610.530.8752

Landscape Design Theory – Tools of the Design Process

landscape design gesture
Gesture in landscape design, long linear allee, brick wall and perennial garden

Landscape design theory is a process of building ideas in a visual format. The material creation of a design relies on the tangible tools of art and drafting – pens, pencils, paints, computers etc. The methodology of design relies on the less tangible tools of knowledge gathered through education and experience.  Those tools of design theory and principles guide the creation and   will determine the quality of the meaning, form and ideas expressed in the visual representation.

Design ideas start as intangible firings of neurons in the designer’s brains, creating vague mental images and emotions. They are inspired by the inception of a design program and a site (real or imaginary). The program is the ‘what to create’, ‘what is the purpose’, ‘who is the user’ and the ‘how will it operate or be experienced’. The site is usually a specific geographically defined area in the case of landscape design. Conceptual or transitory design projects can be based on an imaginary site or meant to travel various sites. Once the program and the site are established, then designer is ready to apply the tools of design to the process of creation.

The ‘concept’ is the first landscape design theory tool required once the program and site are established. Concepts are macro level design tools that guide the entire process. This was discussed in a previous blog and won’t be readdressed here (see Landscape Design Concepts – Principles of Landscape Architecture May 22, 2014). Once the macro tool of a concept is defined, designers can begin the process of resolving the program, the site and the concept into a cohesive and successful design. That process of design resolution relies on the ever expanding set of design theory and design principle tools. We add more tools to the tool box if we continue to grow as designers.

One of my favorite landscape design theory tools is ‘the gesture’. A design gesture is a sweeping movement directing the experience toward a note of significance. Gestures can be subtle in approach and create a surprising discover. Such is the case with the long arch of a gravel path, elegantly defined with a simple border planting, sweeping around to an unseen groove of mystery. That would be an intimate and even personal type of gesture in the landscape. At the other end of the spectrum, an allee in the garden design creates a very formal and directed experience.  Gestures can be playful, majestic, axiomatic, or illusional just to specify a few of the possible ways to use the gesture tool in design. A gesture is an implication that does not spell out the exact nature of the intent. It is one of my favorite tools used in choreographing landscape design.

This article is the first another entry in an ongoing exploration of landscape design theory. I am a designer and a builder. I find joy, satisfaction and a place to contribute to the world in the practice of design and construction.  I will continue to write about design tools such as ‘the gesture’. It is a process of sharing ideas and working through my own thinking. If you enjoy this journey and would like to interact on an individual level, please send me an email through the company website contact information form or at info@GardenDesignInc.com.

Backyard Patio – Brick Pavers


Landscape Patio & Fire Pit
Clay Brick paver Patio & Walkways with Fire Pit

What ingredients are required for a high quality backyard patio and landscape project? The answer is quality design, quality materials and quality installation. Professional, experienced and creative landscape design is always the first priority for a successful landscape project. Without that, the finest materials and craftsmanship are wasted efforts. The project highlighted in this article has a design arranged within a curvilinear theme. That concept leads to a cohesive landscape design that unifying the brick patio, the brick walkway, the natural stone bench and natural stone fire pit. It takes an experienced landscape designer to create successful design, but most people can tell quality design whether or not they themselves can create one. 

In the case of this project, natural clay brick pavers are used for the landscape walkways and patios. The real clay brick is bordered with natural Pennsylvania bluestone. Both products have a natural and authentic quality that is easily recognized by visitors to the landscape. The bluestone is used to define spaces within the overall landscape design such as the main patio space, the back steps and the landscape feature location.

A fire pit and bench are designed in unison and constructed of natural stone masonry. Like the bluestone and brick patio paving materials, the natural building stone has an unmistakable quality. The fire pit is integrated with the bench design with a double spaced patio layout. This organizes the fire pit on the edge of a smaller patio but still in relation to the main patio. That insures that the patio spaces remain flexible and donÆt become only about the fire pit ( a mistake too often made in fire pit patio designs).

The success of this landscape project started with a strong landscape design that specified quality materials such as clay brick pavers, Pennsylvania Bluestone Paving, and Natural Building stone for the fire pit and the built in bench. Landscape construction and masonry construction completed by experienced craftsman ensured the final outcome of an excellent backyard patio and fire pit project.