DESIGN WITH NATURE NOW
The Ian L. McHarg Center
University of Pennsylvania School of Design
In preparation for the immanent launch of the [McHarg] Center’s website, we are asking a select group of leading academics and practitioners to participate in a virtual roundtable by responding to the prompt: What does it mean to design with nature now? If you are willing to do so we ask that you prepare a short (max 250 words) response for direct publication on the Center’s website.
The science of ecology speaks with unchallenged authority over Nature. We are told that human accelerated climate change poses a threat to the continued existence of our species. But beginning here with our very survival as the initial design problem, two undesirable propositions emerge. The first is that any work of landscape architecture that does not slow the momentum of a warming planet can be said to be complicit in the downfall of our species. Thus, are we not compelled to act ecologically, to design with nature? The second is that even the most poorly designed space that includes plant material can be argued to be contributing to saving the planet. Thus, does ecology not trump aesthetics?
For landscape architects to consider nature, described by the science of ecology, as having some active role in the design process seems self-evident. McHarg’s command has been fully adopted. While perhaps one may be able to find the occasional project which is silent on the role of nature, to design against it is unheard of. So why do we remain on a path towards total desolation of the environment? Perhaps we should remember that McHarg substantiated his position with a deep theological belief. Ecology was only a means to an end, a way of argument we have adopted. While designing with nature is taken for granted, what nature is has received less scrutiny. While we need not accept the theology of nature that McHarg ascribed to, I do think we would do well as a profession to articulate why nature is uniquely critical, or be prepared to see further loss.