The Garden Guide

McHarg, Ian

Born - Died : 1920 - 2001

Scots-American landscape architect. The son of a minister, Ian McHarg was born near Glasgow and advised to consider a career in landscape architecture because he enjoyed both drawing and walking. After a wartime career with the Royal Engineers Ian McHarg studied at Harvard University and started the landscape architecture programme at the University of Pensylvania. His 1969 book Design with Nature was the most celebrated landscape architecture book of the twentieth century. It makes the case for an ecological approach to planning and design. Nothing in the book is more brilliant than its title. McHarg gave a new dimension to the historical goal of 'imitating nature' (mimesis). He was concerned both with the practicalities of 'design with nature' (as first set forth in Book 1 of Vitruvius) and with the aesthetic results of a naturalist approach to landscape and garden design. The latter concern led him to favour a Brownian aesthetic and to despise what he saw as the baroque attempt to impose man's will upon nature.

Two good stories from Chapter 1 of Design with nature encapsulate McHarg's approach to landscape and environmental design and planning:

"Man, far out in space, looks back to the distant earth, a celestial orb, blue-green oceans, green of verdant land, a celestial fruit. Examination discloses blemishes on the fruit, dispersed circles from which extend dynamic tentacles. The man concludes that these cankers are the works of man and asks, 'Is man by a planetary disease?'"

"The nuclear cataclysm is over. The earth is covered with gray dust. In the vast silence no life exists, save for a little colony of algae hidden deep in a leaden cleft long inured to radiation. The algae perceive their isolation; they reflect upon the strivings of all life, so recently ended, and on the strenuous task of evolution to be begun anew. Out of their reflection could emerge a firm conclusion: 'Next time, no brains'."