A $1.25 million gift from Barbara Wilks, GLA’93, and the Harry T. Wilks Family Foundation will help ensure that PennDesign will be a formidable force in addressing the impacts of climate change.
The gift will establish the Wilks Family McHarg Center Directorship at the Ian McHarg Center for Urbanism and Ecology. Led by Wilks Family Director Billy Fleming, Gr’17, the McHarg Center promotes the development of practical, innovative ways to improve the quality of life in places most vulnerable to the effects of climate change.
As an interdisciplinary endeavor, the Center will bring together environmental and social scientists, planners, designers, and policy makers, as well as members of impacted communities, to generate design-based solutions that confront the dangers of climate change. Research, public programming, and outreach are all part of its mandate. The McHarg Center has already hosted Jeff Goodell of Rolling Stone, May Boeve of 350.org, and Admiral Ann Phillips as a part of its public events series.
The Center’s holistic approach to environmental and urban design is based in the pathbreaking work of PennDesign’s Ian McHarg (pictured in header image; photo credit: Architectural Archives, University of Pennsylvania School of Design). The founder of the School’s Department of Landscape Architecture and Regional Planning in 1955 and its chair for over 30 years, McHarg pioneered the concept of ecological planning—the planning and design of human environments in harmony with setting, climate, and natural processes. He has been called the most important environmental planner and landscape architect of the 20th century.
McHarg’s 1969 book Design with Nature articulated his novel perspective. The book—along with his dynamic teaching at Penn, national and international design projects, and work as a public intellectual on television and in other venues—has influenced scores of architects, environmental planners, and landscape architects.
Among them is landscape architect Barbara Wilks, who studied with McHarg at PennDesign and sees his legacy as particularly relevant today. “Ian’s lessons have still not been absorbed—certainly not by the general public, and hardly by landscape architects,” Wilks says. “There’s a tremendous need to help people understand that climate change is about much more than building walls around cities.”
While the McHarg Center has already hosted events and engaged in research projects, it will formally launch in June 2019 with a two-day conference that will also mark the 50th anniversary of McHarg’s landmark book. Running from June 21-22, “Design with Nature Now” will explore dynamic and visionary approaches to landscape design and development in the face of climate change and heightened urbanization. It will feature talks by the world’s leading thinkers and practitioners, three public exhibitions, and result in the publication of Design With Nature Now—an anthology published by the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy that, through invited essays and innovative projects, extend McHarg’s legacy into the 21st century. Sign up here.
Building support for PennDesign’s centers and programs is a priority of Lead by Design: The Campaign for PennDesign. The McHarg Center is one of several key PennDesign initiatives addressing our world’s most pressing issues—from sustainable development to energy policy. To learn more about the McHarg Center, other PennDesign centers and programs, and Lead by Design, visit the Campaign website or contact the School’s development office.