Friday, March 13, 2009

A sense of Place

We’ve all had the experience of arriving at a special place and becoming overwhelmed with a sense of awe and wonder. What is it about this place that affects us so powerfully? Natural places such as a “cathedral” in the woods or a sheltered cove have been designed by natural forces, and most created or developed places have been designed. These special, designed places have been thoroughly thought out. What story do we want to tell? How many outdoor “rooms” do we want to create? Which views do we want to open up, conceal, or reveal gradually? How shall we guide circulation? How do we incorporate resting places or spots for triangulation? How do we want to use color to create moods? How do we make users feel safe? What is the existing language of the space and the surrounding spaces that must be respected to create this sense of place?

A great designed space matters. So many of our clients tell us that before we designed their gardens they never spent time in the space, and afterward they derive great pleasure spending much of their time in the space. They now want to show it off to friends, and they now start planning activities around the space.

A fellow designer compares good design with smoke. “You know what they are when you see them. But when you try to grasp it, sometimes you can't reel it in.” Again, we have the feeling of the ethereal.

Clients are often thrilled when we hand them their final drawings after so much time spent thinking about the design. It is a tangible representation of this ongoing conversation about the creation of this new place. We take great pride in our drawings, but the cost of our design services is not paying for the drawing alone. It represents the many hours of training, specific research, developing and storytelling that is behind each pen-stroke of our drawings. Only through these less visible steps do we achieve a good design; and a good design creates a great place. Good design is intentional, purposeful, and defensible. When a client asks us why we placed that patio or tree as we did, our answer will always be much more than “because we thought it would look pretty there”.

Landscape designer Harry Schuster once commented, “All other things being equal, a well-designed landscape costs just as much to install as an ugly one. Why not make them all nice?” We agree! We commend all of our lovely clients and friends who have had this foresight, and we encourage you all to spread the word. We are on a mission to spread this sense of place, and we'd like to enlist your help.

The following photos show both natural and designed places that I visited in my travels which filled me with this sense of awe upon arrival. I woud love to learn of places that bring this sense of awe to others.

Stockholm, Sweden. Taken while exploring this amazing city by boat.

Barcelona, Spain. A crazy, invigorating place with so many hidden jewels.

My daughter had great fun running through this Cape Cod beach.

Exploring a very bohemian mountain town in Mexico. An amazing town filled with so many special places.

Ethiopia. After hours of bouncing through dirt roads, we arrived at this amazing lake carved out by natural design.

The Getty in Southern California. The sky felt amazingly large juxtaposed against this grand architecture.

Honfleur, France. I could have lingered here for years. Everywhere I looked I was in awe; a storybook village.

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