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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.