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[This article, by Tom Turner was first published in the October 2001 edition of Landscape Design (#304 pp28-32)]

John Dixon Hunt makes positive and negative remarks about landscape theory in a recent book. He believes that:

‘landscape architecture is a fundamental mode of human expression and experience’

‘landscape architecture, locked into a false historiography, is unable to understand the principles of its own practice as an art of place-making’.

I warm to both points but Hunt makes a curious blunder. He states that no classical author wrote ‘specifically for what we have come to call landscape architecture, as Vitruvius did for architecture’. Yet the first and most famous of the Ten Books in Vitruvius’ De Architectura deals with the heart and soul of landscape architecture: the relationship between structures and places. Book One reviews: the principles of design (Order, Eurythmy, Symmetry, Propriety, and Economy); the aims of design (Commodity, Firmness and Delight); site planning in relation to climate; site planning for security; site planning for public buildings and public open space.  Books Two to Ten then deal with various building types and with Roman engineering, including harbours, site planning, clocks, aqueducts, pumps and siege engines. Most of these topics lie outside what we now call architecture but it is worth remembering the etymology of ‘architect’ from ‘chief of techniques’. Having to many techniques, we now require many specialists.

Vitruvius summarized the aims of design as Commodity, Firmness and Delight. I suggested re-classifying these aims for landscape planning as Natural, Social and Visual aims. Ian Thompson has reformulated them for landscape design as Ecology, Community and Delight. Each summarizes a set of objectives with broad information requirements and scope to benefit from a knowledge-intensive approach. We can learn from 2,000 years of history and use digital approaches to renew the ancient art of design on the land. Several recent books have dealt with the 3 key areas of knowledge identified by Thompson.


The developing science of landscape ecology is showing the importance of habitat patterns to landscape design. Simon Bell takes a broad view. His, Landscape pattern, perception and process, examines the role of landscape ecological patterns, the aesthetics of nature and the patterns of human use. He writes that ‘We tend to look for patterns which seem to make sense in the knowledge that we have about our world, as well as being aesthetically satisfying in the relationship of each part to the whole. Humans have been making patterns from time immemorial, as decoration, as symbols or for religious purposes. Some patterns can be connected with certain cultures whilst others are more universal. People, by their settlements, fields, roads, village layouts and towns have subconsciously evolved the landscape to suit their purposes, although they may not have been fully aware of the patterns being created. Pattern recognition is important to help us understand and relate to the world around us’ (Fig 1).

Some landscape patterns were better understood by our ancestors than ourselves; others are being identified and explained by modern science.


The functionalist approach to landscape design was hindered by inadequate data on the social use of outdoor space. Such knowledge was lost when design-by-drawing replaced craft-design. Christopher Alexander and W H Whyte have assembled valuable information on the social aspects of outdoor design. As Thompson’s use of the word ‘community’ reminds us, landscape design is concerned as much with people as with the physical aspects of outdoor space. The patterns in Alexander’s Pattern Language are design archetypes which communities have found valuable over an endless period of time. Alexander asserts that ‘if you can’t draw a diagram, it isn’t a pattern’. It is interesting to note that the pattern language approach is also popular with object-oriented computer programmers. Good programming objects become re-usable patterns. The Kaplans, working with the landscape architect Robert Ryan, have made a significant contribution to the integration of Alexander patterns with ecological patterns in their book With people in mind: design and management of everyday nature. They explain that ‘We began doing research in this area with two hopes, namely, that there would be orderly enough patterns to make scientific research possible, and that the results would have a beneficial effect on the design and management of the natural landscape’ (Fig 2).


Landscape design is deeply concerned with the group of design aims which Vitruvius categorised as ‘delight’. For many centuries this was interpreted as ‘beauty’. Abstract art began a change and conceptual art has further weakened the link between ‘art’ and ‘beauty’. Ideas are regaining their importance. Van Doesburg, a pioneer modernist, exhorted us to ‘leave the repetition of stories, tales etc., to poets and writers’. In the post-modern era there is a burgeoning interest in narrative. Mark Francis’ Meanings of the garden was a key book in turning landscape architects away from the sterility of abstract modernism. It was followed by Potteiger and Purinton’s Landscape narratives and Anne Whiston Spirn’s Language and landscape (Fig 3).

These authors abjure Doesburg’s exhortation and point to the brilliant use of symbolic narratives at the Villa Lante, Stourhead and elsewhere. The underlying pattern of stories, known as narrative structure, is studied by structuralist literary theorists. For the future, we must keep our minds and eyes open. ‘Delightful’ ideas could come from music, dance, astronomy, geological sections, Mandelbrot patterns, or anywhere.

Design methods

The injunction of my student days, to use a SAD approach (Survey-Analysis-Design), was open-ended. One never knew when the Survey work should stop. Nor was there useful guidance on how to conduct an Analysis. Design became a creative leap into murky waters, disappointing everyone. Complex information handling problems require a focus on values to guide the selection of data and a method to help with the integration of knowledge from diverse fields.

The analysis stage of landscape design can be assisted by pattern diagrams and models. It is a method with a distinguished history. Patrick Geddes proposed the use of ‘thinking machines’. They were pieces of paper, folded and unfolded to discover relationships between sectors of knowledge (Fig 4).

His successors, as charted by Steinitz, used maps and diagrams to organise data and an overlay technique to examine relationships between data sets. McHarg advanced this method by overlaying evaluative maps derived from descriptive maps. In his Richmond Parkway project, for example, McHarg mapped the different types of value (recreation, scenery, wildlife etc) which should guide route selection. It was a pattern-based approach to planning, though the patterns dealt with Ecology and Community rather than Delight (Fig 5) .

 The reach of the method can be extended by using hyperlinks to inter-relate categories of knowledge. Hence the acronym PAKILDA: a Pattern Assisted Knowledge Intensive Landscape Design Approach. The resulting design process is neither linear nor circular nor random. The flight of the honey bee provides a useful analogy.

The bee’s progress from hive to meadow appears random but is known to be structured. Bees memorize a set of landmarks and use loose-fit maps when moving from point to point. Similarly, landscape designers follow a long journey from existing to proposed, with many unpredictable diversions. The flowers on the route will be reached in no particular order but may be classified as Natural Process Patterns, Social Patterns and Aesthetic Patterns. A key feature of the method is the use of models, or drawings, of the existing and proposed situations. They should be presented in a similar manner and at similar scales to display the five compositional elements of landscape design: landform, habitat, water, buildings and paving. Pattern diagrams represent ideas and explain the principles with which we seek to influence landscape change. The ideational diagrams ‘come between’ the models or drawings, facilitating and then explaining the planning and design process. A small domestic example of how this approach operates was published in the Garden Design Journal (Fig 6).

Pattern analysis diagrams, 2D and 3D, should always be used in pairs: one to represent the existing situation (pedestrian circulation, vehicular circulation, urban grain, texture, colour, Isovist lines, microclimate, figure-ground, narrative, space syntax, landscape ecology, etc) and one to represent the proposed situation. Katheryn Gustafson’s characterization of her own approach as Words – Diagrams – Models’ implies a non-digital version of this method. Kathryn Moore discusses the role of conceptual diagrams in design. Launching a design project with words accords a central place to ideas, or forms, as Plato conceived them. Representing ideas with diagrams translates them into a shorthand language for designers. Models encourage multi-dimensional thinking. Gustafson’s approach is worlds away from the SAD ‘Three Sheet Method’ required for the ILA Part 3 Design Set Piece Examination which I took in 1971. Each sheet was a dyeline print reeking of ammonia and coloured with Magic Markers. The Analysis Sheet resembled a plan for a tank battle.


A profusion of inputs and outputs is characteristic of the PAKILDA approach. Instead of producing Design with a capital D, as one does for an architectural project, the approach yields a series of outputs to be achieved over various periods of time. Some ideas, like paths and walls, can be implemented in a week. Others, like new woods, take a century. Still others, like the grand axis in Paris, or London’s open space system, exert their influence over many centuries. Patterns relate differentially to the natural environment, the human environment and the world of ideas. It is a complex information-handling situation which can be informed and supported by a modern version of Geddes’ thinking machines. Hyperlinking is not intrinsic to the approach may contribute to its success.

Vannevar Bush, in 1945, dreamed of a computer network which would ‘give man access to and command over the inherited knowledge of the ages’. Ted Nelson used the term hypertext to mean ‘a space of more than three dimensions’ and sought to write a computer programme, Xanadu, which would enable ‘new writing and movies to be interactive and interlinked’. Tim Berners Lee, an English physicist then working at CERN, made this possible with his HyperText Transfer Protocol (the http:// of web addresses). The prefix ‘hyper’ means ‘over, beyond, above’. Hypertext interlinks topics and facilitates non-linear thinking. When sound and image are included, the term HyperMedia is used. It is a CAD technique which can generate HyperLandscapes.

If, for example, Geoffrey Jellicoe had created a virtual Water Garden, to parallel his real Water Garden in Hemel Hempstead, visitors would be able to trace the roots and branches of his ideas. They could hyperlink to biographical information, books, future projects, Carl Jung, symbolism, modern art, maps, Dacorum District Council and other places in the landscapes of man and civilisation. I have attempted a partial sketch of such a facility. It has links to Encyclopaedia Britannica articles, because this was the source for much of Jellicoe’s information. Readable landscapes interest the public and, since mobile internet devices will soon be common, I recommend landscape designers to get into the habit of creating websites of this type for the generation and explication of their landscape projects. Much could be done to popularize our art and science if visitors could read landscapes with PDAs (Portable Digital Assistants). URLs should be engraved in stone. Landscape design history might become a wildly popular subject if it could be researched in situ. The Landscape Institute might host project websites and maintain them beyond their designers’ lifetimes.


Models have a key role in landscape design. They should be used to represent both the existing situation and the proposed situation. Physical models, using such materials as clay, polystyrene, paper and card, are cheap to make and easy to change. They also benefit from a natural carry-over from the art and craft tradition of hand working, not to say dirty-hand working. Physical models can be 3d-scanned to produce digital models. Or one can build accurate digital models using imported elevation data on landform and structures, though CAD models tend to be less tactile and less expressive. Digital models can be 3d-printed, modified and re-scanned. Animation and modeling programmes enable walk-throughs to be generated and rendered. GIS programmes allow the fourth dimension of landscape change to be simulated. 2d overlays can be draped over 3d models. WebGIS allows hyperlinking to attribute data and images. A project like McHarg’s Plan for the Valleys could be presented as a Sim City type simulation, displaying the consequences of alternative landscape planning decisions.


Having begun these articles by castigating Modernism I would like to conclude with a word in its favour. Modernism has the capacity to inspire great works of art, as Peter Walker demonstrates in his book on Minimalist Gardens and as Beardlsey shows in Earthworks and beyond. Modernism is reductionist. Landscape design normally rests on synthesis. Yet Thompson’s diagram (Fig 7) shows that there are places for uni-, bi- and tri-valent design approaches. Each requires a distinct set of knowledge inputs. Where the design intention is a uni-valent focus on ‘delight’, to induce awe, sublimity or spiritual adventure, the relevant knowledge and skill will be of the type possessed by artists and visionaries. A PAKILDA approach should make it clear that there are occasions when one or more of the pattern groups can be set aside. Hyperlinking can be used to create virtual landscapes, paralleling real landscapes, explaining design intentions and restoring ideas to that central place in the creative process, from which they were displaced by the impact of three sharp stakes c1800. Landscape design theory can be regenerated by going back to its Platonic and Vitruvian origins.

For the practicing designer, a PAKILDA approach might take the following form:

  1. Represent the existing situation (5d, 4d, 3d, 2d)
  2. Formulate the project aims (Social/Functional/Aesthetic/Natural Process)
  3. Identify the key ideas and sources of knowledge, relating to the project aims
  4. Create pairs of existing/proposed pattern diagrams to inter-connect and explain the proposals for improving aspects of the place
  5. Represent the proposed situation (5d, 4d, 3d, 2d)

The approach is non-linear. Before the invention of hypermedia I used to remark that one should ‘think forwards and draw backwards’, meaning that the brain should buzz but that a presentation should be logical and sequential. When drawing a tree, children often begin with an outline. Experienced artists work from a knowledge of structure and mass. Landscape designers should use traditional and digital media to support their perceptive, reasoning and imaginative faculties.


  1. I coined this word from adjective ‘dogmatic’ and the Word 2000 spell-checker suggests ‘womanized’ as an alternative spelling, possibly revealing a misogynist streak in the King of Nerds.
  2. Hunt, J.D., Greater perfections: the practice of garden theory (Thames & Hudson London 2000) p 8
  3. ibid p 207
  4. ibid p 3
  5. The term ‘landscape architecture’ was coined, by Gilbert Laing Meason in 1828, to mean the type of architecure found in landscape paintings. See
  6. An online version of Vitruvius’ Book 1, on landscape architecture, is available on the LIH Landscape Information Hub
  7. Turner, T., Landscape planning and environmental impact design 2nd Edition UCL Press 1998. p. 35
  8. Thompson, I.H Ecology, Community and Delight. E&F Spon 2000
  9. Bell, S., Landscape pattern, perception and process E&FN Spon 1999
  10. Alexander, C. A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction Oxford University Press New York 1977. Links to Alexander’s work, and further discussion of archetypes and other patterns, can be found at
  11. Whyte, W.H. The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces The Conservation Foundation Washington 1980
  12. ‘Alexander’s definition of a pattern fits perfectly into object oriented software design, where each pattern incorporates one aspect of the problem analysis into the design (elucidating, at the same time, the use of the framework of classes that are the elements of the architecture)’. P 92 Coplien, J.O. (ed) Pattern languages of program design Addison-Wesley, 1995)
  13. Kaplan, R, Kaplan, S., Ryan, R.L., With people in mind: design and management of everyday nature Island Press Washington DC 1998
  14. Potteiger, M., Purinton, J., Landscape narratives: design practices for telling stories John Wiley & Sons 1998
  15. Tom La Dell and Alexandra Pocock have proposed including Creativity in the SAD rubric so that becomes SACreD. Landscape Design #287 pp 42-5.
  16. Steinitz, C. et al 'Hand-drawn overlays: their history and prospective uses' Landscape Architecture September 1976 pp 444-455
  17. Turner, T., Garden Design Journal Autumn 1999 pp 28-31
  18. Young, Chris Landscape Design #277, February 1999 pages 42-43
  19. Moore, K., ‘Drawing and the mechanics of design’, Landscape Design #289 pp 30-34.
  20. Bush, V., ‘As we may think’ Atlantic Monthly July 1945 (see Atlantic’s area of America Online)
  21. See Wolf, G., ‘The curse of Xanadu’ Wired June 1995 p 137. Xanadu is the title of a Coleridge’s poem and, before reading about Nelson, I had occasion to quote the poem in the monograph on Geoffrey Jellicoe published by the Landscape Design Trust in 1998. Jellicoe and Nelson were men of comprehensive imagination and vision.
  22. Berners-Lee, T., ‘WorldWide Web: Proposal for a HyperText Project’ November 12 1990. See
  23. The Uniform Resource Locator (URL) is
  24. Turner, T., ‘Jellicoe and the subconscious’ In Harvey, S (ed) Geoffrey Jellicoe: a monograph Landscape Design Trust, 1998

  25. Sim City is a GIS-based computer game which simulates the way in which cities respond to different sets of decisions.

Fig 1 Landscape ecology identifies patterns of patches, corridors and pathways (p 215 Bell, S., Landscape pattern, perception and process)

Fig 2 Ground texture pattern analysis (p. 42 Kaplan, R, Kaplan, S., Ryan, R.L., With people in mind: design and management of everyday nature)

Fig 3 Narrative structure of the Villa Lante (p. 47 Potteiger, M., Purinton, J., Landscape narratives: design practices for telling stories)

Fig 4 Patrick Geddes’ thinking machine. The circle in a mandala symbolizes the development of a town into an ideal city (p. 324 of Kitchen, P, A most unsettling person (Golanz, London, 1975)

Fig 5 McHarg used Ecological and Community pattern diagrams to select a route for the Richmond Parkway (McHarg, I Design with nature)

Fig 6 The flight of the honeybee. One could also think of the bee as landing on the rectangles of Geddes’ thinking machine. (p. 39 Turner, T., City as landscape)

Fig 7 Nine permutations of pluralistic design (p 179 Thompson, I.H Ecology, Community and Delight)