Nasser Rabbat is the Aga Khan Professor and the Director of the Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture at MIT. An architect and a historian, his scholarly interests include the history and historiography of Islamic architecture, art, and cultures, urban history, and post-colonial criticism. He teaches lecture courses on various facets of Islamic architecture and seminars on the history of Islamic urbanism and contemporary cities, orientalism, historiography, and the issue of meaning in architecture. In his research and teaching he presents architecture in ways that illuminate its interaction with culture and society and stress the role of human agency in shaping that interplay.
Professor Rabbat has published more than 80 scholarly articles and book sections in English, Arabic, and French. Among his recent articles are: "The Arab Revolution Takes Back the Public Space," Critical Inquiry, Online Feature (January 2012); 'What's in a Name? The New "Islamic Art" Galleries at the Met,' Artforum 50, 8 (January 2012); "The Pedigreed Domain of Architecture: A View from the Cultural Margin," Perspecta 44 (2011); and "Circling the Square: Architecture and Revolution in Cairo," Artforum 49, 8 (April 2011). His books include: The Citadel of Cairo: A New Interpretation of Royal Mamluk Architecture (Leiden, 1995), Thaqafat al Bina' wa Bina' al-Thaqafa (The Culture of Building and Building Culture) (Beirut, 2002), Al-Mudun al-Mayyita: Durus min Madhih wa-Ru'an li-Mustaqbaliha (The Dead Cities: Lessons from its History and Views on its Future) (Damascus, 2010), Mamluk History Through Architecture: Building, Culture, and Politics in Mamluk Egypt and Syria (London, 2010), which won the British-Kuwait Friendship Society Prize in Middle Eastern Studies, 2011, and an edited book, The Courtyard House between Cultural Reference and Universal Relevance (London, 2010). He co-authored Interpreting the Self: Autobiography in the Arabic Literary Tradition (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 2001), and co-edited Making Cairo Medieval (Lantham, Md, 2005). Two forthcoming books, L'art Islamique à la recherche d'une méthode historique, and al-Naqd Iltizaman (Criticism as Commitment) will be published in the coming year in Cairo and Beirut respectively. He is currently writing a book tentatively titled The Story of Islamic Architecture.
Prof. Rabbat worked as an architect in Los Angeles and Damascus. He was a visiting professor at the École des hautes etudes en sciences sociales (EHESS), Paris (2009) and the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität, Munich (2007). Among his fellowships are, The Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study Fellowship (2011-12), The American Research Center in Egypt Fellowships (2007-08, 1999-00 and 1988-89), the Chaire de l'Institut du Monde Arabe (2003), and The J. Paul Getty Postdoctoral Fellowship (1993-94). He regularly contributes to a number of Arabic publications and serves on the boards of various cultural and educational organizations. He lectures extensively in the US and abroad, consults with international design firms on projects in the Middle East, and maintains several websites focused on Islamic architecture and urbanism.
James L. Wescoat, Jr. earned his Bachelor of Landscape Architecture degree from Louisiana State University and practiced landscape architecture in the U.S. and Middle East before returning to graduate study in geography at the University of Chicago with an emphasis on water resources. He taught courses on landscape research, geographic theory, and water resources at the University of Chicago and University of Colorado at Boulder, where he was a member of centers for South Asian, Middle Eastern, and Public Policy studies.
His research has concentrated on water systems in South Asia and the US from the site to river basin scales. For the greater part of his career, Professor Wescoat has focused on small-scale historical waterworks of Mughal gardens and cities in India and Pakistan. He led the Smithsonian Institution's project titled, "Garden, City, and Empire: The Historical Geography of Mughal Lahore," which resulted in a co-edited volume on Mughal Gardens: Sources, Places, Representations, Prospects , and The Mughal Garden: Interpretation, Conservation, and Implications with colleagues from the University of Engineering and Technology-Lahore. These and related books have won awards from the Government of Pakistan and Punjab Government. The overall Mughal Gardens Project won an American Society of Landscape Architects national research merit award, as did a project on The Moonlight Garden: New Discoveries at the Taj led by Elizabeth Moynihan. This work has been generously supported by fellowships from Dumbarton Oaks, the Freer and Sackler Galleries of Asian Art, and the American Academy in Rome
In 2002, Professor Wescoat became head of the Department of Landscape Architecture at the University of Illinois t Urbana-Champaign where he taught courses on "Landscape Experience, Inquiry and Design," the "Theory and Practice of Landscape Architecture," and design studios on urban ecological design in Chicago. Together with colleagues and students at the University of Illinois he contributed to a cultural landscape heritage conservation project at the Champaner-Pavagadh World Heritage Site in Gujarat, India, for the Baroda Heritage Trust. More recently, he has organized a garden and waterworks conservation workshop at the Nagaur palace-garden complex in Rajasthan for the Mehrangarh Museum Trust; and a workshop on the "Three Shalamar Baghs of Delhi, Lahore, and Srinagar" with colleagues from those cities.
At the larger scale, Professor Wescoat has conducted water policy research in the Colorado, Indus, Ganges, and Great Lakes basins, including the history of multilateral water agreements. He led a USEPA-funded study of potential climate impacts in the Indus River Basin in Pakistan with the Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA). More recently, he led an NSF-funded project on "Water and Poverty in Colorado." He is currently conducting comparative research on international water problems. In 2003, he published Water for Life: Water Management and Environmental Policy with geographer Gilbert F. White (Cambridge University Press); and in 2007 he co-edited Political Economies of Landscape Change: Places of Integrative Power (Springer Publishing) for LAF Landscape Futures Initiative.
Elizabeth Hermann is Professor of Landscape Architecture and teaches courses in Urban Design/Landscape Urbanism, Design and International Development, and Islamic Architectural and Urban History. She is the founder of the DESINE-lab @ RISD which brings design thinking, practices and outcomes together with innovation and entrepreneurship to address issues of global poverty and social and environmental injustice. Lab initiatives focus on three scales of collaboration and capacity building: Propel which develops programs with local leaders that use design thinking and processes to help create a climate for innovation and entrepreneurship in underserved communities; Alternative Livelihoods which, in collaboration with underserved communities, develops cooperative locally-driven economic strategies focusing on design and environmental stewardship; and Resilient City which strategizes how to aggregate and integrate these programs so as to address environmental degradation, natural disaster management, and persistent poverty at the scale of the city and region.
Hermann received her Ph.D. from Harvard in the history of Islamic urbanism where her work focused on medieval Muslim cities, contagion theory, and designed responses to outbreaks of epidemic disease (Black Death) during prolonged periods of environmental and political upheaval. Hermann has been visiting faculty at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design and in the Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture at MIT. She was a SPURS Fellow in Urban Studies and Planning at MIT, and is a Fellow of the American Academy in Rome.
Hermann has served as a senior advisor for master planning of the new Asian University for Women being built in Chittagong, Bangladesh, an outgrowth of the Task Force on Higher Education in Developing Countries (World Bank/UNESCO 2000). For the past decade she has worked in the megacities of South Asia on issues related to poverty alleviation, women’s rights and empowerment, education, resource management and environmental disasters, sustainable land-use practices within low-income inner-city neighborhoods, livelihood alternatives and enterprise development. She is co-founder of the Institute for Sustainable Urban Societies/ISUS, an international not-for-profit research, education, advocacy and design alliance located in Kolkata, Dhaka and Boston.
Hermann is a contributing author to the Encyclopedia on Women in Muslim Cultures (EWIC) and author of the in-progress book Cities of Silt and Sand: Urbanization, Environment and Cultural Identity in the Bengal Delta and Cooperative Resilience: Community-Driven Development Strategies in South Asia. She is adjunct faculty at the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University and Social Innovator-in-Residence at the Social Innovation Lab at Babson College.