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Billy Fleming, who graduated from the Penn School of Design in 1993, was named the director of the school's Ian McHarg Center. (Photo from Billy Fleming) 

The Ian McHarg Center of the Penn School of Design has received a $1.25 million donation from 1993 PennDesign graduate Barbara Wilks.

The donation will fund the establishment of a directorship for the Penn School of Design’s McHarg Center, an interdisciplinary think tank focused on researching environmentalism and social science through landscape and architecture. 

Wilks, who graduated from the Penn School of Design in 1993 with a Master of Fine Arts and studied under McHarg, is currently the Founding Principal for W Architecture and Landscape Architecture, a New York City-based international architecture and landscape architecture firm. Her donation comes from the Harry T. Wilks Family Foundation, which she leads with her sister, Nanci Lanni.

Billy Fleming, who graduated with a Doctor of Philosophy at PennDesign in 2017, was named the director of the Center. Fleming previously researched urban policy development in the White House Domestic Policy Council during the Obama Administration.

Fleming said the donation will reduce the McHarg Center’s need of raising grant money for the directorship and allow the institution to fund other projects instead. 

The McHarg Center aims to develop a variety of projects involving environmentalism and landscape architecture. The McHarg Center is currently pursuing a project in conjunction with the MIT Leventhal Center for Advanced Urbanism and the Wharton Risk Management Center called “Adaptation Blueprint," which aims to conceive of the best policies for climate adaptation and climate mitigation. 

“We don’t see a lot of federal action on climate change,” said Fleming. “It’s time to step back and collect many of the best ideas about what the federal government might do, and have them ready when there is an administration that is interested in those ideas.”

PennDesign is one of the most tuition-dependent schools at Penn, an issue that PennDesign Dean Frederick Steiner told the DP in April he was working to resolve. 

“The Center is really very young and it will need to be built around philanthropic funding that will be helping research and students as well,” Assistant Dean of Development and Alumni Relations at PennDesign Jeff Snyder said. “Barbara’s gift is definitely one of the largest gifts that the School of Design has ever received.”

Fleming said that the McHarg Center hopes to provide both Penn undergraduates and graduate students with research opportunities related to their work. 

“For the Center to have longevity, it needs to have that financial support. Barbara’s gift expresses confidence in the Center,” co-executive director of the McHarg Center and the professor and Chair of Landscape Architecture at PennDesign Richard Weller said. “For the Center to go forward and be productive, it needs to have more than just a name. Barbara’s gift gives us security.”

The McHarg Center was named in honor of Ian McHarg, who was one of the world’s leading landscape architects and the founder of the Landscape Architecture Department at Penn. The Center is expected to formally launch operations in 2019, after celebrating the 50th anniversary of McHarg’s book “Design With Nature.”