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Born: 11/20/1920, Died: 3/5/2001

Ian L. McHarg, born in Clydebank, Scotland in 1920, was the founder and chairman of the department of Landscape Architecture at the University of Pennsylvania, pioneer of ecological planning, author of Design With Nature and co-founder of the firm Wallace, McHarg, Roberts and Todd. He served in World War Two as a paratrooper and demobilized at the rank of major in the British military. He received his professional education from Harvard University, earning a Master in Landscape Architecture in 1950 and a Master of City Planning in 1951.

McHarg was brought to the University of Pennsylvania by G. Holmes Perkins to re-establish the Department of Landscape Architecture in 1954. His ecological approach based upon the "layer cake method" of mapping revolutionized the field of landscape architecture both at the University of Pennsylvania and across the United States. McHarg's influence can also be seen in the development of geographic information systems, which utilize the same layer cake method developed in his teaching. He was a key proponent of a world ecological inventory to integrate data sets already present in organizations around the world to produce a world ecological model. His groundbreaking book Design With Nature disseminated his concept of ecological planning to an international audience making his ideas the foundation for many landscape architecture programs across the United States and beyond.

McHarg chaired the Department of Landscape Architecture at the University of Pennsylvania from its founding until his retirement in 1986, and continued to teach as emeritus professor until 1999. Beginning in 1959, he developed a revolutionary course,Man and the Environment, which employed interdisciplinary research to obtain a better understanding of the human relationship to the natural world. For this course McHarg invited experts from a variety of different fields to lecture to his students on (in his words) "scientific conceptions of matter, life and man; the views of God, man, and nature in the major philosophies and religions, and, last, an examination of the interaction of man and nature, mainly ecological." He continued to teach this course to succeeding generations of students during the following decades. He also adapted the course lecture format into the television interview series The House We Live In, focusing on the "evolution of matter, life and man." McHarg conducted interviews with specialists in a wide variety of fields, some of whom were important figures in 20th century thought. The series, originally broadcast on CBS in the early 1960s, was later rebroadcast on PBS.

McHarg and his Harvard classmate David Wallace founded the design firm Wallace-McHarg Associates in 1962, commissioned by the Green Spring and Worthington Valley Planning Council to address the threat to the valleys by urban expansion of metropolitan Baltimore. Renamed Wallace, McHarg, Roberts and Todd in 1965, this design firm led the fields of city planning, urban design and landscape architecture during the 1970s by approaching design from an ecological perspective. McHarg established his own practice after his resignation from the firm in 1979.

McHarg was honored with numerous awards and medals, including the Harvard Lifetime Achievement Award, the National Medal of Art, the Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medal in Architecture and the Pioneer Award from the American Institute of Certified Planners. In April 2000, he received the Japan Prize in city planning. Ian McHarg died on March 5, 2001, at the age of 80.

Written by Michael Shoriak.

Clubs and Membership Organizations

  • American Society of Landscape Architects
  • National Academy of Sciences
  • Institute of Landscape Architects (U.K.)

School Affiliations

  • University of Pennsylvania
  • Harvard University

Links to Other Resources


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