The Landscape Guide

Explaining a project

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Design organizations live and die by their ability to persuade clients to adopt recommended courses of action, as do non-governmental planning offices. Explaining your scheme to a college jury is a similar activity. In both cases you have to convince your listeners that you have done a good job and are recommending a sensible course of action, which makes good use of scarce resources that have alternative uses.

First principle

The boy scouts were right: "Be prepared'. Preparing what to say is an intrinsic aspect of generating a scheme. As initial decisions are usually about what sorts of place to make, express them in words and write them down, instead of just drawing. The words could express qualities, like peace, mystery and adventure. Or they might describe character areas: "market square', "busy social space', "abstract visual space', "quiet retreat', "lush oasis', "outdoor living room', "cottage garden'. Adopt the same procedure as you subdivide the spaces: "swamp garden', "fountain court', "bamboo glade', "sheltered haven', "rose walk'. The labels will keep changing, and of course you should be inventing new types of space. But it must be possible to put the objectives into words: shapes are never sufficient for clients and I doubt if they are sufficient for you either. Instead of producing traditional labelled plans, try making typographic compositions with words. A word plan can be a superb starting point for a design project

Second principle

Remember those plans your English and History teachers used to require. They are exactly what you need to coordinate the story-line for a set of drawings into a beginning, a middle and an end. In the beginning, "say what you are going to say'. In the middle, "say it'. At the end, "say what you have said'. Here is an example:

Beginning: "I was asked to design a beach park.'
Middle: "As mineral extraction has wrecked the place, we will have to heal the soil [point to the edaphic plan], the water system [point to the hydrological plan] and the vegetation [point to the habitat creation plan]. This can be done on the pattern of a sand dune ecosystem, with both exposed and sheltered places [point to the cross-sections and the earthmoving plans]. I think of it as a net and sail.'
End: "This perspective is done from the proposed arrival point. It shows the beach and the car park, which are the two main features, linked by a path, which runs through new habitats.'

Producing the best drawings for a project is more like producing a children's storybook than you might imagine. However deep the ramifications of your plans and designs, the story itself should be sweetly simple:

Beginning: "The place is like this...'
Middle: "It should change because...'
End: "When the works are complete the place will be like this...'

Once the story plan has been written, it will be easy to judge what drawings you require to illustrate the scheme. Without the story, you may produce a few good pictures but you are most unlikely to produce a project of the type that makes clients reach for their credit cards.

Your English teacher may have asked you to prepare numbered points for an essay, or prompt cards for a speech. It is no bad thing to do likewise for design presentations but, as you can see from the above examples, it is really better if the drawings themselves function as your prompt cards. Please don't read from notes, ever.

Third principle

Remember all the traditional principles of public speaking:

Maintain eye contact with those you are addressing: talk to the people, not to the drawings, the floor, the window, or the fire escape.
Vary your tone of voice and volume, to keep your listeners awake.
Emphasize the most important points with gestures and dramatic pauses.

Fourth principle

When it comes to questions and comment, do not shout, do not abuse your listeners and do not threaten physical violence. If listeners do not understand the scheme, that's your problem. If they do not like your scheme, console yourself that "you can't please all the people all of the time'. If they have any useful suggestions, listen carefully and make notes. If you have made a mistake, admit it. If the worst comes to the worst, use bromide: "That's an interesting point -- thank you for raising it'.

Fifth principle

Warning: Colouring can damage your plans!

Carefully thought-out well-drawn plans can be damaged, easily, by over-hasty and thoughtless colouring. Five minutes with a felt-tip pen can obliterate five days' work with a technical pen. Colours should be used to enhance the "message' or a plan, not just for prettification.

Before reaching for your colour box, stand back and look at the plan, again, from a distance. Try asking yourself the following questions:

Who is this drawing aimed at?
What point should it persuade them of?
What information should it convey?

Depending upon the answers to these questions, you can use colours to achieve some or all of the following:

to bring out the proposed character of the whole place;
to give subsidiary spaces more definition;
to clarify the circulation pattern, pedestrian and vehicular;
to emphasize the landform;
to define the proposed habitat pattern;
to emphasize the planting design;
to show the surface water management proposals;
to explain the materials concept.

With presentation drawings, it is often best not to apply any colour until the end of the drawing-up period. Try to leave a few days for the purpose, and do not begin colouring until you have assigned a role to each drawing. Then remember:

Always do a sample area before starting on the main drawing.
It is better to have too little colour than too much colour.
An overall colour scheme for a set of drawings can have a powerful effect (e.g. cool colours; warm colours; spring colours; autumn colours; vibrant colours; jungle colours; pastel colours).
Alternatively you can use different-but-related colour schemes for different sections of the project. Interior design books may give you some ideas.

You can also use colour symbolically to represent the character of space (see Essay 16), or anything else you wish to symbolize.


Public speaking can be intimidating - if you are not well prepared (with words and drawings).

A word plan - using words to summarize the character of the places which have been designed.