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Purposeful Study, Meaningful Order, and the Aesthetics of the Total Environment

Kathleen John-Alder, Rutgers University, Fellow 2013–2014, Fall

My research seeks to define a critical space for history relevant to the contemporary practice of landscape architecture. It involves two areas of focus: first, my written scholarship explores the transformative role of ecology and environmentalism in the discourse of mid-twentieth-century landscape design in the United States; and second, it promotes a productive engagement with history within the context of the design studio. During my time at Dumbarton Oaks, I explored Ian McHarg’s design for Pardisan Park in Tehran, Iran. This project is important for several reasons. First, Pardisan is one of the few planning proposals by McHarg that continued into the design stage, and though unbuilt it provides valuable insight into an important but little known aspect of his career. Second, the abrupt halt of the project by the Iranian Revolution ended McHarg’s career at Wallace McHarg Roberts and Todd, thus signaling the end of his most creative period. Further, the planning and design of Pardisan occurred during a period when environmentalism went global, thus making it an important case study of the appropriation of western concepts of environmentalism by a Middle Eastern country with a rich and ancient cultural heritage, as a means to reestablish itself on the global geopolitical stage. My research combined several methodological approaches, including archival research, interviews with individuals who worked on the project, and the procurement of the transcripts of the tribunal hearing that negotiated the final payment agreement between McHarg and the revolutionary government of Iran. My examination of Pardisan Park is part of a larger project on McHarg that traces his concept of natural design as it moves from housing to regional planning and to global ecosystems.