Why does one design a garden the way one does? What drives the design? What's at the core? What is the heartbeat or the hinge? What gives it life?
Maybe I could simply ask - what is the motivation for a garden design? (Phew, so many questions).
I have been turning these questions inside-out in my mind for some time - trying to come to a resolution, or maybe just some clarification on the matter. Because to me it does matter.
I remember back to my high school art class - to a project where we were supposed to create a piece of art that was based on a concept - where everything was supposed to mean something. It drove me crazy. I just wanted to produce art. It was that simple. (But what is art and does it have to mean something? I won't even bother with that now...)
I hadn't really learned about, or how to effectively develop, a concept-driven design until I arrived at the Inchbald. There definitely has been some mental adjusting while I have been wrapping my head around it and working with concepts in my projects. I go from wanting everything to mean something or being derived from something, to not wanting anything to mean anything at all!
A few days ago as I was doing some writing, and feeling a bit incompetent for not having developed a strong concept-based design for D4 - I came to this: for me, there are three motives my designs may grow from: 1) a concept, 2) an experience(s), & 3) a story.
CONCEPT: I think my D3 is a good example of a successful concept-led design. Everything grew out of the idea of a kaleidoscope and what that means to me, but in a non-super-obvious way. Which I don't think concepts (necessarily) should be obvious. I like designs that are based on concepts through various layers - if done well they have integrity and are grounded. I feel there is a risk though with concept-based garden designs - if not done properly they can become themes...or worse...theme-park-like..."tried too hard" is a phrase that comes to mind.
EXPERIENCE: After writing, I realized this is where my D4 is currently growing from, which after having let go of must-have-a-concept-or-else-my-design-isn't-valid, I am really enjoying the design process (you'll see some pictures this coming week of my progress!). There are certain experiences I want people to have who enter the D4 space I am developing. It's as simple as that...views I want to capture, feelings I want others to observe and memories to create. In my gardens want people to experience a time and a place that is all it's own. Maybe Sui generis* is a proper term to describe my motivation for an experience-led design.
STORY: I am just now thinking that this may be better categorized as NARRATIVE. Sometimes I see my gardens/landscapes as a book, or a story, and various areas around the property are different chapters...each area has it's own personality, it's own identity, but it is related to the whole through various design threads. I think of my Rivendell project back in Utah - that was story-driven I would say...especially when it comes to the planting schemes as one moves through the landscape. I suppose one could say that there is also a concept with Rivendell, being Rivendell - but I would still say that creating the story of the landscape itself speaks more strongly than the concept, though having the concept/foundation of Rivendell did help tell the story.
Which leads me to say that these three motives can overlap...or one motive can contain one or both of the other motives within it. But to be clear within your head - you can ask yourself as a designer, what is the strongest motive you are working with? Concept, Experience, or Story/Narrative?
While I was working for a landscape architecture firm (shout out to J & B! - Cottage cheese and Ritz Crackers at 3pm forever!) we had a public park we were designing. It was for a community in some lower hills in mountainous Utah County. The level changes at the west end of the park were dramatic as there was a very steep slope down to the road - we were trying to figure out how to work with this grade change. "The edge of the world, let's make this park the edge of the world" - that was my contribution. While visiting the site the first time I could see it - looking towards the west..."leave the view wide open towards the west, no trees. Have the grass extend as wide and far as it can before dropping at an acceptable grade to the road below - it will feel and look like the edge of the world from here!"
Months later - probably even over a year later - I was in the neighborhood of this park...I was curious and pulled over. I walked out to the large grassy area and faced west...and there it was...the edge of the world. It was an awesome and memorable experience.
So was my "Edge of the World" park concept-led? Experience-led? Or story/narrative-led?
Over time I'll see how these three motives grow, develop or change. I am still writing it out and turning it over. Maybe another design motive with surface...I'll let you know if one does.
*Sui generis: is a Latin phrase, meaning "of its own kind/genus" and hence "unique in its characteristics."