November 13, 2009

“Let walls, ceilings, floors become seen as component parts of each other, their surfaces flowing into each other.”                                                  Frank Lloyd Wright


 When I first start discussing form composition in class at the California School of Garden Design we are initially looking at simple shapes and how they interconnect to create space and functionality in the landscape. 

This concept alone is difficult for many beginning design students – after all, isn’t garden design all about plants?  Of course the answer to that is “No”. Garden design is about creating the outdoor environment for our clients;  plants, just like any other component of the landscape should complement the overall design solution and site – all the parts working to become one.

So this brings me back to my opening quote by Frank Lloyd Wright.  Although he was talking about architecture the same idea holds true to landscape design.  Continuity and the many parts of the garden flowing into each other to become one. 

Here’s an example:  there are few elements more garish in the landscape than the modular block walls you’ll see throughout the community used to terrace hillsides or form walls for patios.  Sure, they’re fairly easy to build (if you have a strong back), but if we are to find value in what Wright has written and practiced, then it’s pretty easy to see that these modular systems do not offer continuity to the landscape at all. 

There is a term from the Greeks – Genius Loci.  The Spirit of the Place.  This Spirit is seen in the Arts and Crafts movement, of which Wright was a participant.  Simply speaking, the garden (and architecture) evolve from the surroundings, growing out of the earth.  When local materials are employed, matching the stone with soil, colors blending and careful attention to detail and realizing that all the ‘parts’ should complement each other, then we are approaching continuity.

“…walls, ceilings, floors……their surfaces flowing into each other” Here’s the Details of the design.  If this is to be achieved successfully we need to seriously consider our materials and how they will flow into each other. 

Bringing in a floor, through sweeping curves, into the wall.  Flowing into each other, plasticity.   Local stone, on-site and evolving from the property – not concrete block formed and pretending to be what it never will be.   No divisions of this sort – the garden should be complete, within itself.  Instead of many things, one thing. 

At the California School of Garden Design we explore the influences of Architects, Landscape Architects/Designers and Artists. This is not just an exercise in history, but a way to tie and root ourselves to the rich heritage and influence of the past and work to interpret these insights for the future.  

If you haven’t seen it yet, I strongly suggest Ken Burns biography of Frank Lloyd Wright on DVD.

Thanks for reading,

Rob Littlepage

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