Harriet Pattison, award-winning Philadelphia landscape architect, dies at 94


Harriet Pattison, award-winning Philadelphia landscape architect, dies at 94

Harriet Pattison at Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park Roosevelt Island, NY Photograph (© Barrett Doherty, 2015/Courtesy of The Cultural Landscape Foundation)

Harriet Pattison—the award-winning Philadelphia-based landscape architect known for collaborating with Louis Kahn on Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park in New York and the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas—died on October 3 at the age of 94 at her home in Newtown Square, Pennsylvania. News of her passing was confirmed by her son Nathaniel Kahn, son of Louis, who directed My Architect.

In 1929, Pattison was born in Chicago’s North Side to a middle class family. In an oral history compiled by The Cultural Landscape Foundation documenting Pattison’s remarkable life, Pattison notes that she was deeply influenced by the Chicago World’s Fair, its skyscrapers, and free cultural programming in Lincoln Park that introduced children to Shakespeare and the arts more broadly.

For her studies Pattison attended Wellesley College in Massachusetts where her mother and sister attended. There she was deeply inspired by the College’s campus fitted with its own arboretum and engulfed herself in art history classes. Pattison later left Wellesley College before graduating and moved to Maine. From there, she applied and was accepted to the University of Chicago (UC) for a bachelor of arts.

Pattison and Kahn (Courtesy Harriet Pattison)

At UC she connected with the famous director Paul Sills and theater troop The Second City. It was also at UC where Pattison took an interest in scenery design for its theater program; she graduated in 1951.

She later applied to Yale University to study set design where she took up live acting in plays, specifically comedy. She even acted alongside Paul Newman during her Yale tenure. While at Yale Pattison enrolled in Josef Albers’s color theory course, Interaction of Color. It was also in New Haven where she met Louis Kahn at the Wahldorf, a nearby New Haven diner. She crossed paths again with Kahn at a dinner party she attended with Robert Venturi, where she says her romantic partnership with Kahn began.

Pattison had her son Nathaniel in 1962. She went on to become an apprentice in the office of landscape architect Dan Kiley in Vermont.  Following her stint in Kiley’s office, she enrolled in Ian McHarg’s landscape architecture program at University of Pennsylvania where she took lectures by Roberto Burle Marx. Her first paid job out of school was in the office of George Patton where she was employed until 1970.

Four Freedoms Park (Ken Larry/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 4.0 DEED)

In 1970 she left Patten’s office to work with Louis Kahn at his office on 1501 Walnut Street in Philadelphia. There, the two worked together on FDR Four Freedoms Park and the Kimbell. “We were soul mates and inspired each other,” Pattison said about her relationship with Kahn in My Architect. “It was an equal exchange in many ways.”

After Kahn died in 1974, Pattison went out on her own, designing her own commissions. Her projects included landscapes at private homes such as the Haas Residence and a master plan for the Hershey Food Corporation’s Pennsylvania headquarters. Later in her career, she authored Maine Landscapes: Design and Planning which examined her role-model Beatrix Farrand, another pioneering women landscape architect.

In 2016 Pattison was inducted as a Fellow of the American Society of Landscape Architects. The Cultural Landscape Foundation recognized Pattison in its series Pioneers of American Landscape Design that same year. She is survived by her son, Nathaniel.