The first lesson of landscape architecture 101 is that successful design requires a well-defined concept. The concept serves as a guide to create a unifying and cohesive character to the final design product. When design struggles present themselves or the designer finds themselves with designers block, a good concept will guide the way to a successful resolution. A concept is critical whether you are designing a simple paver walkway for the front of the house or a grand outdoor living space with flagstone patios, an outdoor kitchen, a swimming pool, pool house and outdoor fireplace.
A concept is the unifying paradigm of a design project. Often it is thought of as a theme, though it is not limited as such. Regional themes are a popular approach that affords a rather clear and simple template for the landscape design project. Historical garden themes can range from the informal English Cottage Garden to the formal renaissance French Garden. Regional styles may include Mediterranean gardens, Prairie Gardens, Japanese gardens and Urban Gardens. Though poorly defined and understood, designers often speak of contemporary garden designs, modern gardens or postmodern gardens. Those are topics for another blog.
The concept will help guide the design decisions in a project. A clearly defined concept can dictate design gestures, forms, delineation of uses, and how movement through the spaces is choreographed. A cottage garden concept will dictate informal, organic design movements resulting in a series of unique and intimate rooms. Such a garden is designed to be intimately experienced in hands on manner. On the other hand, a landscape designed in the concept framework of modernism will define large design gestures and movements, sweeping open spaces with singular powerful statements. Landscapes designed within a modernism concept an experienced in a view more than in any hands on manner.
Well defined and articulated design concepts are the key to quality design. When questions come up, or struggles arise in the design process, the concept will provide a framework for design resolutions. If the designer holds true to the concept, the final project will be cohesive and unified. An unlimited range of factors can influence the definition of a concept. Consider the existing landscape, the built architecture, the future inhabitants, the meanings that may be portrayed, the availability of materials and the budgets for the project. Developing a concept requires the same process as developing the design. It starts with a kernel of a thought, it is explored in sketches and in written journal entries, and it is revised and revisited until that moment of clarity arrives when the designer knows the concept is right.