Design With Nature Now launches at McHarg Center

Source: press release, 14 June 2019

illustration: The McHarg Center
illustration: The McHarg Center

The Ian L. McHarg Center for Urbanism and Ecology at the University of Pennsylvania Stuart Weitzman School of Design has launched Design With Nature Now, a multi-platform exploration of the legacy of visionary environmental planner and landscape architect Ian L. McHarg through the efforts of individuals and collectives to mitigate the effects of climate change and other 21st-century challenges through ecological design.

Design With Nature Now, echoing the title of McHarg’s 1969 book Design With Nature, takes visitors on a global tour of 25 ongoing or completed projects in 21 nations – from China to the United States, and from Columbia to New Zealand – to measure the political, environmental, and economic dimensions of landscape architecture as practiced today.

“The 21st century is marked by the fact that humanity has directly or indirectly modified every habitat on the planet, and much of it deleteriously so,” says Richard Weller, co-executive director of the McHarg Center, and professor and chair of the department of landscape architecture at Penn. “With the unintended consequences of global warming, species extinction, and resource depletion, it is now possible that our extraordinary success as a species could also become our demise.”

The projects include:

  • USA: Freshkills Park, New York, transforms the largest landfill in the world into a public open space with the goal of creating a viable ecology in a hostile location. Once completed, the park will enlarge the existing 3,000-acre Staten Island Greenbelt and connect it to the William T. David Wildlife Refuge, offering the community a full range of recreational activities.
  • The Netherlands: Conceived as a collection of 34 projects throughout the Netherlands, Room for the River sought to increase the capacity of the major Dutch rivers, and avoid the devastating flooding events that the nation faced in the 1950s and 1990s, and to create a more attractive river landscape.
  • China: The National Ecological Security Pattern Plan (NESP) consists of geospatial plans on a national scale to indicate where the “ecological security” of land should be prioritised. The Plan address issues such as water catchment protection, flood control, desertification, soil erosion, and biodiversity conservation. Commissioned by the Chinese Ministry of Environmental Protection and the Chinese Ministry of Cultural Protection, NESP is emblematic of China’s accelerating environmental ethos, one that’s positioned the country to surpass the US, Germany, and others on climate in the 21st century.
  • New Zealand: The country has suffered massive deforestation and huge loss of unique biodiversity; more than half of its farming landscape is damaged and deteriorating and requires regenerative action. The Western Waiheke project is a composite of five master plans for individual private land owners that uses McHargian land suitability analysis to identify and map areas of land that have critical sensitivity, including steep, unstable slopes; river, stream and coastal riparian margins; wetlands; remnant and regenerating indigenous bush areas and patches; and cultural features.

In addition to the titular exhibition (June 21–September 15 at Meyerson Hall, 210 South 34 Street, Philadelphia), Design With Nature Now consists of an archival and artist-led exhibition, a two-day conference, a series of lectures and tours, a documentary video and a website.

Design With Nature Now marks the official launch of the Ian L. McHarg Center for Urbanism and Ecology, an interdisciplinary think tank at Penn that brings environmental and social scientists together with planners, designers, policy-makers, and communities to develop practical, innovative ways of improving the quality of life in the places most vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

“The McHarg Center extends the scholarship and ideas that Ian presented to the world,” says Frederick Steiner, co-executive director of the McHarg Center, and dean and Paley Professor at the Weitzman School of Design at Penn. “His ideas and contributions to landscape architecture are critical for protecting our planet and way of life from the effects of climate change and urbanisation.”

All events are open to the public, and the venues are located on the plaza between Meyerson Hall and Fisher Fine Arts Library at the northeast corner of Penn’s campus. Gallery hours are Monday – Saturday, 10:00 am – 5:00 pm and Wednesday 12:00 noon – 8:00 pm.

To learn more about the McHarg Center or register for the Design With Nature Now conference, visit