John Nolen was one of the most important figures in the emerging city planning profession in the United States in the early twentieth century. He was born in Philadelphia, the son of John C. and Matilda Thomas Nolen. Because Nolen's father died when he was young, his mother enrolled him in Girard College for fatherless boys in Philadelphia, where he graduated at fifteen with high honors. He then attended the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, completing his Bachelor's degree in 1893, followed by post-graduate work at the University of Munich. In the late 1890s, he served as executive secretary of the Society for the Extension of University Teaching, a program associated with the University of Pennsylvania that was intended to foster adult education.
Shortly after the turn of the century, Nolen moved from Ardmore, PA, to Cambridge, MA, to attend Harvard's nascent School of Landscape Architecture, where he studied with Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., among others, earning a master's degree in 1905. Nolen later lectured on city planning at Harvard, although he was never a member of the regular faculty. He opened an office in Cambridge after completing his degree, and began his professional career with re-planning projects for existing communities, including Reading, PA and Madison, WI. He also planned several academic campuses, including Bates College in Lewiston, ME. The creation of "new towns" was Nolen's preferred work, however. These projects, which span from the 1910s to his death, are located throughout the United States, and include Mariemont, OH, where Nolen worked between 1920 and 1925.
During World War I, Nolen served as the chief of the Bureau of Housing and Town Planning of the U.S. Army Educational Commission, and as a member of the advisory housing committee of the Emergency Fleet Corporation, for which several architects from the Philadelphia region prepared designs, including Edmund B. Gilchrist.
Nolen was awarded an honorary doctorate by Hobart College in 1913. He was a fellow of the American Society of Landscape Architects and a member of the board of directors of the American Planning and Civic Association and of the Society of Planning Officials. He also served as president of the National Conference on City Planning, of the American City Planning Institute, and of the International Federation for Housing and Town Planning, based in London.
Nolen published and lectured extensively on planning and was recognized in his time as one of the most important defining voices in the developing field.
Emily T. Cooperman.
Clubs and Membership Organizations
- American Society of Landscape Architects
- National Conference on City Planning
- American City Planning Institute
- University of Pennsylvania
- Girard College
- Harvard University
- University of Munich
- Hobart College
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