Thursday, August 7, 2008

Design with Nature / Ian McHarg -- NY: Wiley, 1969, 1994.

My introduction to Landscape Architecture, Design with Nature gives me a sense of the field as being where geology meets the built environment. McHarg’s “ecological planning method” identifies geological features such as slope, drainage, bedrock foundation, et al., for a given region and uses these factors to determine what type of development is appropriate for what land. Although the emphasis is on ecological factors, McHarg also recognizes historic value and leaves room for other social values to be considered in the process.

I found myself frustrated that the process does not address certain planning questions such as how to build communities that promote transit and non-motorized transportation. McHarg allayed these frustrations by repeatedly noting that the ecological method does not generate a plan, it simply lays the environmental basework; other goals can be addressed when the plan is made. Indeed, the method seems a far more sophisticated base than either sprawl or geometric concepts such as greenbelts, wedges, or even spider-web networks.

The book moves back and forth between chapters presenting broad ideas and concepts and chapters presenting case studies. Many of the case studies are set in the mid-Atlantic, with much information on Washington, DC, which I enjoyed. There is a lot of information in this book, and I found the broad chapters a bit heavy on ranting and the case studies sometimes too detailed. Nevertheless, between the rants and the geological inventories, this book is a real nugget of insight on how to think about the world we live in and our relationship to it.

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