Publisher: John Wiley & Sons
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A Quest for Life : An Autobiography (Wiley Series in Sustainable Design)
Publication date: April 1996
n the foreword to this thoroughly enjoyable book, Stewart Udall, President Kennedy’s secretary of the interior, describes McHarg as a person who “developed an holistic method of ecological planning that has made possible a crucial change in the way environmental decisions are made.” McHarg did this and more. His first book, Design with Nature, helped create the field of ecological planning and is still in print 30 years later. The present volume is the autobiography of a most extraordinary and productive man. Many of McHarg’s projects are well known, for example, Baltimore’s Inner Harbor and Battery Park in New York City; all demonstrate that development can be integrated successfully with aesthetics and environmental concern while improving quality of life. Beyond describing his award-winning projects, McHarg recounts his own growth and development, which mirrors that of the discipline he gave life to. Many of the anecdotes related in this humorous and often scathing book demonstrate why McHarg has been described as “hyperbolic” and “belligerent.” The only shortcoming: the reader is left with the sense that McHarg believes he has neither made a misstep nor misspoken in his illustrious career.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.
“Show me any civilization that believes that reality exists only because man can perceive it, that the cosmos was erected to support man on its pinnacle, that man is exclusively divine, and then I will predict the nature of his cities and its landscapes, the hot dog stands, the neon shill, the ticky-tacky houses, the sterile core, the mined and ravaged countryside. This is the image of anthropocentric man. He seeks not unity with nature but conquest, yet unity he finds, when his arrogance and ignorance are stilled and he lies dead under the greensward.” Ian L. McHarg Multiply and Subdue the Earth, 1969
“No living American has done more to usher the gentle science of ecology out of oblivion and into mainstream thought than Ian McHarg—a teacher, philosopher, designer, and activist who changed the way we view and shape our environment.” From the foreword by Stewart L. Udall
Published in cooperation with the Center for American Places, Harrisonburg, Virginia
A Quest for Life is the autobiography of a man who stands alongside Rachel Carson, Lewis Mumford, and Aldo Leopold as one of the giants of the environmental movement. In a robust and singular voice, Ian McHarg recounts the story of a life that has foreshadowed and eventually shaped environmental consciousness in the twentieth century. Along the way we meet prominent figures in the environmental movement, the design fields, and the government, from Walter Gropius to Lady Bird Johnson, all presented in rich and telling anecdotes.
Early in A Quest for Life McHarg presents us with an arresting image. Describing the view from his boyhood home on the outskirts of Glasgow, he tells us that in one direction he could see the industrial miasma of smokestacks, tenements, and treeless streets, and, in another, the glories of the Scottish countryside. “I was born and bred,” he writes, “on a fulcrum with two poles, city and countryside.” Confronted with such a stark contrast, the man who was to become “the founder of ecological planning” began at an early age to turn literally from inhumane urban development and toward the beauty and power of Nature.
Each chapter of this book illuminates key stages in McHarg’s life and in the evolution of his environmental awareness. We see him as a youth standing on a hillside beside the impressive Donald Wintersgill who, with the wave of his cane, lays out an entire village complete with lakes and forests, and thus introduces the astonished McHarg to the profession of landscape architecture.
In some of the bloodiest battles of the Second World War he witnesses the magnitude of human destructive capability. Later, when he faces a crisis of conscience over his religious training and its exhortation to gain dominion over life and subdue the earth, he begins to develop a deep spiritual appreciation for the sanctity of Nature itself. His training as a designer and planner in the Modernist Bauhaus tradition, with its neglect of the environment; his bouts with tuberculosis that showed him the link between public health and city planning; his famous “Man—The Planetary Disease” speech before powerful industrialists—all stand as emblematic of battles that are still being fought today.
A Quest for Life also chronicles the many triumphs in McHarg’s career. It offers fresh insight into the revolutionary design method behind his groundbreaking book, Design with Nature, and explores the development of geographical information systems. We learn firsthand about his work on the celebrated regional plans for Denver and the Twin Cities, as well as the Woodlands new town project. His most enduring contribution, however, may prove to be his four decades of teaching at the University of Pennsylvania. Through the generations of landscape architects, designers, and planners he taught there, his influence has spread around the world and into the future.
As the compelling, first-person story of a remarkable individual who not only manned the barricades against environmental destruction, but helped lay the foundation for the barricades themselves, A Quest for Life is must reading for landscape architects, designers, conservationists, planners, and others concerned with the preservation of our communities and the natural environment.
The life of the founder of ecological design, a great read!
Ian McHarg is the founder of the field of environmental design, a branch of or approach to Landscape Architecture. His book “Design With Nature” opened the eyes of a generation of planners and architects to the possibilities of environmentally sane design and planning. McHarg’s autobiography makes a wonderful read for anyone who read and loved “Design With Nature”. And is is a first class read! He has never been a man who pulled his punches, and this book is full of hilarious stories of his run-ins with the establishment. I loved it!