How Ian McHarg Taught Generations to ‘Design With Nature’ – Fifty years ago, a Scottish landscape architect revolutionized how designers and planners think about ecology. His legacy matters now more than ever.
Note to Reader:
Ian L. McHarg, a landscape architect, planner and teacher whose passion for meshing communities and ecology inspired scores of successors, died in 2001 at age 80. His most enduring contribution to the field is his 1969 book, ”Design With Nature” (John Wiley & Sons), which urged landscape planners to conform to ecology, not compete with it. The book was compared by Lewis Mumford to the environmental clarion calls of Thoreau and Rachel Carson.
Ian McHarg’s “Design with Nature” vision has influenced implementation of British Columbia’s Water Sustainability Action Plan. To understand why, CLICK HERE.
Ian McHarg is described as the most influential landscape architect of the twentieth century. Watch the following video clip from a 1969 movie. What better way to understand designing with nature, Ian McHarg in his own words.
Ian McHarg’s ecological approach to landscape planning
“The last 50 years of landscape architecture and environmental planning belong to Ian McHarg. In theory and practice, no designer has done more to stoke the public imagination or reshape the professions around the environment. And nothing captures the scope and scale of his legacy better than his landmark book, Design With Nature, published in the spring of 1969,” wrote four authors who teach design at the University of Pennsylvania.
“It remains one of the best-selling books ever written by a designer, has been translated into Chinese, French, Italian, Japanese, and Spanish, and remains in print today.
“On the 50th anniversary of its publication, one is struck by the durability of McHarg’s ideas and the parallels between the ecological crisis and resultant activism of his era, and those of the contemporary moment we now find ourselves in—one defined by global climate change.”
Design With Nature now—and in the future
“As much as our work around this anniversary has been about what it means to design with nature now, we’ve already turned our focus to what it might mean to design with nature next, in the near and distant future,” the authors wrote in their concluding remarks.
“This required us to look back, again, at the moment and the movement that gave rise to McHarg—one that was led almost entirely by young activists. And we cannot help but see the parallels between his era and ours, and we cannot help but believe that this rising generation of designers and planners, increasingly and rightfully radicalized, will do what our presiding and retiring generations could not: to design a better, more just, and more sustainable planet.”
“He was an apostle for the planet” – Edmund D. Hollander (2001)
Many of his students maintained that his greatest legacy was not his method, or even his seminal book; it was his passion for respecting the living land and his volcanic determination to brand successive generations of planners and landscape architects with the same ethic.
Ian Lennox McHarg was born in Clydebank, Scotland. He moved to the United States and founded the University of Pennsylvania’s department of landscape architecture and regional planning in 1954 and ran it for three decades.
The program attracted graduate students from around the world who were lured by his environmental approach to design, which he conveyed with a memorable mix of polished urbanity and missionary zeal.
To Learn More:
To read the complete article, download a copy of How Ian McHarg Taught Generations to ‘Design With Nature’
To read the obituary published in the New York Times in 2001, download a copy of Ian McHarg, 80, Architect Who Valued a Site’s Natural Features
In the video below, Ian McHarg gave a speech at Augsburg titled “What is Man Doing to the Earth and Himself? Dimensions of the Ecologic Crisis.” This recording was part of the Centennial Celebration at Augsburg. Digitized from reel-to-reel on 2018 March 6. Audio has been edited to remove noise and amplify the speaker’s voice.