The Landscape Guide

Landscape Design Theory RESOURCES: Design Objectives Ecology, Community, Delight, Archetypes, Design MethodsStructuralism & Design, Community Design, Single Tree Principle, Design with nature, Master Plans,

Master Plans

Googling for the definition of master plan suggests that the term is most commonly used in planning to mean 'an overall development concept' but I think the term comes from engineering. Naval architects, for example, need to produce drawings for each component and then an assembly drawing, or master plan, to show how all the components fit together. Used in this way, landscape archtects also produce 'master plans', to show how the component drawings produced by the engineers and architects on a large project fit together. But there are problems with the term:

  • A 'master plan' implies the existence of a Master. Fellow professionals may dispute this role and, in our pluralistic age, clients may not wish to appoint a Master.
  • Landscape and garden design are subject to natural processes (which cannot be mastered) and have no single end-state in view.
  • Karl Popper raised profound objections to the whole notion of idealistic blueprint planning and persuaded many people that piecemeal change produces better results.
  • Christopher Alexander observed that master plans are incomplete for the first 25 years and obsolete thereafter

Vision Plans

The term Vision Plan implies that the plan is no more than a vision for the future. It has the drawback that 'visionary' is often used to mean 'unrealistically idealistic'

Concept Plans

This term takes some of its current meaning from the 'concept cars' produced by automobile manufacturers to explain their idea of what they might make at some point in the future.

Landscape Plan

If it could command public acceptance, this would be the best term. But its use rests on acceptance of the word 'landscape' to mean 'a good place' or, as Tom Turner would put it 'a place where there is lanship between the people and the place'.


The humility of 'piecemeal planning' is attractive. But so is Daniel Burnham's advice: 'Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men's blood and probably themselves will not be realized, make big plans; aim high in hope and work, remembering that a noble, logical diagram once recorded will never die, but long after we are gone will be a living thing, asserting itself with ever-growing insistency. Remember that our sons and our grandsons are going to do things that would stagger us. Let your watchword be order and your beacon beauty.' Evidently, Burnham had no hopes for his, or our, daughters and granddaughters.

Design by layers

If one accepts that design is a multi-layered procedure than the idea of Single Master Plan slips into the dust of history.

See Design Guide for students of landscape and garden design

There was a single Master
Plan for the Titanic - a bad
precedent (Thomas Andrews
was the designer - and
went down with the ship).

The hands of the Master

A 'concept car' represents
a possible future