Leading Landscape Architect, Ian Mcharg, Dies At 80

Author of Design With Nature established Landscape Architecture Dept. at University of Pennsylvania


Ian McHarg, FASLA, whose 1969 book, Design With Nature, placed landscape architects at the center of the emerging environmental movement, died of pulmonary disease in Chester Country, Penn., on March 5. He was 80 years old.

A professor of landscape architecture at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, McHarg was elected a Fellow of the American Society of Landscape Architects in 1972. He was awarded ASLA's highest honor, the ASLA Medal, in 1984, and the LaGasse Medal in 1988. Throughout his career, McHarg remained active in ASLA's leadership and greatly contributed to the Society's mission and work.

Born in Clydebank, Scotland, ten miles outside of Glasgow, Prof. McHarg believed childhood exposure to both the harsh industrial city and the beautiful countryside encouraged him to turn toward nature. At 16, he was apprenticed to the landscape architect, Donald Wintersgill, and began attending the Glasgow College of Art. World War II interrupted his studies. An early volunteer in the British Army, McHarg served in North Africa and Italy and ended his service (1939-1946) with the rank of major.

The British version of the G.I. Bill brought McHarg to Harvard in 1950 where he earned an undergraduate degree in landscape architecture, followed by an MLA, and a master's degree in city planning. In 1954, McHarg was invited to create a department of landscape architecture at the University of Pennsylvania. Under his direction, the department at Penn became one of the most interdisciplinary programs in the country.

By the early 1960s, McHarg was bringing his holistic approach to the public by producing and hosting the television series "The House We Live In." For a year, the series engaged intellectuals, including Lewis Mumford, Margaret Mead, and Harlow Shapley, in televised discussion of the relationship between humans and their environment. In 1969, he wrote and produced the PBS documentary "Multiply and Subdue the Earth."

McHarg's success, as an academic, a television personality, and later, as an environmental advocate, was built not only upon his landscape architectural talents and training, but also on his extraordinary abilities as a writer and speaker. Published well into an already successful career, Design With Nature became a classic in geology and ecology as well as a seminal work in the field of landscape architecture.

Design With Nature discusses the effects of what we now called sprawl and advocates a means of sustainable development. "McHarg's Method" consists of a thorough and multidisciplinary analysis of a region's ecological sensitivity. The method gages a site's suitability for different types of development and use. Today, McHarg's approach forms the basis of many complex analyses and reports performed with Geographic Information Systems (GIS).

Practical as well as polemical, McHarg offered solutions to environmental problems and quality of life issues. Perhaps even more importantly, his skills as a writer and raconteur enabled him to carry out this task in an engaging manner. Thirty years after its initial run of 5,000 copies, Design With Nature remains in print and continues to be required reading in ecology, geology, and landscape architecture courses. Its impact on the environmental movement has been compared with that of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring.

McHarg's work as a writer, educator and as a founding member of the firm, Wallace, McHarg Roberts & Todd brought him high profile projects and captured many awards. He served as a consultant to the governments of Korea, Taiwan, and Japan, and was engaged to perform planning and environmental studies for public and private sector organizations around the world. His honors and awards are far too numerous to list here. In addition to his ASLA awards, in 1990 President Bush awarded him the National Medal of Art. Just last year, McHarg traveled to Japan to receive the Japan Prize in City Planning.

In the centennial issue of Landscape Architecture, McHarg was cited again and again as one of the most influential landscape architects of the 20th century. The late Garret Eckbo, FASLA, praised McHarg's "genteel politicizing and whole thinking" as a "powerful balance to corporate world economic thinking and acting." Edward Stone, FASLA, noted that McHarg "gave a lot of people that didn't have the tools a basic approach to environmental design."

Ian McHarg is survived by his second wife, Carol Smyser McHarg, and his sons Alistair Craig, Malcolm Lennox, Ian William, and Andrew Maxwell. His first wife, Pauline Crena deIongh, died died in 1974.


Karen T. Grajales
Manager, Public Relations 
tel: 1-202-216-2371