Learning all about the process of design

The spring semester of Polly's Masters in Landscape Architecture is well under way and teaching has turned to focus on the principles of design.

Every few weeks my class is tasked with redesign a site on campus.

Site analysis: past, present and future

Each student begins by completing a site analysis including recording key information about the current state of the site. Environmental conditions, soft and hard landscaping, how many people use the site, what time of day it's used and who occupies the surrounding buildings are all recorded and reported back to the class. Any problems or limitations with the site, lack of access or underground utility lines, are also recorded in order to determine what changes should be made.

Site redesign: deciding on your theme

Next, we find a theme for the redesign that's relevant to the site. The best way to choose a theme is by researching the history, current use and location of the site. My project themes are usually inspired by the surrounding architecture or the subjects being studied in the surrounding buildings. 

The essential message being taught within my design class is that every landscape tells a story of its historical, cultural, and environmental past and present. Our job as designers is to evaluate each landscape through these facets, creating spaces for humans and wildlife with emphasis on sustainability, functionality and aesthetics.

Design concepts: getting ideas onto paper

Sketching out ideas on paper is a good technique for exploring design concepts. Plans highlighting alterations to be made, and areas of the site to be retained, can be used as a starting point. It’s also helpful to make conceptual drawings experimenting with spatial forms that express your theme. All these drawings provide a base for the schematic site plan, the final plan for your design which should be drawn to scale, showing exactly how the new site will look. Supporting drawings representing the site from different perspectives can be developed to provide a clearer idea of materials to be used and space between objects.

Polly's recommended garden design considerations

If you’re interested in designing a garden, here are some key things to consider when working through the design process:

  • What are the environmental conditions of the site (climate, soil type, location)?
  • Why are you choosing one design intervention over another?
  • Can you determine which of your design ideas are the strongest and most suit the site conditions?
  • What is the function of each space within your design?
  • What are the connections with the existing site and surrounding architecture?
  • Are you solving existing problems within the site? 
  • Is your design benefitting the ultimate user of the site?

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