The Landscape Guide



Existing site & concept drawings

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Garden and landscape design ideas are about the relationship between an existing place and a changed place. It is therefore necessary to define and appraise the existing place before formulating ideas (concepts) for change. The concepts can be of several types: landform, landuse, spatial, circulation, materials etc.

Existing site drawing

An artist can always start with a new canvas, a writer with a new sheet of paper. Landscape design is different. Inevitably, you start with an area of land that has a unique character, which has been used before and which will be used again. Your landscape design is just a small step in a sequence of change spread over an infinite period of time. Anyone who views your scheme, especially a client, will require a representation of the existing site. A good way do to this is with a traditionally coloured drawing: blue for water, light green for grass, dark green for trees, layered colours for slopes, red for housing, purple for industry and so forth. You might as well follow the colouring conventions of published maps. Alternatively, you can produce a plan "at the same scale and coloured in the same manner' as your main design plan. This will let clients and critics check the extent to which you have followed the Single Agreed Law of Landscape Design: "Consult the genius of the place'.

Appraisal drawing

The purpose of this drawing is to define what is good about a site, what is not so good, and what is bad. Christopher Alexander describes them as "diagnostic plans' (Alexander, 1975). One attraction of the word "diagnostic' is that it draws an analogy between the health of a place and the health of a body. Instead of speaking personally ("I like it') Alexander believes that appraisals should be done in relation to specific patterns (e.g. positive open space). He says you should colour the good part of the site red, the medium bits orange and the poor bits yellow. Then you should develop the yellow bits before developing the red bits.

Whether or not you find Alexander's method helpful, you will find it difficult to proceed with a design until you have made an evaluation of its existing characteristics and opportunities. Planners often talk of SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats). The eternal sense behind this approach is that good and bad are fundamental categories of human thought. It also reminds one that site characteristics can be strengths or weaknesses only from defined points of view. The presence of rock is a strength for the foundation engineer and a weakness for the farmer.

Analysis drawing

This type of drawing was an old favourite of the landscape and planning professions (Figure 5). Drawings used to have big arrows for access points, phalanx of arrows to show prevailing winds, clock arrows for views, zig-zag lines for noise, etc. I do not think they were very useful drawings and I was completely put off them when I heard a client describe them as "tank battle' plans. One must beware of analysis-paralysis while remembering that the process of analysis is central to design, now and always. I think it is best carried out by means of single-topic diagrams, existing and proposed, as discussed below.

[FIG 14.5 ]

Concept sheets

People often ask me "What is a concept sheet?', especially, and reasonably, because I am always demanding them. The Oxford English Dictionary gives the following definition:

Concept n idea of a class of objects; general notion; invention. [f.LL conceptus f. concept- (see conceive)

A concept drawing therefore shows what you have invented or conceived, usually in diagrammatic form. It embodies a simplified version of the general idea that lies embedded in your plan. There are several different kinds of concept drawing, and I think it is better to do small diagrams for as many of them as are necessary, instead of one large drawing for them all. Some of the main types of concept drawing are described below, but you may need other types (e.g. ecological concept, hydrological concept, colour concept, planting concept) to bring out the essential characteristics of your scheme.

Circulation concept

Drawing inspiration from the London Underground map, this sheet ought to reveal whatever is important about the circulation. This may include some or all of: access points, vehicular routes, pedestrian routes, cycle routes, bridleways, modal segregation, etc. Where appropriate, the circulation concept should show proposed routes as an addition to existing routes.

Spatial concept

Separate diagrams are required for existing and proposed (Figure 6). They should show everything below eye level (paving, grass, herbaceous plants, seats etc.) as white and everything above eye level as black (opaque vegetation, buildings, fences etc.). Trees should be shown in a special way if you can see underneath them; there is a great spatial difference between trees with clear stems and trees with branches or shrubs at eye level. Sylvia Crowe's practice was to put cross-hatching on vegetation that made a visual screen. You might like to do separate diagrams for screening from sitting and standing positions. These diagrams show the boundaries of space. They can be described as mass and space drawings or solid and void drawings. The Nolli plan of Rome is a famous exemplar.

[FIG 14.6 ]

Landform concept

This is self-explanatory. It shows an idea for the landform, as distinct from the landform itself. Separate diagrams may be necessary for existing and proposed. For an afforestation scheme, the "existing' drawing might show a major ridge, three minor ridges, a hill and a valley. The "proposed' drawing might show tree belts to reinforce the major ridge and some clearance to open up the valley.

Land use concept

This will show land uses (housing, industry, recreation etc.). Separate diagrams may be necessary for existing and proposed. Although usage is one of the fundamental ways in which we think about land, the record of town planners and designers in determining land use is inglorious. Where they have succeeded, monocultural expanses of housing and industry have resulted. More often, they have succeeded only in producing neatly coloured or shaded maps.

Design concept

This can be thought of as a diagrammatic version of the master plan. I think it is a very good idea to produce a "postcard plan', which may be defined as: "a 100 @x 150@tmm plan, simply drawn and coloured in such an attractive manner that it could serve as a birthday card for your grandmother'. It should also show the key idea behind your scheme. If you are having difficulties with composition, it is often much easier to resolve them at the postcard scale. One can produce ten alternative plans, rapidly, and show them to people to invite comments.

Materials concept

One can design a chair either before or after selecting the materials. But one cannot make a chair until decisions have been taken about the design and the materials. Similarly with landscape work, the choice of materials is usually intrinsic to the design. Begin with a collage of materials and colours collected from the existing site (Figure 7). Then put together a "materials concept' by assembling illustrations (or samples) of the materials that you intend to use. Display them with your design drawings.