World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Ian McHarg

Ian McHarg
Born (1920-11-20)20 November 1920
Clydebank, Scotland
Died 5 March 2001(2001-03-05) (aged 80)
Nationality Scottish
Alma mater Harvard University
Occupation Architect
Awards Japan Prize (2000)

Ian L. McHarg (20 November 1920 – 5 March 2001) was a Scottish landscape architect and a renowned writer on regional planning using natural systems. He was the founder of the department of landscape architecture at the University of Pennsylvania 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.


  • Biography 1
    • Formative years 1.1
    • Design with Nature 1.2
    • Later career 1.3
  • Awards 2
  • Legacy 3
  • Books 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7


Formative years

His father was a local minister in the industrial city of Glasgow, Scotland. 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, however, that he was able to explore the field of urban landscape architecture. After working with the Royal Engineers during World War II, he travelled to America. He was admitted to the school of architecture at Harvard University's Graduate School of Design where he received professional degrees in both landscape architecture 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", 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.[1]

Soon thereafter, McHarg began teaching at the University of Pennsylvania, where he developed the department of landscape architecture, and developed a popular new course, titled Man and Environment in 1957.[2] 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, 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, 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 and urbanism movements. The seminal work of the firm includes the plan for Baltimore's Inner Harbor, the Plan for the Valleys in Baltimore County, MD, and the Plan for Lower Manhattan in New York City 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,[1] 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".[3] The book also had an impact on a variety of fields and ideas. Frederick R. 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".[1]

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 and Sanibel Islands 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." [4] 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

  • Biography from Center for Spatially Integrated Social Science John Corbett 2005
  • Obituary at Pennsylvania Gazette
  • Book review of Design with Nature from Ecotecture Philip Wenz 2003
  • The Woodlands-The Second Look by Ann Forsyth
  • History of Wallace McHarg Roberts & Todd
  • American Society of Landscape Architects

External links

  1. ^ a b c Steiner, Frederick. "Healing the earth: the relevance of Ian McHarg's work for the future." Philosophy & Geography Feb. 2004: 141+. Academic Search Complete
  2. ^ Ian McHarg, A quest for life: an autobiography, John Wiley and Sons, 1996 pp.157–8.
  3. ^ a b Schnadelbach, R. Terry, et al. "Ian McHarg 1920–." Fifty Key Thinkers on the Environment (7 Dec 2000): 228–241. Environment Complete
  4. ^ McHarg, I (1971). Man, Planetary Disease. Vital Speeches of the Day (October). p. 634-640.
  5. ^ Forsyth, Ann. "Ian McHarg's Woodlands: A Second Look." Planning 69.8 (Aug. 2003): 10–13. Environment Complete.
  6. ^
  7. ^ a b c University Of Pennsylvania Prof. Ian McHarg Dies, Penn News, 6 March 2001. Retrieved 26 April 2009.
  8. ^ Lifetime Honors – National Medal of Arts
  9. ^
  10. ^ "Death: Ian McHarg of Landscape Architecture & Regional Planning – Almanac Between Issues 3/8/01". 8 March 2001. Retrieved 15 August 2012. 


See also

  • 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


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

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, Johnson, Nixon, and Carter administrations[10]

In 1980 McHarg left the firm he founded and the firm changed its name to Wallace Roberts & Todd (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.


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,[7] including the 1990 National Medal of Arts,[8] the American Society of Landscape Architects Medal, and the Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medal in Architecture from the University of Virginia.[7] In 1992, he received the Neutra Medal for Professional Excellence from the California State Polytechnic University, Pomona.[9] In 2000, he received the Japan Prize in city planning, which is presented to scientists or researchers who have made a substantial contribution to the advancement of those fields.[7]


In 1975 WMRT began the planning phase of a project for the Shah of Iran, an environmental park to be called Pardisan, unlike any the world had ever seen.[3] 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 and the firm was left with a large amount of debt from the project. Located at north west of Tehran, Pardisan was later constructed after the Islamic Revolution. [6]

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


This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from Hawaii eBook Library are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.