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Ian McHarg

Ian McHarg

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Ian L. McHarg was born in Clydebank
Clydebank is a town in West Dunbartonshire, in the Central Lowlands of Scotland. Situated on the north bank of the River Clyde, Clydebank borders Dumbarton, the town with which it was combined to form West Dunbartonshire, as well as the town of Milngavie in East Dunbartonshire, and the Yoker and...

, Scotland
Scotland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. Occupying the northern third of the island of Great Britain, it shares a border with England to the south and is bounded by the North Sea to the east, the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, and the North Channel and Irish Sea to the...

 and became a landscape architect
Landscape architect
A landscape architect is a person involved in the planning, design and sometimes direction of a landscape, garden, or distinct space. The professional practice is known as landscape architecture....

 and a renowned writer on regional planning
Regional planning
Regional planning deals with the efficient placement of land use activities, infrastructure, and settlement growth across a larger area of land than an individual city or town. The related field of urban planning deals with the specific issues of city planning...

 using natural systems. He was the founder of the department of landscape architecture at the University of Pennsylvania
University of Pennsylvania
The University of Pennsylvania is a private, Ivy League university located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States. Penn is the fourth-oldest institution of higher education in the United States,Penn is the fourth-oldest using the founding dates claimed by each institution...

 in the United States. His 1969 book Design with Nature pioneered the concept of ecological planning. It continues to be one of the most widely celebrated books on landscape architecture and land-use planning. In this book, he set forth the basic concepts that were to develop later in Geographic Information Systems
Geographic Information System
A geographic information system, geographical information science, or geospatial information studies is a system designed to capture, store, manipulate, analyze, manage, and present all types of geographically referenced data...


Formative years

His father was a local minister in the industrial city of Glasgow
Glasgow is the largest city in Scotland and third most populous in the United Kingdom. The city is situated on the River Clyde in the country's west central lowlands...

. McHarg showed an early talent for drawing and was advised to consider a career in landscape architecture. His early experiences with the bifurcated landscapes of Scotland—the smoky industrial urbanism of Glasgow and the sublimity of the surrounding environs—had a profound influence on his later thinking. (Corbett, 1)

It was not until after his term in the Parachute Regiment, serving in war-stricken Italy during World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

, however, that he was able to explore the field of urban landscape architecture. After working with the Royal Engineers
Royal Engineers
The Corps of Royal Engineers, usually just called the Royal Engineers , and commonly known as the Sappers, is one of the corps of the British Army....

 during World War II, he travelled to America. He was admitted to the school of architecture at Harvard University
Harvard University
Harvard University is a private Ivy League university located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States, established in 1636 by the Massachusetts legislature. Harvard is the oldest institution of higher learning in the United States and the first corporation chartered in the country...

's Graduate School of Design where he received professional degrees in both landscape architecture
Landscape architecture
Landscape architecture is the design of outdoor and public spaces to achieve environmental, socio-behavioral, or aesthetic outcomes. It involves the systematic investigation of existing social, ecological, and geological conditions and processes in the landscape, and the design of interventions...

 and city planning. After completing his education he returned to his homeland, intending to help rebuild a country ravaged by war. In Scotland he worked on housing and programs in "new towns
New Towns Act 1946
The New Towns Act 1946 was an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom which allowed the government to designate areas as new towns, and passing development control functions to a Development Corporation. Several new towns were created in the years following its passing...

", until he was contacted by Dean G. Holmes Perkins from the University of Pennsylvania. Dean Perkins wanted McHarg to build a new graduate program in landscape architecture at the University.

Soon thereafter, McHarg began teaching at the University of Pennsylvania
University of Pennsylvania
The University of Pennsylvania is a private, Ivy League university located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States. Penn is the fourth-oldest institution of higher education in the United States,Penn is the fourth-oldest using the founding dates claimed by each institution...

, where he developed the department of landscape architecture, and developed a popular new course, titled Man and Environment in 1957. The course featured leading scholars whom McHarg invited to his class to discuss ethics and values, as well as other ideas ranging from entropy to plate tectonics. In 1960, he hosted his own television show on CBS
CBS Broadcasting Inc. is a major US commercial broadcasting television network, which started as a radio network. The name is derived from the initials of the network's former name, Columbia Broadcasting System. The network is sometimes referred to as the "Eye Network" in reference to the shape of...

, The House We Live In, inviting prominent theologians and scientists of the day to discuss the human place in the world, in a style similar to the one he honed teaching "Man and Environment."

In 1963 Ian McHarg and David A. Wallace
David A. Wallace
David A. Wallace, FAICP, AIA, PP was an influential urban planner and architect who founded the firm of Wallace Roberts & Todd with Ian McHarg....

, his academic colleague from the University of Pennsylvania, founded the firm of Wallace and McHarg Associates, later Wallace McHarg Roberts & Todd (WMRT) which is known for its central role in the development of the American environmental planning
Environmental planning
Environmental Planning is the process of facilitating decision making to carry out development with due consideration given to the natural environmental, social, political, economic and governance factors and provides a holistic frame work to achieve sustainable outcomes.-Elements of environmental...

 and urbanism movements. The seminal work of the firm includes the plan for Baltimore
Baltimore is the largest independent city in the United States and the largest city and cultural center of the US state of Maryland. The city is located in central Maryland along the tidal portion of the Patapsco River, an arm of the Chesapeake Bay. Baltimore is sometimes referred to as Baltimore...

's Inner Harbor
Inner Harbor
The Inner Harbor is a historic seaport, tourist attraction, and iconic landmark of the City of Baltimore, Maryland, United States. Described by the Urban Land Institute in 2009 as “the model for post-industrial waterfront redevelopment around the World.” The Inner Harbor is actually the end of the...

, the Plan for the Valleys in Baltimore County, MD, and the Plan for Lower Manhattan in New York City
New York City
New York is the most populous city in the United States and the center of the New York Metropolitan Area, one of the most populous metropolitan areas in the world. New York exerts a significant impact upon global commerce, finance, media, art, fashion, research, technology, education, and...

 from 1963 through 1965.

As the first-wave American environmental movement swept across American college campuses in the 1960s and early 1970s, McHarg became an important figure, linking a compelling personal presence and a powerful rhetoric with a direct and persuasive proposal for a new integration of human and natural environments. Through the 1960s and 1970s, his course was the most popular on the Penn campus, and he was often invited to speak on campuses throughout the country.

Design with Nature

In 1969, he published, Design with Nature, which was essentially a book of step-by-step instructions on how to break down a region into its appropriate uses (Wenz, 2). McHarg also was interested in garden design and believed that homes should be planned and designed with good private garden space. He promoted an ecological view, in which the designer becomes very familiar with the area through analysis of soil, climate, hydrology, etc.Design With Nature was the first work of its kind "to define the problems of modern development and present a methodology or process prescribing compatible solutions". The book also had an impact on a variety of fields and ideas. Frederick Steiner tells us that "environmental impact assessment, new community development, coastal zone management, brownfields restoration, zoo design, river corridor planning, and ideas about sustainability and regenerative design all display the influence of Design with Nature".

Design with Nature had its roots in much earlier landscape architecture philosophies. It was sharply critical of the French Baroque style of garden design, which McHarg saw as a subjugation of nature, and full of praise for the English picturesque style of garden design. McHarg's focus, however, was only partially on the visual and sensual qualities which had dominated the English picturesque movement. Instead, he saw the earlier tradition as a precursor of his philosophy, which was rooted less in aristocratic estate design or even garden design and more broadly in an ecological sensibility that accepted the interwoven worlds of the human and the natural, and sought to more fully and intelligently design human environments in concert with the conditions of setting, climate and environment. Always a polemicist, McHarg set his thinking in radical opposition to what he argued was the arrogant and destructive heritage of urban-industrial modernity, a style he described as "Dominate and Destroy."

Following the publication of Design with Nature Wallace McHarg Roberts & Todd (WMRT) worked in major American cities - Minneapolis, Denver, Miami, New Orleans, and Washington (DC) - and created environmentally-based master plans for Amelia Island Plantation
Amelia Island Plantation
Amelia Island Plantation is a luxury resort located on Amelia Island, Florida, the westernmost barrier island on the Atlantic Ocean in the U.S. The resort's tennis facility hosted the Bausch & Lomb Championships, a major Women's Tennis Association tournament, for 20 years...

 and Sanibel Island
Sanibel Island
Sanibel Island is an island located on the Gulf coast of Florida, just offshore of Fort Myers. In 2000, it had an estimated population of 6,064 people...

s in Florida.

Later career

In 1971 McHarg delivered a speech at the North American Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference in Portland, Oregon, called "Man: Planetary Disease". In the speech he asserted that, due to the views of man and nature that have infiltrated all of western culture, we are not guaranteed survival. Of man, McHarg said, "He treats the world as a storehouse existing for his delectation; he plunders, rapes, poisons, and kills this living system, the biosphere, in ignorance of its workings and its fundamental value." To this end man is a "planetary disease", who has lived with no regard for nature. He discusses how in the Judeo-Christian traditions, the Bible says that man is to have dominion over the earth. McHarg says that for man to survive, this idea must be taken as an allegory only, and not as literally true. Lest this statement be construed as anti-religion, he cites Paul Tillich (Protestantism), Gustav Weigel (Catholicism), and Abram Heschel (Judaism) as noted religious scholars who are also in agreement with him on this point.

Ian McHarg was the original co-designer of The Woodlands, Texas
The Woodlands, Texas
The Woodlands is a master-planned community and a Census-designated place in the U.S. state of Texas within the metropolitan area. The population of the CDP was 55,649 at the 2000 census—a 90 percent increase over its 1990 population. According to the 2010 census, The Woodlands' population rose...

, an unincorporated community in Montgomery County, Texas
Montgomery County, Texas
Montgomery County is a county located in the U.S. state of Texas within the Houston–Sugar Land–Baytown metropolitan area. The county was created by an act of the Congress of the Republic of Texas on December 14, 1837. The county was named for the town of Montgomery, Texas. In 2000, its...

. This community was developed from timberland located thirty miles north of Houston, by George P. Mitchell
George P. Mitchell
George Phydias Mitchell is an American businessman, real estate developer and philanthropist from Texas.-Biography:He was born to Greek immigrant parents in the port city of Galveston, Texas. Mitchell earned a degree from Texas A&M University with an emphasis in geology and petroleum engineering...

, who hired McHarg to consult on the project and, as a result, the original plans featured many of his unique designs. Due in part to concerns of flooding, McHarg identified the water system as the most critical aspect of the site. The natural drainage system the firm designed was successful at limiting the runoff with which McHarg was concerned, and was also much cheaper than a conventional drainage system would have been. In 1998, in his collection To Heal the Earth, McHarg wrote that the Woodlands is one of the best examples of his ideals. Most of the actual work was done by a large team while McHarg was still there, and by many others in the years since he left. The Woodlands continues to be a successful ecological community even today.

McHarg's own plans for urban expansion projects also were more 'English' than 'French' in their geometry. He favored what became known as 'cluster development' with relatively dense housing set in a larger natural environment.

In 1975 WMRT began the planning phase of a project for the Shah of Iran
Mohammad Reza Pahlavi
Mohammad Rezā Shāh Pahlavi, Shah of Iran, Shah of Persia , ruled Iran from 16 September 1941 until his overthrow by the Iranian Revolution on 11 February 1979...

, an environmental park to be called Pardisan
Pardisun park Pardisun park Pardisun park (also called Shahrak-e Gharb's Forest Park , is a multi-purpose complex covering more than 270 hectares located in north-west Tehran.This complex is primarily an educational, research and cultural...

, unlike any the world had ever seen. The park was to demonstrate the heritage of the Iranian people, as well as to illustrate the major ecosystems of the world. McHarg was enthusiastic about this project, and greatly invested in the work. The other partners of the firm, however, believed the project to be a significant risk, despite the fact that Iran was wealthy from the sale of oil. Their concerns became justified when the Shah was overthrown
Iranian Revolution
The Iranian Revolution refers to events involving the overthrow of Iran's monarchy under Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and its replacement with an Islamic republic under Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the leader of the...

 and the firm was left with a large amount of debt from the project. Pardisan was never constructed.


McHarg was the recipient of numerous awards, including the Harvard Lifetime Achievement Award, the Pioneer Award from the American Institute of Certified Planners, and 15 medals , including the 1990 National Medal of Arts
National Medal of Arts
The National Medal of Arts is an award and title created by the United States Congress in 1984, for the purpose of honoring artists and patrons of the arts. It is the highest honor conferred to an individual artist on behalf of the people. Honorees are selected by the National Endowment for the...

, the American Society of Landscape Architects Medal
American Society of Landscape Architects Medal
The American Society of Landscape Architects Medal is awarded by the American Society of Landscape Architects conferred "whose lifetime achievements and contributions to the profession have had a unique and lasting impact on the welfare of the public and the environment."The award is not limited to...

, and the Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medal in Architecture from the University of Virginia
University of Virginia
The University of Virginia is a public research university located in Charlottesville, Virginia, United States, founded by Thomas Jefferson...

. In 2000, he received the Japan Prize
Japan Prize
is awarded to people from all parts of the world whose "original and outstanding achievements in science and technology are recognized as having advanced the frontiers of knowledge and served the cause of peace and prosperity for mankind."- Explanation :...

 in city planning, which is presented to scientists or researchers who have made a substantial contribution to the advancement of those fields.


In 1980 McHarg left the firm he founded and the firm changed its name to Wallace Roberts & Todd
Wallace Roberts & Todd
Wallace Roberts & Todd, LLC is an urban planning, urban design, landscape architecture, and architecture firm based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania...

 (WRT). The legacy of McHarg remains evident in the firm's work, as WRT continues to be a leader in environmental planning and design both nationally and now internationally with a practice that comprises offices in Philadelphia, New York, Miami, Dallas, San Diego, and San Francisco.

In 1996, McHarg published his autobiography A Quest for Life. He was also instrumental in the founding of Earth Week, and participated on task forces on environmental issues for the Kennedy
John F. Kennedy
John Fitzgerald "Jack" Kennedy , often referred to by his initials JFK, was the 35th President of the United States, serving from 1961 until his assassination in 1963....

, Johnson, Nixon
Richard Nixon
Richard Milhous Nixon was the 37th President of the United States, serving from 1969 to 1974. The only president to resign the office, Nixon had previously served as a US representative and senator from California and as the 36th Vice President of the United States from 1953 to 1961 under...

, and Carter
Jimmy Carter
James Earl "Jimmy" Carter, Jr. is an American politician who served as the 39th President of the United States and was the recipient of the 2002 Nobel Peace Prize, the only U.S. President to have received the Prize after leaving office...


McHarg died on March 5, 2001 at the age of eighty from pulmonary disease.


  • To Heal the Earth: Selected Writings of Ian L. McHarg 1998 ISBN 1-55963-573-8
  • A Quest for Life: An Autobiography Ian L. McHarg 1996 ISBN 0-471-08628-2
  • Design with Nature Ian L. McHarg 1969 ISBN 0-471-11460-X
  • Ian McHarg: Dwelling in Nature: Conversations with Students 2007 ISBN 1-56898-620-3
  • The Essential Ian McHarg: Writings on Design and Nature Frederick Steiner 2006 ISBN 1-59726-117-3

See also

  • Garden real estate
    Garden real estate
    A category in the niche real estate market containing property with good gardens. The market can be sub-classified as follows:* Property with gardens by well-known Landscape designers. This is normally the work of designers whose work has been published in books and magazines...

  • History of gardening
    History of gardening
    The history of ornamental gardening may be considered as aesthetic expressions of beauty through art and nature, a display of taste or style in civilized life, an expression of an individual's or culture's philosophy, and sometimes as a display of private status or national pride—in private...

  • Landscape ecology
    Landscape ecology
    Landscape ecology is the science of studying and improving relationships between urban development and ecological processes in the environment and particular ecosystems...

  • Land Ethic
    Land ethic
    A Land Ethic is a philosophy that guides your actions when you utilize or make changes to the land. This specific term was first coined by Aldo Leopold in his book A Sand County Almanac . Within this work, he wrote that there is a need for a "new ethic", an "ethic dealing with man's relation to...

  • Loren Eiseley
    Loren Eiseley
    Loren Eiseley was an American anthropologist, educator, philosopher, and natural science writer, who taught and published books from the 1950s through the 1970s. During this period he received more than 36 honorary degrees and was a fellow of many distinguished professional societies...

  • Ecology
    Ecology is the scientific study of the relations that living organisms have with respect to each other and their natural environment. Variables of interest to ecologists include the composition, distribution, amount , number, and changing states of organisms within and among ecosystems...

External links