is from Baba Dioum: “In the end we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught.”
I also think that the power of design and creativity in action can still change the world. After all, look at the Black Lives Matter mural on the streets of D.C.! That is an example of environmental graphics at its best – simple and bold with a clear message. I really have hope for great things to come out of these recent trials. I also hope that the students are empowered enough to put their ideas into action, for the benefit of us all.