Notes to Young Landscape Designers

As a landscape designer I have an interest in designing projects that not only serve the needs of my clients, but also, at their best, help give meaning to their lives. Many of the designed landscapes I observe on a daily basis not only fail to inspire but also fail to meet the needs of the individuals they are intended for.  Although many are competently installed and well cared for there is still something missing. The topic of purpose in landscape design was suggested as the theme for this post, but purpose alone does not create good design. A lot of landscapes are designed with purpose yet fail to inspire the user. The best design goes beyond purpose and involves deliberation and inspiration.

Deliberate purpose is comprised of the practical, functional and utilitarian needs of the client. A designed landscape should at very least meet these needs. The space has to be the right size to accommodate the number of intended users, the circulation through the spaces should be fluent and it should be constructed to last for decades. Ideally it is built on budget and possibly in phases which may help eliminate design compromises.  In a nut shell, successful deliberate purpose in design requires a willingness to engage in process oriented thinking and avoid the temptation to simply sell a product. Be careful to check your ego at the door before sitting down to work. It is easy to become enamored with our ideas, and consequently, stifle the voice inside your head that allows you to transcend, evaluate and modify your concept.

The environment should also possess a quality that transcends the deliberate purpose of the project. Projects with inspired purpose go beyond competence and are satisfying in deeper ways – aesthetically, emotionally, intellectually and perhaps even spiritually. The best have an intuitive balance between complexity and simplicity, allowing the differences to enhance, rather than cancel each other out. Mastering this is very difficult, and it is a puzzle which I am continuously trying to solve and in no way have mastered. Inspired purpose speaks of true design, not simply decorating or imitating an image or idea from a book or magazine.

Between the two areas of deliberate and inspired purpose, deliberation without inspiration is relatively easy to achieve and much more widespread. Consequently, the presence of inspired purpose in design combined with deliberation increases the value of the landscape considerably.  This is true in all design, not just landscape. Take the ipod as an example. It is a product that effectively balances simplicity and complexity, typically does less than other mp3 players, generally costs more, but yet, manages to outsell its competitors by wide margins. Truly deliberate and inspired.

Good design offers us an opportunity to bring solace, meaning, and value to our daily lives. As I sit in my Eames lounge chair typing this blog, it occurs to me that well designed things tend to become a seamless part of our lives, but it is easy to take them for granted. As you look around your home or office, just about everything has been designed. I am sure each of us can name examples of well designed and poorly designed things, whether it is a cell phone, a chair, or the actual space in your home, or the space around your home. If we compare these spaces or things with others, we find that most of them are fairly well made; the thing that really differentiates them is the harmonious use of deliberate and inspired purpose in the design or lack thereof. I will leave you with a quote from Charles Eames.

“Design is a plan for arranging elements in such a way as best to accomplish a particular purpose.”