structure in the landscape

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    Lisa Orgler

    I am preparing a presentation on how to create structure (order) in the landscape. 

    What are your tips on how you create structure in your designs?

    Jason T. Radice

    Two words = Regulating Lines


    These are imaginary lines drawn from other built structures (for me, buildings) that create axes from their physical arrangement, or geometries to play off of from architectural features that extend to the ground. As well, function segregation helps create order, which can be reinforced through various visual “tricks” in hardscape or landscape. Essentially, creating zones of activity; seating zone, movement zone, and clear zones are examples.

    Structure can also come from the solution to a problem on site, say, a grade break.

    Jamie Chen

    Differentiating surfaces with hardscape and vegetation, creating contrasting textures and places that invite the visitor to step further into the space.

    Leaving the ground plane; vertical elements define edges, frame views, evoke human scale.

    Repetition: make conscious choice about the colors, textures, materiality of the elements of the design. There is a difference in mood from poured concrete vs. brick vs. soil.

    Andrew Garulay, RLA

    Design should flow from abstract to specific, from big to small, simple to complicated, and from general to detail in my opinion.


    Your question has different answers depending which one of those areas you are basing your question from and where you are within those ranges.


    There are also those two separate things that need to converge – ideal relationship of spaces and the realities of the site.


    The site has existing structure that can be supportive or detrimental. The site can also force changes to those ideal relationships between activities based on the physical requirements that they need. Sometimes conflicts between activities require mitigation and that mitigation brings with it structure. Other times there is little structure to the site and nothing initiating it.


    When structure is not pre-existing on the site or compelled by the relationships with adjacent planned activity, you sometimes need to “build context” to make an isolated activity or feature fit into the bigger landscape. That can be done by introducing a new activity (passive or active) to the program so that what you do to mitigate the lack of structure is not out of place. The trick to that is that it also has to be a real activity that works and not a random diorama.


    Specific ways of building structure are very situational in my opinion. It starts with careful analysis of existing conditions and what you already know about the proposed plan including periferal activity and physical features. 


    Finally, another “thing” that goes with the “simple toward complicated” part  in opening paragraph on this post is that everything can be executed from one or a few big impacts at one extreme and many tiny nudges at the other extreme. The former methodology is simple and easy to recognise and replicate. The latter is subtle and not as often seen, less recognised, and it follows that is not so often replicated. It is what makes those spaces that are really comfortable and few people know why.


    A good example is a swimming pool in a residential back yard where you feel like you are on stage to all of the neighbors. Most people believe they need a 20′ hedge all the way around. But, at. another similar pool where you can see as many houses, decks, windows, and neighbors but you really don’t seem to notice, yet there is no 20′ hedge. We need to take the time to notice what is around us when we are not uncomfortable and figure out why …. especially when it is not so obvious why we should not be. That is not specifically about structure, but and example of big simple high impact execution vs. lots of subtle impacts taking on big issues.


    I like the explanation given by Mr. Andrew Garulay, since it precisely answers your question. And, while designing your structure for landscape, you should make sure that you maintain proper regulating lines, which will have great influence on the end design. 

    Trace One

    Disagree with all of above comments. 

    The basis of all landscape design is the path. Determine where the paths  go, where the journey of the landscape goes, from where to where,  (even if it is onlly an ornamental planting bed – there is a visual path), and go from there. All else is decoration on top of the path * structure*. From that you get major and minor paths, emphatic or diffusive planting designs, gates, pauses, etc. etc.

    The basis of all landscape design is the path.

    I think that is what Jason Radice’s comment is saying in a very abstract way. But just design the path, all else flows from there.

    Lisa Orgler

    Wow! Reading all your perspectives on creating structure in the landscape is fabulous.  My challenge is always finding the right words to explain it to a student or homeowner.  When I finally gain their understanding, it’s fun to see the ah-ha moment.  I have to admit, Trace, I’m intrigued with your path philosophy. I often organize the spaces as a form composition study and while I think about paths, they are not usually the main thing up front.  You encouraged me to think about this in a different way.

    Fred Besancon

    Just to chime in, in looking at developing order in the landscape (or architecture), you have to be clear as to your intent and how you construct the site.  Ultimately I believe all design in an imposition on the site so we have to be clear as to what we are trying to do and why.  Another way to put it is to determine your reaction to the current site / program conditions and then act upon those in a coherent, , deliberate, legible way.  

    I recommend looking at some of Marc Treib’s essays, notably “Traces Upon the Land: The Formalistic Landscape” and “The Content of Landscape Form.” I’ve used those articles when teaching students about the basics of landscape design.

    Andrew Garulay, RLA

    The question is not what the basis of design is. It is about building structure. What you are saying neither agrees with or disagrees with anything anyone else has written. 


    How do you build structure to support your paths?


    Philosophically, a path is a strong structural element, but on the ground it may just as easily be overwhelmed by other elements as it can be dominant. Existing conditions can hold inherent paths that may not be in concert with the goals of the project.


    If we take the position that the path is the most dominant part of the landscape, it is all that much more important to know how to build structure in those areas of other activity along or next to the path in order to overcome “the path” and create the right environment for the particular activity within that space.


    Most of us do look at ALL of landscape architecture from an egocentric point of view. Mine is more geared to residential seaside second homes where “outdoor rooms” are the main elements. Yours is with Cal-Trans where paths such as highways would be the central elements.


    There is no doubt that paths, visual or circulatory, are important in the experience of just about any landscape, but, although a path can be a strong element within a strucure, it does not replace structure. It sometimes forces the need for more structure so that it does not take away from an alternative experience, or several alternative experiences that are meant to occur along or adjacent to that path.

    Lisa Orgler

    Thanks Fred.  I look forward to reading those essays.

    Trace One

    It seems to me, Andrew,  you are taking ‘structure’ literally, as buildings perhaps, with the three dimensionality the most important thing?

    and I stand by it – outdoor rooms are just another type of path. 

    perhaps it is ‘ego-centric’ as you say, but it seems a futile gesture to not have a design be for something – I can’t wrap my head around that, right now.

    Even if it is for water conservation, the path is the droplet path, extremely important..

    but I am not going to get in a knock down argument. Whatever works for you, works. 


    Andrew Garulay, RLA

    I’d like to think that after at least 4 years of a professional education we would all have evolved a pretty good understanding of creating order in the landscape. It all stems from the design process which is not something that can be taught in a few paragraphs or a single presentation.

    The process can be outlined and described as a concept, but the problem is that while the process is a simple concepts, it relies on its input to determine its output. The process will always lead to order as long as the input is thorough enough, that the input is correct, and that the right decisions are made by those applying the process.

    The most important thing that a presentation about creating order in the landscape should get across is that all things in and around the landscape have to be accounted for. It is easy to get focussed on the specific elements that we are designing and lose focus on what surrounds it or even more remote things that will influence it.

    The physical factors are only part of it. People are another. Sometimes the space sets the state of mind of the people who are in it, sometimes people are coming to it in a state of mind, and usually it is a bit of both. This should be part of the input in the design process as well. Again, the process is only as good as its input


    Getting a grip on knowing what to put into the process and how much to weight the influence of those competing factors is biggest influence on creating order, in my opinion.

    Trace One

    Actually, while thinking about this, I remembered that Ian McHarg would say that the first step is to determine what sort of ecological system your landscape is before you start working with it, with the purpose of that thought process being that you go with the existing system, rather than fight it..Roadways are usually floodplain type environments – too wet and too dry, etc..But he would think that first you have to label the system the landscape represents – if it is a suburban backyard, it may seem silly, but if you think about it long enough it will make sense.

    Of course understanding the existing ecosystem also involves doing the layer-cake – map soils, aspect, vegetation, hydrology, etc. Make the map layer cake, to understand your site. Because you don’t want to fight what is there, you want to work with it.

    then the path.


    Jason T. Radice

    Path is but a regulating line…one of many. It can create, be influenced by, or owns it entire existence to regulating lines, which are all derived from some sort of structure, man-made or natural. Keep in mind that regulating lines are not always created by built structure, but view axes, a line of hills or mountains, and even topographic lines. It depends on what the design is for, as sometimes, there is no singular path…or even no path at all. In most site oriented designs, paths are one of the last things in concept consideration as programmatic elements are first placed to optimize space, function, and synergy/relationship, the paths are then created to connect those elements. Then you get into paramtrics where paths are even more diluted for the sake of design language.

    Trace One

    To me, landscape is not art, but more craft. The path essentially just means circulation, and again, to me, that should be dominant over style or other decorative elements. If you like to think of your landscapes like paintings, Jason, good for you. I don’t find that particularly useful. For me, the design is in service to the users and the ecology of the site.

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