610.530.8752

Psychology of Landscape Design for Outdoor Living

psychology of landscape design
psychology of landscape design

Knowing about the psychology of landscape design guides landscaping a successful outdoor living room? What makes patio  landscaping a rich and dynamic space that encourages us to go into the landscape and spend time outdoors? The qualities of the landscape design and the landscape construction will determine if you paver patio, flagstone patio, concrete patio or even gravel patio are inviting, warm and embracing spaces. Principles of the landscape design apply to any outdoor room and can be applied to landscape projects of all scales. Some elements of design are universal and others depend on individual preferences. The most primitive and universal principles are rooted in our psychological predispositions and survival instincts stemming from the long history of human evolution. These relate to the geographical and architectural structure of the space in relation to the surroundings. The more temporal and individual characteristics will manifest in the stylistic and material elements of the structure. These elements of style change often with cultural and individual trends while the structural principles landscape design are timeless.

The primary psychology of landscape design principle in the design of an outdoor living patio in called ‘defensible space’ in the western psychology paradigm. Eastern cultures incorporate the same principle into broader design paradigms such as Feng Shui.  Early in human evolution, survival required us to inhabit spaces that could be defended. The first garden courtyards were walled sanctums from a dangerous outdoor world. But we also need a way to see our surrounding, to know what danger may be coming or to have good vantage point for food resource potentials. Humans are comfortable when they feel like there is adequate ‘wall barrier’ around them and when the have good visual viewpoint vantages. These two elements work together in that the greater visibility of our surroundings allows for lesser dependence on barriers. If we are at the peak of a grassy hill and can see a long distance in every direction, we have less need for barrier protections since we can see any danger and flee. Contrarily, in an area dense with visual obstacles, we feel the need for more ‘walls’.

We are many years evolved from those early years of human history, but the principles are ingrained and pertinent to landscape design today. If we are creating an outdoor living space in a rural area, within a setting of beautiful nature, we may want our patio space to open wide to the surroundings. Conversely, in the city we tuck our patios tight to the home and create privacy barriers to the surroundings. So the first principle is that all other principles of landscape design start first with and understanding of the broader geographical and architectural surroundings.

The most common psychological preference, regardless of setting, is to inhabit a space where we can feel safe and private but also have good views of our surroundings when we want them. That is the primary principle to follow when designing a patio in the landscape. The key is how we feel or rather how the person who will inhabit the space will feel. This is where a designer has to be a psychologist. Though security seems to have some universal elements, people feel safe for a wide range of reasons. One person may feel most comfortable back against the wall tucked into a building corner, while another may need to be away from buildings with a good 360 degree view and the openness provided. These are questions that must be resolved to best design a patio for the specific resident.

When it comes down to the enclosure of an outdoor living space, psychology of landscape design can again guide decisions. Remember that it is how the resident feels in the space that determines their level of comfort. There is not a universal approach to how we create the feeling of security and comfort. Some people will only need to have simple distractions around their outdoor living space in order to keep their attention from outside ‘dangers’. This can be accomplished with landscape dynamic landscape plantings, perennials with season change, shrubs with texture and color, and trees with sculptural interest. Other people may need heavier structures using heavy planting barrier designs with dense evergreen foliage, stone walls, wood fences or a combination of all these landscape elements. Landscape design is a process of creating space that will impart a character of feeling, an emotion. Too often a landscape designer focuses on the aesthetics, the forms or the art and the materials from a self-based orientation and they neglect the emotions of those who will inhabit the space.

A successful outdoor living room patio will help create a safe, peaceful and joyous set of emotions for those who ‘own’ the space, those who most use it and for whom it was designed. It will provide ‘protection’ from surroundings where needed and good views of the larger environment where appropriate. It will also have clear delineation for the choreography of movement, the access and egress to surrounding spaces, and adaptability for uses that will likely change over time. But, those landscape design principles will be discussed in a future article.