IAN McHARG: ENVIRONMENTALIST
"Man, far out in space, looks back to the distant earth, a celestial orb, blue-green oceans, green of verdant land, a celestial fruit. Examination discloses blemishes on the fruit, dispersed circles from which extend dynamic tentacles. The man concludes that these cankers are the works of man and asks, 'Is man but a planetary disease?—Ian McHarg
Back in the early 60’s I remember listening to Ian McHarg on what is now PBS. He was a landscape architect who had a passion for designing human habitations to synchronize with nature. He seemed to be one of the very few people at that time to recognize that what we do on this planet actually affects us. Our cultural bias from early Christian times has been to perceive the earth and even our own bodies as temporary and inferior forms that would be replaced by the spiritual home in heaven if we made it there. Although the spiritual aspect has largely disappeared from Western Civilization the attitude that the earth and all its resources exist merely for our use and manipulation continues to dominate our society. Money, an artificial humanly created value without genuine substance has taken over the human world and everything it touches.
We pay lip service to conservation and preservation but it is still regarded as less important than the immediate needs of commerce. Since economics is now based on constant growth and ever increasing consumption there is no way to reconcile the reality of our dependence on the environment and the artificially engendered dependence on the monetary system. On one program, Mr. McHarg and theologian Paul Tillich traced the Western attitude toward nature through the medieval dark ages when Christianity and its otherworldly viewpoint became dominant into the present as of the early 60’s. Medieval art was dominated by the Church and depicts biblical stories using nature, as a mere backdrop as if in a play for which only the protagonists are real and the landscape setting is artificial.
A quote from Chapter One of "Design with Nature" encapsulate McHarg's frustration in modern culture and the need for a nature based approach to landscape, environmental design and town planning:
"The nuclear cataclysm is over. The earth is covered with gray dust. In the vast silence no life exists, save for a little colony of algae hidden deep in a leaden cleft long inured to radiation. The algae perceive their isolation; they reflect upon the strivings of all life, so recently ended, and on the strenuous task of evolution to be begun anew. Out of their reflection could emerge a firm conclusion: 'Next time, no brains'."
Read more: Ian McHarg
In Lewis Mumford I found an amazingly creative social and planetary thinker with a passion to bring society back to its source of being. I will always remember his separation of the words organization and organism. We have organization but the organic exists in harmony with the entire cosmos whereas organization dominates rather than integrates.
A day spent without the sight or sound of beauty, the contemplation of mystery, or the search of truth or perfection is a poverty-stricken day; and a succession of such days is fatal to human life.—Lewis Mumford
In Technics and Civilization, Lewis Mumford, Harcourt, Brace & Company, Inc., New York, (1934) Mumford criticizes the modern trend of technology, which emphasizes constant, unrestricted expansion, production, and replacement. He explains that these goals work against technical perfection, durability, social efficiency, and overall human satisfaction. Modern technology—which he calls 'megatechnics'—evades producing lasting, quality products by using devices such as consumer credit, installment buying, non-functioning and defective designs, built-in fragility, and frequent superficial "fashion" changes.