Neglected works of Scottish 'eco architect' celebrated

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A visionary Scottish landscape architect is being celebrated at a special exhibition and workshop in Edinburgh this month.

Clydebank-born Ian McHarg, who died in 2001 at the age of 80, pioneered the concept of creating man-made spaces that work in sympathy with the environment.

Clydebank-born Ian McHarg became something of a television personality in the US, hosting a weekly chat show. Picture: Architectural Archives of University of Pennsylvania

Clydebank-born Ian McHarg became something of a television personality in the US, hosting a weekly chat show. Picture: Architectural Archives of University of Pennsylvania

The event is being staged to mark 50 years since the publication of his landmark book about ecological design, which revolutionised how designers and planners think about the landscape.

Design with Nature was published in 1969, but remains one of the best-selling books ever written by a designer.

The ideas and concepts McHarg developed are still being used today to benefit people and the planet.

With climate change widely acknowledged as the greatest challenge ever to face mankind, his legacy matters now more than ever.

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Rachel Tennant, chair of the Landscape Institute Scotland, said: “Ian McHarg understood that the way we live and treat our environment could have massive impacts – already seen in the dust bowls of the southern plains of the USA during the 1930s.

“His principles were about environmental awareness on a large scale – an understanding of the land, its interface with oceans, its hydrology, drainage patterns, geology, ecology, soils, terrain, climate and, of course, human impact.

“These principles, embedded and integral to decision-making at all levels and in all relevant areas of action, sit at the heart of tackling climate change now.”

Turning to nature

Growing up on the banks of the Clyde in the 1920s, his childhood exposure to both the heavily industrialised city and the beautiful countryside encouraged him to turn towards nature and sparked an early interest in landscape design.

After fighting in the Second World War he travelled to the US, going on to study landscape architecture and city planning at Harvard.

Following a brief spell back in Scotland, where he became involved in post-war reconstruction and taught at both the University of Glasgow and the University of Edinburgh, he took up a role at the University of Pennsylvania. He also became something of a TV personality in the US, hosting a weekly chat show.

But despite all this, McHarg is far from a household name in the country of his birth.

Ms Tennant added: “McHarg’s influence is well known in his adopted homeland of America, due to his tireless efforts at the University of Pennsylvania and his TV series The House We

Live In, which brought his ideas to the wider population. Unfortunately his legacy is less well known back in Scotland.”

The exhibition, organised by the Landscape Institute Scotland, runs from 21 to 25 October in the Sculpture Court at Edinburgh College of Art.