Early in my landscape design career, I worked for a developer of master planned communities.
Many of the projects we designed included areas around buildings where people would congregate, such as patios and outdoor seating areas for community centers, model home sales centers, golf course pro shops, and community restaurants.
Almost every project we worked on required the need for drainage design. We worked very closely with the civil engineers in order to create free-flowing, natural-looking sites with retention areas that didn’t look like they had been designed and engineered once they were constructed.
Whenever we would design the landscaping for a building, we almost always tried to bring some element of the building into the landscape.
Whether it was using a building accent on a courtyard wall or covering a theme wall with a similar material found on the building, we tried to make the landscape an extension of the building and its surroundings.
One of the more popular materials used on buildings here in the Southwest is stone veneer. It is available in a multitude of styles and colors and is very versatile.
Other things that we have done to blend the landscape and building have been to copy window styles and sill design for the building and mimic that on a smaller scale when designing theme walls for the landscape.
I enjoy going back and looking at some of those early designs every now and then and evaluating some of the choices we made.
While many of our designs would be considered successful from a usability and sustainability standpoint, I look at my projects and see how they flow with all of the site components.
Oftentimes I ask myself the following questions to really understand the success of our design:
• Does the landscape fit the site?
• Was plant selection appropriate for the project?
• Does the landscape look natural and not man-made?
• Does the building look organic to the site?
• Does it look like the building has always been there and the landscape naturally grew around it or does the building look out of place and the landscape look like an afterthought?
Most of my experience in master planned communities includes the design of active adult living communities and their amenities. Most of these projects have been targeted towards a more affluent client and thus the designs are of higher quality.
When I’m designing a project, I try to incorporate some of the indoor elements into the exterior landscape in order to give the user the feeling that the building and the exterior elements are connected and flow together.
Recently, when visiting a newly constructed municipal building complex, I couldn’t help but notice the design of the floor and its surface.
The lobby of this particular building was circular and the flooring design was laid out in a radial pattern protruding from the center of the building. I thought the design element was unique, and there was adequate use of complementary patterns and textures throughout the walkway. The outer walls of this portion of the building were solid glass from the floor to the ceiling.
When standing inside and looking out, the viewer was greeted with a wonderful view of a very lush courtyard and open lawn area.
But what stuck me as odd was that the exterior hardscape pattern did not line up or even complement the interior floor pattern where they met at the glass wall. Not only were the surfaces different textures and materials, the patterns were not complementary.
This was something that could have been remedied with a brief meeting between the architect and landscape architect during the planning stages of the project.
While both designs, when viewed independently of each other, appeared to be functional and aesthetically pleasing, when viewed in conjunction with each other, they seemed to have nothing in common.
There is no doubt that hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars had been spent on the design of this building.
It could have been better. It could have been magnificent.
Have you ever noticed a design element that could have been changed to make a design better or more user friendly? If you have, I’d love to hear about it.
As always, please feel free to leave a comment below, send me a tweet, or even an email. I look forward to hearing from you.
Have a great weekend!
Boyd Coleman is a landscape architect in Phoenix, Arizona. He can be reached on Twitter at @CDGLA or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.