Great Landscape Design - Outdoor Space with a view to the Future

When Westerners think and talk about space, they mean the distance between objects.

In the West, we are taught to perceive and to react to the arrangement of objects and to think of space as "empty".

The meaning becomes clear only when it is contrasted with the Japanese, who are trained to give meaning to spaces – to perceive the shape and arrangement of spaces – for this they have a word, 'ma.’

~ Edward T. Hall, The Hidden Dimension

When I teach my studio class on landscape design at Columbia University I focus on outdoor space.

One of the books I assign is a classic: 'The Hidden Dimension' by Edward T Hall.

Can you guess what the hidden dimension is? SPACE. People are not aware of how personal space interplays with public space - and how we all react to the silent cues that spatial arrangements offer us.

photo of Gomphrena Buddy Purple and Brunnera Jack Frost by Jan Johnsen

The space between flower blossoms follows the same rules as the space between sofa and chair, big building and little building. It is all proportion and scale, creating dynamic tension.

This awareness is hard to teach in a NYC class. You must go outside an look - and 'feel'. See how being in the Channel Gardens of Rockefeller Center feels as opposed to sitting on the steps of the Metropolitan museum. Feel how being in the plaza of Bethesda Fountain in Central Park feels compared to sitting next to the fountains outside the Time Warner Center.

When you add the consideration of time to outdoor space you get yet another persepctive. Today designers are taught to design for immediate impact. The Wow effect. Bright colors. sharp corners. 


I maintain that it is the designer who thinks of the future and knows how space impacts us that will be remembered. Consider Frederick Law Olmstead, the creator of Central Park:

 Olmstead possessed tremendous foresight, saying,  I have all my life been considering distant effects and always sacrificing immediate success and applause to that of the future.”
An exquisite understanding of outdoor space and a consideration of distant effects are at the heart of great landscape design.


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