Ian McHarg bigraphy, stories - Scottish landscape architect

Ian McHarg : biography

November 20, 1920 - March 5, 2001

Ian L. McHarg (November 20, 1920 - March 5, 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.


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.

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

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


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.Steiner, Frederick. "Healing the earth: the relevance of Ian McHarg's work for the future." Philosophy & Geography Feb. 2004: 141+. Academic Search Complete

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.Ian McHarg, A quest for life: an autobiography, John Wiley and Sons, 1996 pp.157-8. 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, and he was often invited to speak on campuses throughout the country.

Living octopus

Living octopus

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