Yotam Ben Hur (MArch ’20) awarded KPF Foundation’s Paul Katz Fellowship

Harvard Graduate School of Design’s Yotam Ben Hur (MArch ’20) is one of two recipients of the Kohn Pedersen Fox Foundation’s 2020 Paul Katz Fellowship, an internationally recognized award that honors the life and work of former KPF Principal Paul Katz. The GSD’s Ian Miley (MArch ’20) was also recognized with one of two honorable mentions.

The KPF Foundation sponsors a series of annual fellowships to support emerging designers and advance international research. According to KPF, the Paul Katz Fellowship is given each year to assist international students in studying issues of global urbanism. The award is open to students enrolled in a masters of architecture program at five East Coast universities at which Katz studied or taught: Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Columbia, and the University of Pennsylvania.

KPF focuses each annual iteration of the Paul Katz Fellowship on a different global city. This year’s fellowship is tied to Mexico City; previous cities include Tel Aviv, Sydney, London, and Tokyo. Given the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, KPF has announced that they will pause any travel requirements, and will distribute half of the $25,000 travel stipend as a financial award to each winner.

For the fellowship, Ben Hur submitted a research proposal examining the relationship between nature and architecture in peri-urban Mexico City with a concentration on the region’s informal settlements and their effect on the ecological water crisis the city is facing. Farshid Moussavi, professor in Practice of Architecture, was Ben Hur’s faculty advisor; Jacob Reidel, assistant professor in Practice of Architecture, and Eric Höweler, associate professor of Architecture, served as faculty reviewers.

Map showing Landscapes of Xochimilco in Mexico City
Landscapes of Xochimilco

“My proposal was ignited by the accumulation of different experiences and lessons I’ve gained while being at the GSD,” Ben Hur says. Reflecting on his proposal, he emphasizes the value of looking outward into the countryside rather than remaining focused on urban or familiar surroundings. He considered the complexities and challenges of designing living spaces for high-density environments characterized by informal development, as well as what he describes as “our constant battle with climate change, and our desire to find balance between the natural and the built environments.”

“Mexico City has entered a stage in which, on the one hand, there is a great need for public works, housing, and service infrastructure for the peri-urban poor, and on the other, huge pressures are being placed to conserve the surrounding environment on the verge of a climate crisis,” Ben Hur writes in his research proposal. “In this constant battle between architecture and nature, between the need to urbanize land and the desire to conserve and restore the landscape, architects and planners must intervene and redefine the relationships between the two entities, to end the loss and offer a solution of coexistence—an approach that does not separate the two realities, but rather sees the informal settlements and the natural, protected areas as components of the same ecosystem.”

Diagram of the Chinampa Agricultural System
The Chinampa Agricultural System Source: Ricardo Escamilla Paper, 2012

Ben Hur and Miley follow a legacy of GSD students who have been honored with the Paul Katz Fellowship, including 2019 winner Miriam Alexandroff (MArch ’19) and 2018 winner Sonny Xu (MArch ’18, MLA ’18).

The KPF Foundation also organizes other fellowships, lectureships, and education-minded programs. Last year, the GSD’s Peteris Lazovskis (MArch ’20) was among three recipients of the KPF Traveling Fellowship, earning a $10,000 grant to support a summer of travel and exploration before a final year at school.