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L. McHarg, the charismatic founder and emeritus professor of landscape
architecture and regional planning at Penn, and the author of such books
as Design with Nature and To Heal
the Earth, died March 5 of pulmonary disease. He was 80 years old.
began his teaching career at Penn in 1954, and was world-renowned for
his philosophy of incorporating environmental concerns into designs. In
his 1996 autobiography, A Quest for Life, McHarg noted that the
most powerful act I initiated was to offer a new course in the fall of
1957 entitled Man and Environment, which was taken by perhaps three
or four thousand students and led to the CBS television series The
House We Live In as well as, ultimately, Design with Nature.
Among his most important projects were the 1962 Plan for the Valleys in
Baltimore County, Md.; the Inner Harbor in Baltimore; and The Woodlands
are some of the remarks delivered by James Corner, chair and associate
professor of landscape architecture and regional planning, at the memorial
service in London Grove, Pa., not far from McHargs home.
McHarg was one of the great cultural figures in 20th-century planning
and design. What was it about the man that made him so great, so memorable?
Certainly his youth spent in the depressed areas near industrial, poverty-stricken
Glasgow, on the one side, and the Celtic, rural countryside of the Firth
Valley and the Western Highlands, on the other, left a strongly formative
impression upon the young McHarg. As too did his term in the British Parachute
Brigade, serving in war-stricken Italy during World War II, again exposing
him to the polar opposites of horror and war on the one side and beauty,
peace, and grace in the Mediterranean villages and bays on the other.
Soon after, of course, he earned his professional degrees in both landscape
architecture and city planning from Harvard, and then returned to Scotland
with wife and child to then suffer horribly from pulmonary tuberculosis.
Here again, he escaped the acrid gloom of the Scottish hospital to which
he was originally confined, and to which he almost had to undergo life-debilitating
surgery, to find solace and recovery in a Swiss Alpine hospiceanother
experience of almost transcendental dimension for him. These early experiences
conditioned in the young McHarg an absolute will and determination to
bring the benevolent, spiritual, and life-giving forces of nature into
cities and metropolitan regions, where of course most people actually
live. He did not turn away from the City or from Cultureas many environmentalists
continue to dobut rather sought a new union between Man and Nature, a
new union that would be forged through design with nature.
of course, his work is legendary his teaching and leadership at Penn,
his developing of a unique and world-changing curriculum and method that
fully transformed the fields of landscape architecture and planning, and
of course his writing of Design with Natureperhaps singly the
most seminal and important book in our field of the 20th century. He painted
an incredibly rich and exuberant picture of the organic world and the
various forms of life it continues to body forth, and from this he conjured
up the vision for a more wholesome and productive world metropolis.
brilliance was recognized world-wide, and he went on to be rewarded with
the Harvard Lifetime Achievement Award, the National Medal of Art, the
Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medal in Architecture, and 12 other international
medals and awards, including the very prestigious Japan Prize in City
and Regional Planning.
throughout all this time, was not the opposition of violence and decay
on the one hand, and benevolence and life on the other still persistent
in the man himself? For these two polarities conditioned not only his
determination and mission but also his very character. McHarg was no soft,
gentle, tree-hugging environmentalist he was tough, resilient, cunning,
strong, outspoken, argumentative. In this sense, he was urban, political,
savvy, and intellectual. But at the same time, he was perhaps the most
generous, gracious, caring man I ever knew. Inside, he was a soft, poetic
soula wonderful conversationalist and friend, at once both indestructible
will miss his presence in the world, his big lanky body, that unforgettable
face, itself a rich topography of depth and insight, his quick mind and
humor-filled wit, his gracious charm and originality, his constant activity
and boundless zeal for life. But when I think of him now, I am reminded
how nothing silenced him to the point of reverent awe other than the image
(and the science) of the two extreme scales of life the cellular, microscopic
scale of organic growth and adaptation, and the cosmic scale of Planet
Earth spinning in an endless galaxy. I feel that from his new vantage
point in heaven, he will be silently smiling, gazing upon the marvels
of life, marvels no longer seen from the perspective of an ever-anthropocentric
textbook, but now from the spirit-matter of the cosmos itself
will miss you, Ian McHarg.
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