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Video: Harriet Pattison Talks About Her Long History with Louis Kahn

The landscape architect's career spans 50 years

Architects tend get all the credit for groundbreaking design projects, with landscape architects often going unnoticed. Such is the case with Harriet Pattison, a Penn designer who was the lead landscape architect on a number of Louis Kahn projects, including the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park in New York City and the Kahn Korman House in Fort Washington, PA.

Now, her work is being honored by the Cultural Landscapes Foundation via a new online oral history, where she talks design, meeting Louis Kahn in a fur coat, and how she turned a degree in set design from Yale into a 50-year-long career as a landscape architect.

The one- to four-minute online videos are fascinating snippets into Pattison's career and personal life (she talks about having Nathaniel, Louis Kahn's only son). Here are just a few interesting factoids gleaned from her oral history on working on Kahn.

Then years later, with [architect] Bob Venturi, when I went at a party at Wharton Esherick’s house, I met Louis Kahn again. It was a snowy day, and it suddenly occurred to me that I’d seen this man before. I said, "Did you have a fur coat?" And he said, "No." He said, "Well yes,"—he remembered he borrowed a fur coat from one of the students at Yale. And that was the beginning of meeting Lou Kahn. I had seen him before, but how could you forget?

He would come by and look at people’s work and not make any comment, and then come back to it afterwards, after people had left, and ponder what was going wrong, or what could inspire him. So you never knew what was going to happen from one minute to the next.

I knew what he was talking about when other people said that he was crazy, or that he was off the wall saying something, that he was just a dreamer. But I knew where he was going, and it was just an instinct that brought us together, and a reverence for great art, whether it was in music or in visual arts.

The oral history is part of an exhibit at Penn called Harriet Pattison: Gardens and Landscapes. It opens today runs until July 15, 2016.