Architecture graduate student's thesis on urban public spaces receives award

Headshot of Aysan Jafarzadeh against a brick background.
Aysan Jafarzadeh's master of architecture thesis explores the concept of art in urban public spaces as a means to promote creativity, individuality, inclusivity and freedom among city residents and visitors.

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Aysan Jafarzadeh, who graduated from Penn State on May 7 with her master of architecture degree from the College of Arts and Architecture's Stuckeman School, was named the 2023 winner of the Department of Architecture's Jawaid Haider Award for Design Excellence in Graduate Studies for her thesis that explores the concept of art in urban public spaces as a means to promote creativity, individuality, inclusivity and freedom among city residents and visitors.

Titled “Boston's Botanic Bay: A Visionary Towards a Creative Paradigm of Public Spaces,” Jafarzadeh's thesis is a visionary project for the Public Garden that “redefines the concept of public spaces, blending the beauty of nature with innovative design elements that challenge traditional boundaries.”

The site of her project was originally designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, the famous landscape architect who is revered for co-designing many well-known urban parks, including Central Park in New York, but was never executed. Jafarzadeh drew from Olmsted's ideas while introducing new concepts and pushing the boundaries of what is possible in public space design.

“One of the key principles of the project is the freedom of movement and activity,” said Jafarzadeh. “The design includes meandering paths, open lawns and interactive play areas that encourage people to explore, engage and interact with the environment. The design also features spaces for community gatherings, performances and exhibitions, fostering a sense of community and social connection.”

Jarfazadeh, who is originally from Tehran, Iran, said she was inspired by living and working in Boston last summer while interning with Bergmeyer. There, she had the opportunity to meet students and graduates from various schools, including Harvard and MIT.

“Even though they were not working in design, they expressed a desire for art and design to be a part of their lives,” she said. “This made me realize that there should be public spaces that enable people to express their creativity, regardless of their academic or professional background.”

Jafarzadeh said her design is not intended to be a standalone project, but rather “a continuation of Olmsted's legacy in creating public spaces that promote physical and mental well-being, community engagement and environmental sustainability. It serves as a model for other cities around the world, showcasing the potential of blending tradition and innovation in public space design.”

Also known as the Boston Public Garden, the Public Garden was the first public botanical garden in America. DK Osseo-Asare, assistant professor of architecture and the master of architecture thesis instructor, commended Jafarzadeh for completing a historic project with contemporary relevance.

“Aysan used a compelling approach to address a project with significant historic importance and offered a thorough, developed and mature arrangement of spaces,” said Osseo-Asare. “Her project was a complex, well-executed demonstration of mature self-direction.”

Elliott Brau earned an honorable mention for his capstone project titled, “Isla Mundo,” which explores the climate crisis by presenting an architectural prototype that uses renewable materials, low impact design and resilient form.

This year's Haider award jury was comprised of Landon Brown, founding principal of Onland Architecture and a visiting assistant professor at the Pratt Institute; Ashley Heeren, a registered architect in the state of Texas with a focus on public-spirited projects that prioritize sustainable place-making and celebrate local ecologies; and Dan Spiegel, founding partner of Spiegel Aihara Workshop, an architecture, landscape and urban design firm based in California, and a lecturer in architecture at the University of California, Berkeley.

The Haider award recognizes the most deserving master of architecture student for excellence in design, based on their culminating project/thesis. The award recipient is chosen by the head of the Department of Architecture upon recommendation by the faculty and the jury.

Now in its fourth year, the Haider Award for Design Excellence was established in honor of the late Jawaid Haider, a long-time architecture professor at Penn State who died in 2018, with support from his family, friends and colleagues.

Jafarzadeh said winning the Haider award is a validation of the effort, time and dedication that was put into the work, and it serves as a “confirmation of the quality of the work done.”

“It gives me hope that I am walking in the right path, especially having earned the confirmation of such an accomplished and successful jury that were deciding the winner,” she said.

For more news from the Stuckeman School, follow us on Twitter @StuckemanNews.

Schools and Departments: Department of Architecture, Stuckeman School
Unit Research: A&A Sustainability
Architecture Clusters: Sustainability (SUS)