Landscape Design

CGCI Chairman:  Alexis Slafer -


Landscape design is the planned modification of the land for the use and enjoyment of people. Good designs are the result of the design process, incorporating the principles and elements of design. Landscape design is primarily concerned with the allocation and design of outdoor space; where good solutions provide adequate and well-defined spaces for all of the intended uses.
When evaluating the gardens, consider the following:
  1. First Impression: An emotional & personal response to a new scene or familiar place seen in an unexpected way.
  2. Purpose: There are 2 broad categories within design: function & aesthetics. Function is the use or service a design provides. Aesthetics is based upon the user’s response to the garden in relation to the principles of design. A successful design simultaneously meets functional requirements & satisfies aesthetic concerns. Function: To meet the functional requirements, the site must be suitable for the purpose of the landscape design. This evaluation takes into consideration natural, cultural, and economic factors.
  3. Design: Aesthetic: The aesthetic aspect is evaluated on the basis of the elements & principles of design.
  4. Execution of the Design: Success of a garden design is dependent on the quality of its execution; that includes grading, drainage, construction, and planting.
  5. Maintenance: The long-term success of all landscape designs (hardscape & softscape) is the quality of the maintenance it receives, in response to changes over time.
  6. Final Impression: This impression and the first impression may be similar or completely different. In either case, while the final impression is still an emotional and/or personal response, it is likely to be the more valid opinion because it is based upon comparison, evaluation, and knowledge.
Remember, every design a designer creates is unique. Using the basic principles of landscape design will ensure the creation of a functional and beautiful garden and landscape.

Elements of Design 

  • Line – defines edges and divides areas
  • Form – the shape or silhouette of an object
  • Texture – the surface quality of an object
  • Color – created by light; have characteristics of brightness and opacity
  • Pattern – the arrangement of forms (often the repetition of a 2-dimensional motif across a surface)
  • Mass & Void –
    Mass = 3-dimensional object in space
    Void = space that surrounds a mass or space surrounded by a mass
  • Light & Shadow –
    Light = creates the bright & shining parts of a design
    Shadow = parts untouched by light, create the dark parts of a design

Principles of Design 

  • Proportion – the relative amount of one element to one or more of the other elements
  • Harmony – (also known as unity) results from the repetition of form, shape, color, texture, or like elements within a composition.
  • Scale – the size of the design in proportion to its surroundings and the relationship to the viewer or user.
  • Contrast – introduction of an unlike element, serving to emphasize the similarity of the other elements.
  • Balance – (symmetrical or asymmetrical -- may be bilateral or radial symmetry) requires the manipulation and distribution of mass and space so that a visual effect of equilibrium and stability is achieved.
  • Rhythm – (associated with harmony) a break in the regular repetition of form, shape, color, or texture.
  • Composition – A combination of visual balance, emphasis, and continuity to create the whole.
  • Spatial Definition – application of the principles and elements of design to create volumes and articulate and enrich outdoor space and manipulate the emotions of the viewer and/or user.
  • Context – the set of existing conditions in which a landscape design is situated.

Developing a Design 

First visualize your design to scale on paper. It is important to think with drawings and sketches so your mistakes are made on paper, not in reality -- on the landscape site.
1. Develop a plot plan
2. Conduct a site analysis
3. Assess client needs and wishes
4. Locate activity areas
5. Design activity areas
6. Design planting (selection & placement of materials)
A systematic approach should be taken in landscape design. First determine the objective of your design and then establish the general type of plan, whether it should be formal or natural.
  • Consider balance or imbalance. Imbalance is uncomfortable & not desirable.
  • Symmetrical balance (Formal & has bi-lateral symmetry or is identical on each side)
  • Asymmetrical balance  (Informal & equal weights on each side, but not exactly the same)
  • Radial balance  (Works in a circular pattern from a center point)
Order and Unity
  • Order and unity are emotional and visual reactions to the overall organization of the design elements within the existing site conditions. It is the organization and structure of a design, acting as the basic scheme or “skeleton” of the design.
  • Order might be achieved by symmetrical or asymmetrical balance or by having a formal or natural arrangement.
  • Unity is the harmonious relationship among all the elements and characteristics of a design; established by staying simple and minimizing differences. Too many components and materials and the complex use of elements create competitiveness and the resulting lack of integration within the design prevents unity.
Address the Design Requirements
1. Plan for structural needs (buildings & their uses)
2. Consider landforms (slopes, erosion, flat areas, cliffs)
3. Determine traffic flow (vehicular, service, pedestrian, entrance, parking; including transitions and linkages)
4. Consider the public area (which is different from the client’s needs), including:
       • Adjacencies to other properties (screening or enhancing views)
       • Entrance area (including traffic flow, linking the outside areas to the site)
       • Landscape ‘face’ to neighbors
       • Comfortable access and “way-finding” to the entrance
5.  The design should consider areas with a feeling of privacy and comfort, as well as provide limited exposure for security. A private area might be for reading or meditation that might be next to a building or in an isolated corner of the landscape.
Traffic Flow and Circulation
  • When designing for traffic flow and circulation, each unit on the site should be part of the whole and contribute to the overall circulation pattern. Circulation refers to the movement of people’s eyes (towards a focal point) and then their bodies follow through a specific pattern in the landscape.
Definition & Separation of Areas
  • A designer should clearly define and separate the activity areas once the ideas for their design have been determined. Sometimes space between areas or objects acts in this way, other times a fence or plant materials will do. Consider a visual screen that can be added without creating an actual physical barrier. Often plant materials can provide an inexpensive screen, adding both color and interest.