The Essential Ian McHarg | Literature Review

Synopsis (Kowlgwel)

Rapich, Dietmar. Braunton (Devon, UK), St Brannock’s Church — 2013 — 1557. Wikipedia. 2013. CC BY-SA 4.0. Changes include resizing, blurring background, reduplication.

This is simply a compilation of essays written by Ian McHarg. They are addressed towards powerful people and institutions.

Ian Lennox McHarg (1920-2001)

He is an ecologist who served in important positions, such as the 1966 White House Commission on Conservation and Natural Beauty. He studied landscape architecture at the University of Pennsylvania, then studied at Harvard University.

Historical Context (Kettesten Hwedheldusek)

Ian McHarg frames his essays so as to address the main issue of his time, which was the “post-atomic man.” The threat of a nuclear apocalypse was omnipresent during this time, and McHarg tries to make sure that people reckon with the fact that they have a responsibility to take care of the Earth.

In McHarg’s time, the greatest threat to human civilization was a nuclear apocalypse, since it was during the Cold War when he wrote these essays. He does not mention climate change, since it was not an issue at that time, though McHarg did write about the harms of pollution.

Of course, as expected of the 20th century, the opinions McHarg has of the indigenous populations are quite retrogressive. He mentioned, for instance, how the roles the indigenous populations of Australia and Tierra del Fuego were comparable to the primate. It is easy to take such opinions out of context, though it is important to keep in mind that such opinions would have been more permissible in those times than they are now.

Themes (Themow)

A major theme in McHarg’s philosophy is the relationship between humans and nature. Originally, it was thought that humans were submission to nature, but then industry, deforestation, and nuclear power made sure that humans were at the center of nature–and that they could easily destroy it. McHarg emphasized that humans are not that different from plants and animals, since they are in a network of interdependence with nature. Like the rest of the biosphere, humans have their own niche habitats which are only habitable when it is sustainable and re-usable.

What I found interesting was the idea, presented originally by Aldo Leopold, that this connection is the reason why morality exists. If the environment does not allow it, then it is incumbent upon people to not engage in bad acts. This is a reflection of how the niche operates as intended in order for survival to continue.

Of course, humans do have the tendency to play God over nature, due to the Western philosophical belief that man was separate from nature. This enabled the creation of gardens, but also enabled the belief that nature can be controlled, which is obviously not the case.

The major forces behind man’s destruction of nature includes fire, city-building, agriculture, deforestation, and nuclear energy. None of these activities have improved the quality of nature. On the contrary, they have resulted in rampant mental and physical illness and the heat island effect in cities.

He gets into depth about the damages done by the cities and the subsequent suburbs that surround them. He does tend to romanticize the farmland in a bit of a biased way. Of course, I remember learning in my Interdisciplinary Studies requirement course about how cities actually use much less ecological inventory than expected; for example, because the population lives and works in close quarters, it means less transportation and heating is used; which means less energy is used.

He looks to other animals as an insight into how they adapt to the environment around them. The nautilus has chambers on its body and the bees have beehives. These habitats are not deficient upon the environment, rather they are complementary. The animals and humans both share the same goal of adapting to their own surroundings. McHarg suggests that the human evolutionary pattern would involve planning, such as surveying the land and allowing any open spaces to be eco-friendly.

McHarg emphasizes the importance of water, whether it comes from rain or the ocean. He wanted to ensure that there was no long-term wasted money, used to fix flooded cities. He emphasized the importance of piedmonts, aquifers, and marshlands. The water trickles down from the ground and it is ideal to ensure that the water stays in the cycle of perspiration.

Intertextuality (Tredh-Srifekyans)

I did find it interesting how McHarg noted how humanity created a paradox in which the innovations have increased human wealth, productivity, and morality; but also at the cost of retrogressing the environment. This can easily be seen with Yuval Noah Harari when he wrote about how there are numerous such paradoxes within the human condition.

Writing Style (Gis Skrifedh)

McHarg takes full advantage of a cataloging sentence, by making use of extravagant detail before ending with an “and” predicate. Among those details are the chemicals that humans are responsible for which have polluted the areas within and outside the cityscape.

He uses frequent words such as amelioration. In which case, he refers to the land healing itself. He even explicitly states that a forest is self-healing, however it is humans who do colossal damage.

Real-World Application (Omrians Vys-Wir)

These essays were written half a century ago, so the information might be dated, though I found reading these essays to be important in understanding how ecology and pollution were talked about before climate change became a concern. I initially took the initiative to read the inspirations behind Ken Yeang’s ecomimetic architectural style, and Ian McHarg was listed among them.

Ultimately, the point of ecodesign is to ensure that man does not rule over nature, but rules with nature. It is clear with the advent of pollution and climate change that nature cannot be controlled, rather nature is everywhere and within us.

The main point of the essays is addressed in the middle of the book, in which McHarg notes that to evolve means to seek and solve problems. He further states that ecological planning is future-based and that it involves the interdisciplinary venture involving geology, meteorology, biology, ecology, hydrology, and limnology. A method that McHarg suggested is the layer-cake method of studying the landscape prior to any development on it, from the bedrock to the plants and climate.

Inspiration To Ken Yeang (Awen Dhodho Ken Yeang)

In the introduction to Ken Yeang’s portfolio of his works, the author made note of the inspirations behind Yeang’s ecomimetic architecture. One of them is Ian McHarg. It is understandable how much inspiration McHarg had on Yeang when he was in university.

Considering the ways in which Yeang’s skyscrapers were designed, it can be directly linked to the layer-cake method. Since he was originally from Malaysia, then the buildings that he designed in those particular areas of the country had to do with adapting the buildings in such a way as to cooperate with the tropical climate. This is important to McHarg because he argued that humans be able to utilize their environment as their niche, rather than try to change it in any way.

Recommend This To… (Komendysen Ma Dhe…)

  • Anyone interested in the environment, more specifically when it comes to planning and with the future long-term plans that it entails. The jargon might be intimidating, but be assured that McHarg leaves no room for mistakes in his writing.

Relevance To Cornish Identity (Bri Dhedhi Honanieth Gernowek)

JeremyA. “High Street, Mineral Point, Wisconsin.” Wikipedia. 2010. CC BY-SA 3.0.

McHarg mentions how Americans tend to work in an occupation–such as lumbering, fishing, farming, and mining–within the same ethnicity. This may reflect off the reality that Cornish immigrants tend to work in mines, and live in mining towns. The most well-known Cornish town in America is Mineral Point, Wisconsin, which was, as the name suggests, was a place where minerals were mined.

Sources (Pednfentydnyow)

  • Harari, Juval Noah. “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind.” 1st Edition. Harper-Perennial. 2018.
  • Hart, Sarah. “Ecoarchitecture: The Work of Ken Yeang.” 1st Edition. John Wiley & Sons. 2011.
  • “The Essential Ian McHarg: Writings on Design and Nature.” Edited by Frederick R. Steiner. Island Press. 2013.

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