The idea that the Earth is alive is at the outer bounds of scientific credibility. I started to think and then to write about it in my early fifties. I was just old enough to be radical without the taint of senile deliquency.1
It is an idea that has absorbed James Lovelock for more than thirty years, the idea that is encapsulated in the name 'Gaia'. The name itself was suggested by the novelist William Golding, a friend and at one time a neighbour, in the course of one of the long walks the two men used to take together in the Wiltshire countryside. In Greek mythology Gaia, or Ge, was the Earth. She sprang from Chaos and gave birth to Uranos, the
Heavens, and Pontus, the Sea. She was not a goddess. She preceded the gods and goddesses and provided the context, the environment if you will, in which the gods could exist. Her name lives on in those words in our language that begin with 'ge-'—ge-ography, ge-ology, ge-odesy, geometry, and all the rest. The image is powerful and Lovelock's Gaia hypothesis is conceived on an appropriately grand scale.
James Ephraim Lovelock was born on 26 July 1919 in Letchworth Garden City, Hertfordshire. His father was a keen gardener with a highly developed moral awareness that owed little to formal religious belief, but appears to have been based on a mixture of folk Christianity and traditions and superstitions that used to be widespread in rural Britain. He communicated his love of the countryside to his son and, with it, an enthusiasm for walking. Later, James became a keen hill walker, and in 1999 he and his wife celebrated his eightieth birthday by walking along the Cornwall Coast Path. This runs along the tops of high sea cliffs, then plunges down narrow, steep-sided valleys only to climb again on the far side. It is strenuous walking for anyone.
When he left school, James Lovelock worked in a laboratory, studying chemistry in the evenings but by day learning the practical laboratory techniques that were to serve him well in later years. Eventually he left to become a full-time student at Manchester University, graduating in chemistry in 1941.
It was wartime and the young graduate was absorbed into the national effort, going to work for the Medical Research Council at the National Institute for Medical Research, in London. At the end of the war, in 1946, he went to work at the Common Cold Research Unit, in Wiltshire. There, he and his colleagues found that the search for a cure for colds was fruitless, but they were able to design ways to prevent their transmission. He remained at the Unit until 1951.
He received his Ph.D. in 1948, from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. This degree was in medicine. He received the degree of D.Sc. in biophysics in 1959, from the University of London.
His path lay ahead of him, clearly defined. He could have remained a scientist employed by the Civil Service. Year by year his salary would have increased, his standard of living would have been fairly high, and eventually he would have retired with an index-linked pension that would have kept him in reasonable comfort. It was not enough. James wanted more. He once told me that his enthusiasm for science arose from the opportunities it provides for finding answers to questions. It can deliver intellectual freedom, however, only to those who are able to frame the questions for themselves. As a Government scientist his researches would necessarily have been directed towards the resolution of matters of public interest. His imagination would have been constrained.
Still an employee of the National Institute for Medical Research, in 1954 he was awarded a Rockefeller Travelling Fellowship in Medicine. He spent it at Harvard University Medical School, in Boston, and in 1958 spent a year working at Yale as a visiting scientist. He resigned from the National Institute in 1961 in order to take up an appointment as Professor of Chemistry at Baylor University College of Medicine, in Houston, Texas.
His particular skill had always been intensely practical. He had a talent for constructing instruments that would measure with a fine sensitivity whatever anyone wished to measure. A time came when it seemed that this skill might provide him with a means of earning a living while leaving him sufficient free time to pursue his own interests—to find answers to his own questions. So, in 1964, he became a freelance research scientist. He holds more than 50 patents, most of them for instruments used in chemical analysis.
Many of these instruments have developed and refined the technique of gas chromatography. In this, the substance to be analysed is vaporized, and the vapour is mixed with a gas and then introduced into a stationary column filled with a finely powdered solid or liquid. Different components of the specimen react with the column at different rates. This separates them in a way that allows them to be identified—originally by their colour, hence the name of the technique.
In 1957 Lovelock invented the electron capture detector. This is still one of the most sensitive of all detectors. It revealed the presence of residues of organochlorine insecticides such as DDT throughout the natural environment, a discovery that contributed to the emergence of the popular environmental movement in the late 1960s. Later it registered the presence of minute concentrations of CFCs (chlorofluorocarbon compounds) in the atmosphere.
In the early 1960s, while living in Texas, James was a consultant at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) of the California Institute of Technology, in Pasadena. At the invitation of NASA he had already helped with some of the instruments used to analyse lunar soil and he was then asked to advise on various aspects of instrument design for the team of scientists planning the two Viking expeditions to Mars. Instruments can help in finding answers to questions, but before a new instrument can be devised the question must be framed clearly. Asking the right question is often more difficult than finding the answer to it.
James was not directly involved with the question that has always been central to all Martian exploration: Is there, or has there ever been, life on Mars? Nevertheless, as he contemplated the ways in which the team proposed to seek answers, he found himself driven to ask more fundamental questions. The Viking experiments were based on the assumption that Martian biology would resemble that of the only living organisms of which we have any knowledge at all—the ones on Earth. But to James Lovelock this seemed to be a huge assumption with nothing to justify it. 'How can we be sure that the Martian way of life.. .will reveal itself to tests based on Earth's life style?' 'What is life, and how should it be recognized?'2
When his colleagues at JPL asked how he would set about finding answers, the only thought he could offer was that living organisms must, in one way or another, increase the amount of order in the world around them. It was not much help, but the idea seeded itself in his brain.
No matter what its composition or biochemical pathways might be, any living organism must take certain chemical substances from its surroundings and use them to build and repair its own tissues. This will generate waste products that the organism will dispose of into its surroundings. Eventually this metabolic process will alter the composition of its surroundings, increasing the abundance of certain substances and depleting it of others. In this way the organism will modify its own environment, giving it a chemical composition markedly different from the one it would have if it were allowed to reach a state of chemical equilibrium.
That difference, James maintained, should be detectable, and he and Dian Hitchcock, a philosopher employed to assess the logical consistency of NASA experiments, decided the place to seek it was in the atmosphere. The atmosphere has a much smaller mass than the solid or liquid components of a planet, and so perturbations to its composition would be more easily detectable. Also, the atmosphere is more easily accessible to investigators on another planet or in space.
When the atmosphere of Earth is compared with those of Mars and Venus the chemical disequilibrium of our atmosphere becomes immediately evident. It contains both methane and oxygen, for example. These react naturally to yield carbon dioxide and water, so some process must constantly replenish the methane, and at the pressure and temperature prevailing on Earth, it is only biological reactions that are capable of releasing methane. Were some process not releasing gaseous nitrogen, Earth's atmosphere would have lost any it had billions of years ago, as it was oxidized by lightning to stable oxides that are soluble in water and were washed to the surface by rain. In fact, nitrogen is released by denitrifying bacteria. Both other planets, in contrast, have atmospheres that are in chemical equilibrium.
The atmospheres of Mars and Venus consist mainly of carbon dioxide. Our atmosphere contains very little of this gas (about 3.5 per cent by volume). This has not always been the case. At one time our atmosphere contained much more carbon dioxide. It has reacted to produce carbonates and now forms the chalks and limestones that are among the commonest of sedimentary rocks. James calculated that carbon has been removed from the atmosphere by this means at a rate far faster than could have been achieved by simple, inorganic chemical reactions. Living organisms played a major part, principally by building seashells from calcium carbonate, and carbonate rocks are predominantly of biological origin.
Since the time when the earliest organisms are believed to have appeared on Earth, the Sun has increased its output of energy by about 30 per cent. Carbon dioxide is a so-called 'greenhouse gas' and James concluded that a consequence of its progressive removal from the atmosphere was that the surface temperature remained fairly constant. It was removed by organisms and its removal maintained the climate most favourable to them. In other words, living organisms were regulating the global climate.
With this realization the basis was established of what was to grow into the Gaia hypothesis. It grew as James became increasingly persuaded of the extent to which biological regulation pervades the environment. In 1979, in his first book on the subject, he defined Gaia as 'a complex entity involving the Earth's biosphere, atmosphere, oceans, and soil; the totality constituting a feedback or cybernetic system which seeks an optimal physical and chemical environment for life on this planet'.3 From this the concept developed of the Earth itself as a single, discrete, living organism, equipped with biological mechanisms for maintaining its overall homoeostasis.
The search then intensified for evidence to test the thesis. In 1987 it was established that cloud formation over the oceans is initiated by particles released by single-celled marine algae.4 The suggestion of long-term climate regulation was confirmed in 1989.5 Other predictions arising from Gaian theory have also been confirmed, and the status of the idea has advanced from hypothesis to theory.
Its reception has been mixed. Environmentalists, especially those of a more mystical bent, have embraced it enthusiastically, cheerfully overlooking some of its implications. Gaia, if it (she?) exists, has no great concern for the fate of organisms more complex than microorganisms. She would remain unmoved by the extinction of elephants, whales, tigers or humans. This is in keeping with her mythical origin, of course. The Greek Gaia was destroyer as well as creator: she buried people.
At this point the name became a handicap. It had never been meant as more than a metaphor and a preferable alternative to some ungainly acronym, but it was proving too evocative and what James intended as a rigorous scientific proposal began to look like sentimentalism. As one critic expressed it:
The conflict between accepting what science teaches us and what the human heart would like to believe is well illustrated by James Lovelock's Gaia concept. It is a lovely thought, a tempting one too, because it is a form of religion and the human soul requires the comfort of a guided universe; it needs religion. Alas, it is also unnecessary, because the world as it was, has evolved, and now exists, is not explicable. It is merely very complex, and life plays a role in it, but not the main one.6
Some scientists warmed to the idea, however. In its less-extreme form it is hardly novel. The influence of living organisms on the cycling of minerals has been known for many years. Indeed, the cycles are described as biogeochemical cycles. What Gaia added was an over-arching, unifying concept leading to a new way to approach problems relating to the functioning of the planet. New questions could be asked about possible perturbations along the lines of 'How would the totality of living organisms respond?' Where environmental difficulties could be analysed they could be remedied with the help of living organisms. This is now a well-established technique, known as bio-remediation. It was used, for example, to clean up Alaskan beaches following the oil spill from the Exxon Valdez.
Such an approach can be described, not too fancifully, in something approximating to medical terminology. Environmental problems can be seen as 'ailments' the nature of which can be 'diagnosed' and to which 'therapies' can be applied. James's first doctorate was in medicine and one of his heroes is James Hutton (1726-97), one of the founders of modern geology, whose training was also in medicine. Hutton told a meeting of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1785 that the Earth was a super-organism and that its proper study should be physiology. The 'Gaian' study of the Earth is now called 'geophysiology'.
Extend the concept beyond this, however, and it remains controversial. Most evolutionary biologists reject it. Evolution occurs at the very local level of individuals. Genes spread and mutations are fixed in populations as individuals inheriting genes that confer a reproductive advantage produce more offspring than individuals who do not. It is difficult to see how this Darwinian process can link to planetary regulation. The even stronger idea, that the Earth itself is a single organism, finds little support from biologists.
Nevertheless, Gaia remains one of the most interesting and influential ideas of modern times, and its author has been rewarded for it, as well as for his other contributions to science. In 1974 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society and he has received many prizes for his contributions to chromatography, climatology and environmental sciences. In 1997 he was awarded the prestigious Blue Planet Prize for helping in the resolution of global environmental problems. He has received honorary doctorates in science from eight universities. In 1990 he was awarded a CBE.
James Lovelock now lives in a converted mill on the border between Devon and Cornwall. He owns some of the adjacent land and over the years has planted native trees and encouraged wildlife to flourish, so in effect he lives at the centre of his own nature reserve, his private corner of Gaia. He has not retired. There is no end to the questions, no end to the search for answers, and no end to his delight in producing radical ideas.
4 R.J.Charlson, J.E.Lovelock, M.O.Andreae and S.G.Warren, 'Oceanic Phytoplankton, Atmospheric Sulphur, Cloud Albedo, and Climate', Nature, 274, pp. 246-8, 1987.
5 David W.Schwartzman and Tyler Volk, 'Biotic Enhancement of Weathering and the Habitability of Earth', Nature, 340, pp. 457-60, 1989.
6 Tjeerd H.Van Andel, New Views on an Old Planet: A History of Global Change, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994.
See also in this book Darwin, Ehrlich, Schumacher, Spinoza, Wilson
Lovelock's major writings
Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1979.
The Ages of Gaia, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989.
Gaia: The Practical Science of Planetary Medicine, London: Gaia Books, 1991.
Further reading Allaby, Michael, Guide to Gaia, London: Optima, 1989.
Allaby, Michael and Lovelock, James, The Great Extinction, London: Seeker & Warburg, 1983.
-The Greening of Mars, London: André Deutsch, 1984.
Joseph, Lawrence E., Gaia: The Growth of an Idea, New York: St Martin's Press, 1990.
Volk, Tyler, Gaia's Body: Toward a Physiology of Earth, New York: Copernicus, 1998.
Westbroek, Peter, Life as a Geological Force: Dynamics of the Earth, New York: W.W.Norton & Co., 1992.
'What are the natural determinants for the location and form of development?' The answers are vital to administrators, regional and city planners, architects and landscape architects. The landscape architects, in fact, work within a profession historically concerned with the relation of man to nature and of the natural sciences to the making of the urban environment.1
Ian McHarg is this century's leading planner and designer of ecologically based projects. He has, through his prolific public speaking, become one of the leading critics of the world's consumption of physical resources. He is a leading advocate for preservation and for change in planning and design and is a leading educator of professionals in the visual arts, embodying a new ecological aesthetic.
McHarg began his career as a city planner, critically observing the destruction that modern development was causing to the natural environment. He was influenced in his early education by the noted urbanist, Lewis Mumford, and his book, The Culture of Cities. McHarg found Mumford to be the only person who correctly appraised the dangers of modern architecture. 'It has achieved its objectives, and they are hollow.' Modern architecture was 'deficient of technology', yet it used technologies and their explicit materials to derive its aesthetic. McHarg furthered the Mumford criticism, stating that science, itself, was 'resolutely excluded' from the architectural definition of cities. 'The wisest man I have ever known was Lewis Mumford', he concluded.
Accepting the challenge of G.Homes Perkins, the then Dean of the College of Fine Arts, at the University of Pennsylvania, to set up a new programme in landscape architecture, McHarg reasoned that any meaningful change to this profession had to commence first with fundamental changes to the education of the professional landscape architect. He assembled a faculty comprised predominantly of natural scientists rather than other landscape architects trained under the old arcane methods. He took this bold step so that it would be possible to discover the true nature and unity among the varying and separate natural sciences. Each scientist would contribute their knowledge and discipline to the process of understanding and it would be the role of the landscape architect, as a master builder, to establish common ground, synthesis and integration of built form in the environment. McHarg attracted young, eager and talented natural scientists to teach in the new curriculum of landscape architecture and liberally supplemented permanent faculty with distinguished lecturers, and national leaders in the environment.
The University of Pennsylvania degree was proposed as a graduate degree for advanced studies of the profession by professionals who had already earned bachelors' degrees in planning, architecture and landscape architecture. To attract only the best, McHarg placed advertisements of his new curriculum in leading international newspapers. With one of the best faculties and student bodies in place, the Department of Landscape Architecture and Regional Planning at the University of Pennsylvania achieved international prominence.
McHarg proceeded to find common ground and solutions to American urban and suburban developmental problems. He sought to achieve built environments that were more compatible with their natural environment. He began by basing his environmental premise on Charles Darwin's assertion: 'The surviving organism is fit for its environment, lest it not survive'. McHarg re-stated the Darwin theory: 'Survival is the first criterion; extinction measures failure. and.all organic life fitted within one of either of two systems: syntropic-fitness-healthy or entropic-misfit-morbidity/death' (Ian McHarg, A Quest for Life, pp. 244-5). Receiving foundation funding, McHarg hosted a CBS television show, The House We Live In, inviting each week a major environmentalist to discuss issues and solutions. Guests included Lewis Mumford, Paul Ehrlich, Abraham Heschel, Gustave Weigel, Paul Tillich, Margaret Mead and Alan Watts. Many of these same speakers came from his roster of lecturers at the University of Pennsylvania series, Man and the Environment. It was through these lectures that McHarg developed an environmental agenda.
Using the university as a vehicle of research, McHarg founded the Center for Environmental Studies and sought both developmental problem types and regions impacted for the employment of a new planning and design methodology—one that would be ecologically based. Then, using the traditional landscape architectural design studio as a process-based laboratory, McHarg was able to bring student research power to the Center's agenda. The Center's studies included the New Jersey Shore; the Route Selection Study I-95 for the Delaware-Raritan Citizens Committee, New Jersey; the Potomac River Basin study; and the Metropolitan Philadelphia Open Space study for the Urban Renewal Agency for the States of Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
With proven results from these studies, McHarg formed a partnership with David Wallace, a University of Pennsylvania Professor of Urban Design, to provide professional services utilizing the newly developed environmental planning and design process. Many of the same types of studies as those undertaken at the university, were now the new firm's professional studies for governmental agencies. They advanced the thinking and development of an ecological planning methodology by providing realistic regulation and planning criterion, inter-agency review and evaluation, and most importantly, methods of implementation via the conclusions as policy of the new ecological planning process. The studies of Wallace, McHarg and Associates (WMA)2 included the famous Baltimore Inner Harbor master plan, the Richmond Parkway study, the plan for Green Springs and Worthington Valleys, Baltimore, Maryland, and the plan for Staten Island, New York.
With more than twenty studies of various problem types completed and a fairly firm notion of process, Ian McHarg set out to formalize both philosophy and methodology, and in 1967 wrote the book Design With Nature; Lewis Mumford wrote the book's Introduction. The book discussed the concepts of a limited planet and, therefore, limited natural resources. It discussed natural processes that were beyond the control of man and concluded therefore man's folly to build and settle in these regions. It showed environments where man and nature could co-habit together, if wise planning and design were undertaken, and demonstrated how new highways, suburbs and metropolitan areas could be restructured and soundly designed for future growth. Design With Nature was the first book of its kind to define the problems of modern development and present a methodology or process prescribing compatible solutions. It contained powerful prose that delineated the ecological imperative. It also contained an abundance of maps, charts and graphics that illustrated a step-by-step analysis, synthesis and conclusionary methodology.
If nature is viewed from the vantage of the man who would intervene with intelligence and even aspire to art, then we can see that nature is process; it has values and opportunities for human use, but it also reveals constraints and even prohibitions. Furthermore, process can be measured in terms of creation and destruction.We can employ this concept for both diagnosis and prescription, in both planning and design. The application of ecology to human affairs is so recent, however, that there is not yet a formal method. I offer my own rudimentary conception of the ingredients of an ecological method.3
McHarg's method was not rudimentary, as he so stated, but quite sophisticated and well reasoned. The initial methodology was subjected to testing, criticism and re-evaluation. It remained constant in principle and only differed throughout the years in specifics related to project type and/or environmental type. His methodology, as expressed in Design With Nature, was never so succinct as that delineated in an article for a University of Pennsylvania's scholarly journal, VIA 1, Ecology and Design. McHarg's method was a ten-step 'diagnostic and prescription'.4
1 Ecological inventory An analysis of all natural systems and physical conditions of a region and subregion by environmental types. The analysis universally included, climate, physiography, geology, soils, hydrology, plant and animal associations, existing land uses and cultural developments. This analysis was predominately inventory mapping of each natural science physical characteristic. The mapping was accomplished by using overlays at the same scale thus facilitating comparative interpretations. This overlay comparative methodology has become synonymous with McHarg's name and has influenced the computer language and methodology developed as part of all current GIS (Geographical Information Systems) programs.
2 Description of natural processes An analysis of all major physical and biological processes directed towards defining the interactions of one natural science to another and in turn, all natural system's interactions to human needs and development.
3 Historical Inventory An analysis of human adaptation to the environmental system which emphasizes the match of development to technological changes over time.
4 Expression of the 'given'form A conclusionary analysis that delineates the natural identity of the region and its sub-parts.
5 Expression of the 'made'form A conclusionary analysis that delineates man's response in settlements to the 'given' form. McHarg often termed this analysis the Genus Loci, a word derived from Greek meaning the appropriate and skilled relationship of civilization to its locale.
6 Attribution of relative value A mathematical or matrix comparative analysis determining the relative degree of appropriateness or conflict of any one land use to a subarea's 'given' form.
7 Interpretation of intrinsic land use A mapping analysis that utilizes the relative values of a land use to each regional subarea to determine the relative 'suitability' of one land type over another for each differing land use. Suitability maps were determined, at a minimum, for urban development, agriculture and conservation. In a more expanded format, the analysis included, residential, industrial, recreation and parks, forestry and mineral resource extractions as other land uses studied.
8 Conclusions as to compatible land use 'By use of a matrix with all possible land uses on both axes, a selection is made of the maximum number of compatibly concurrent land uses.' In many of McHarg's studies, this analysis also included a very dramatic graphic, where under a typical section through the region showing all differing subregion, a bar chart of suitable land uses are arrayed to correlate their appropriate location.
9 Formulation of alternative land use plans An alternative plan is formulated that focuses on the predominance and optimization of one of each of the studied land uses. Within each of the areas, appropriate development is shown and integrated with areas for conservation as determined by the natural systems analysis. Accompanying the plan is a set of guidelines to insure the management of the development to environmental conditions and concerns.
10 Implications for the new 'made' form A proposed optimum plan is developed where critical ecological systems are conserved and appropriate urban and/or human developments are compatible. Where more than one type of land use is appropriate, rather than allow conflicting land uses, the concept of 'a highest and best use' for safeguarding the natural environment is chosen and incorporated into the plan. The new 'made' form is described in the new ecologically based ethics and aesthetics. The guidelines, then, become policy recommendations.
Design With Nature illustrates this methodology, drawing from a number of executed master plan and ecological studies across northeast America.
• The Department of Landscape Architecture and Regional Planning,
University of Pennsylvania
— The Delaware River Basin Study, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware
— The Potomac River Basin Study, Virginia, Maryland, and the District of Columbia
— The New Jersey Shore
— City of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Health and Pathology
• The Institute for Environmental Studies, University of Pennsylvania
— Metropolitan Open Space from Natural Processes, Urban Renewal Administration of Pennsylvania and New Jersey
• The Center for Ecological Planning, University of Pennsylvania.
— The Delaware River Basin, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware
— The New Jersey Pine Barrens
— Tocks Island Region, Pennsylvania and New Jersey
— The Neshaminy Watershed, Pennsylvania
• Wallace, McHarg, Roberts and Todd, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
— The Potomac Task Force Study, American Institute of Architects
— Toward a Comprehensive Landscape Plan for Washington District of Columbia
The years after Design With Nature were equally productive in the further development of the McHarg methodology. By McHarg's own statement, three projects in particular contributed new insight and yielded new attributes towards a universal model for solving twentieth-century ecological planning and design problems.
That book [Design With Nature] included a relatively short experience in the United States, from 1954 to 1968, whereas my subsequent experience has been much longer over twenty-five years. In this subsequent period have occurred many of my proudest accomplishments: Woodlands New Town, Pardisan, A Comprehensive Plan for Environmental Quality and the Medford study.
This small township in southern New Jersey was under severe impact in 1974 from suburban expansion of the nearby cities of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Camden and Trenton, New Jersey—all less than sixty miles away. Simultaneously, all rural and suburban towns in New Jersey were under Federal court order to de-segregate housing ordinances which by their restrictive zoning ruled out affordable housing. Medford decided to test the use of ecological determinism to foster the continuity of its current rural character and to control the type of future growth. This, they reasoned, should be achieved not through the traditional 'master plan', but through the formulation of new ordinances that were defendable to its citizenry and the courts alike. The Township hired McHarg and the University of Pennsylvania to conduct a study to determine the 'performance requirements for the maintenance of social values represented by the natural environment'. Understanding that any restrictions, new or old, would probably constitute a 'taking' of developmental 'rights' and would require a financial burden to the property owner for which the Township would have to compensate, and that any restriction would additionally be scrutinized by the courts, all aspects of the study were to be 'subject to stringent requirements.. .and (it was) essential that all data and interpretation be conducted by competent scientists'.
The McHarg methodology developed a system of cross-evaluation of all ecological data to four social values:
• 'Inherently hazardous to human life and property' These included, for example, areas within the fifty-year flood plane, and zones of high forest fires (predominantly the Pine Barrens areas).
• 'Hazardous to human life and health by specific human action' Areas adjacent to streams of good-to-excellent quality, severely high water table, aquifer recharge areas, zones of municipal wells, soils not suitable for septic deployment, etc.
• 'Irreplaceably unique and scarce resources; and' These included, for example, historic monuments, public lands, locations of mature specimen trees and unique forest habitats (cedar swamps, bogs and lowland successional meadows).
• 'Valuable resources where unregulated utilization will result in social costs' Areas of rare and unique beneficial wildlife habitat, scenic resources, extractable sand and gravel resources and recreational potential sites.
The above four social environmental factors were then evaluated against four developmental options:
• Rural Urban Development This land use assumed detached single family development on larger-than-an-acre lots with on-site sewage disposal.
• Suburban Development This assumed lots of an acre with lightweight, slab on soil foundations, some site grading and a predominance of fertilized lawn.
• Clustered Suburban Development This assumed various multi-family-type dwelling units, extensive paved surfaces, extensive site grading, extensive loss of tree cover, municipal sewer connection and heavy building foundations.
• Urban Development This assumed multi-family residential and other land use types, all requiring heavy foundations, full site coverage, extensive paved surfaces and municipal sewer connections.
It is not surprising that the highest and best type of new development within Medford Township would predominately be Rural Urban Development. Suburban and Clustered Suburban Developments, although possible, would be limited to a small band of lands. Urban Development was the least allowable land use and would be highly regulated by restrictive zoning ordinances. As all lands were to some degree developable, no 'rights' were denied and therefore no financial 'takings' were required.
The McHarg study, for the first time, successfully proved the argument of local conservationists and environmentalist for maintaining the status quo, explicitly illustrating the social, and by consequence, economic loss that the standard 'by right' development was causing to small towns and rural communities across America. But it also illustrated that rich and affluent suburban communities could use ecological determinism to foster restrictive zoning and limit any, and all, development.
In 1971 McHarg was approached by the developer George Mitchell to study and plan a new community for 200,000 acres and 50,000 persons north of Houston, Texas. While there had been many previous attempts at new communities in America, most had met limited success and some had failed completely. Mitchell was a Texas oil billionaire but was a fiscally conservative man. He reasoned that ecological planning and design could be accomplished with the least cost and yield the most attractive community, provide sound sales meeting projected cash flow demands and, therefore, would yield the highest profit. McHarg, for the first time, would have the opportunity to totally plan a new development and control site development. In the process, developmental impacts could be minimized and alternative solutions be investigated.
Woodlands evolved several new methodologies; primarily site density and coverage. Exacting calculations were made to find the proper ratios for all types of housing and land uses while conserving vegetation and water regimens. New concepts of storm water management were developed for both insuring positive drainage in flood-prone areas but additionally for recharging of the region's aquifers. Using these ingenious systems, a significant reduction of needed site infrastructure, i.e. storm drains, was accomplished, yielding substantial savings and insuring economic feasibility of the project. Economic determinism could be subverted. Of all the new American communities attempted, Woodlands today remains the most successful and the most ecologically sustainable of McHarg's work.
The culmination of all of McHarg's theories on physical planning based on the ecological sciences was the development of an environmental park in Tehran, Iran. Called Pardisan, a Farsi derivative of paradise, the park, as proposed in 1915, was like no other environmental park or preserve. It differed entirely, in concept and organization.
McHarg opposed throughout his career the view that each of the natural sciences—biology, geology, hydrology, etc.—were isolated sciences. In this, he struck at the very core of their professions, their professional scientific repositories. McHarg reasoned that arboretums and botanical gardens were very artificial and unscientific collections. Botanical gardens, for example, were in no way suitable for teaching the ecological aspects of vegetation. Their grouping by families or growth characteristics spoke nothing of the climate, soil or the inter-dependencies of species. The same was true for zoos and aquariums. These were collections of fauna in cages and walled environments with, at best, token environmental support—water tanks and rocks fashioned naturalistically. Natural history museums, planetariums and other 'housed' institutions separated man from the real environment. McHarg's proposal for Pardisan was for an environmental demonstration park that displayed man within all of earth's many environments. Each display would show a region and its ecology in full successive stages and sub-communities and illustrate man's harmonious adaptation to these environmental sets.
This institution should embrace the functions of the great museums and zoological and botanical gardens that were built in several countries in previous generations and, indeed, up to the present.
Thus (at Pardisan), the diachronic evolution of man's environment, and the present synchronic state of diversification of species and cultures throughout the world will be presented as a national and international base and center for environmental activities of conservation, research, edification and recreation.8
Proposed at a time when Middle East nations were awash in petro dollars and proposed to the pre-Islamic revolutionary government of the Shah Reza Palave, Pardisan was to be the showpiece of Iran. It was to demonstrate to the Iranian people the country's cultural and ecological heritage. To this end, the Wallace, McHarg, Roberts and Todd firm was joined by the Iranian architect, Nader Ardalan, who brought to the collaboration, research and sympathetic understanding of traditional adaptive Iranian architecture. Ardalan had documented the growth and architecture of the great city of Isphahan. He knew the architectural response to climate and native materials would demonstrate Iran's designed compatibility to its harsh desert environment. But, it was McHarg who added the rest of the world to Pardisan's purpose.
On the proposed extensive site, the environmental park was planned: 300 hectares on the south-facing foothills of the Elburz Mountains just to the north of Tehran. Based first on climatic types, then upon continental regions, North and South America, Europe, Africa, Asia and Oceania are represented equal to Iran. Within each region, separate zones representing climatic differences would house a collection of imported native soil and geological formations, plant communities representing differing water regimens and correlated fauna. Man's habitat, agricultural and related native crafts would be reproduced from their original location by skilled native craftsmen. The purpose was clearly educational, but also it was to be a warehouse in the traditional scientific sense. It was to represent the world's gene pool. In reality, McHarg was proposing an ecological theme park, a model not too dissimilar to Disney World. It would be far more adventuresome than the environmental displays of the San Diego Zoo, the only other such existing facility. Since then, we have seen the proliferation of theme parks and their movement to representational habitats as well as the environmental habitat displays in today's zoos and aquariums.9 But none of these developments had the comprehensive breadth nor the scientific thoroughness of the McHarg Pardisan environmental park.
In addition to Medford, Woodlands and Pardisan, the post-Design With Nature years, up to the end of the WMRT firm, also included significant professional projects such as
• Department of Landscape Architecture and Regional Planning,
University of Pennsylvania
— Prototype Database for a National Ecological Inventory
• Wallace, McHarg, Roberts and Todd, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
— The Lower Manhattan Plan, New York
— Amelia Island, Florida
— Indian River Shores, Vero Beach, Florida
— Laguna Creek Study, Sacramento, California
— Easton's Neck Point, Long Island, New York
— Ponchartrain, New-Town-in-Town, New Orleans, Louisiana
— Lake Austin Growth Management, Texas
— The Toronto Central Waterfront, Ontario, Canada
— San Francisco Metropolitan Regional Impact Study, California
— The Denver Metropolitan Area-wide Environmental Impact Statement, Colorado
— The 208 Study for Detroit Metropolitan Area, Michigan
— The 208 Study for Toledo, Ohio
— Nigerian National Capital Site Selection, Abuja, Nigeria
— Kenneth Square Human Ecology Study, Pennsylvania
Pardisan, was the end to a significant chapter in McHarg's life. Almost concurrent with the completion of the project but before final acceptance and fee payment, the Iranian government of the Phalavi Dynasty collapsed and Iran was thrown into revolution. The banks were stripped and fee payments held in escrow pending completion by WMRT. The financial impact almost bankrupted the firm, and in a partnership call Ian McHarg was removed from the firm. Without this base, McHarg was unable to demonstrate and continue development of his ecological methodology in planning and design. He has since taken on the writing of his autobiography, A Quest for Life, as well as continuing with public speaking engagements, teaching his ecological planning and designing a gospel of change.
McHarg's impact on environmental planning and policy is legendary. In sheer numbers of graduates alone, he has changed the profession of landscape architecture and has accomplished this on a global scale.10
1 McHarg, Ecology, For the Evolution of Planning and Design; VIA 1, Ecology and Design, Philadelphia, PA: Graduate School of Fine Arts, University of Pennsylvania, pp. 44-5, 1968.
2 The firm has changed over the years with the addition and deletion of its principals: Wallace, McHarg and Associates (1962-1967); Wallace, McHarg, Roberts and Todd (1967-78); Wallace, Roberts and Todd (1978-1991); WRT, Inc. (1991-).
4 Ibid. Italics indicate directly quoted subjects. A brief explanation of each is by the author.
5 Narenda Junega, Medford: Performance Requirements for the Maintenance of Social Values Represented by the Natural Environment of Medford Township, New Jersey, Philadelphia, PA: Center for Ecological Research in Planning and Design, Department of Landscape Architecture and Regional Planning, University of Pennsylvania, 1974. This is a report published by the Center as a summary document.
7 Pardisan: Plan for an Environmental Park in Tehran, Philadelphia, PA: WMRT, 1975. This is a report privately published by the firm as a summary document.
8 The text appears under the title 'Introduction', by Eskandar Firouz, who was the Iranian Director of the Department of the Environment. They are clearly the words of Ian McHarg as is noted in the Table of Contents: 'This Report was written by Ian McHarg'. It was common practice to feed text to governmental officials for such introductions.
9 This recent development is not surprising for some of the major design firms leading this movement grew out of a Philadelphia base and contained many McHarg graduates on staff.
10 Professor Edmond Waller, a 1971 Penn graduate, has conducted a survey of Australia and Asia and in an IFLA Symposium presentation of 1995 cites hundreds of McHarg protégés throughout the region and at least one in every country. More importantly, he cites the McHarg methodology universally used for planning and design throughout this region.
See also in this book
McHarg's major writings:
Design With Nature, Garden City, NY: Natural History Press, 1969; second edn:
New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1994. Composer avec la nature, Paris, France: Cahiers de l'AURIF, 1980. Progetto con la natura, Padova, Italy: Franco Muzzio Editore, 1989. A Quest for Life, New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1996.
There are numerous professional reports published by the Center for Ecological Studies, Department of Landscape Architecture and Regional Planning, University of Pennsylvania, and by the firm, Wallace, McHarg, Roberts and Todd, Philadelphia, PA. These are privately held.
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