Missing the Mark

Missing the Mark

By Amber Bravo
Landscape design is a matter of personal taste, but there are some approaches that almost any designer would recommend against.

Most of the bad ideas in landscape architecture and gardens come from a lack of sensitivity to existing conditions, which can result in features that damage the land and ultimately become eyesores for their disharmony with their setting.

Evergreen hedges can be an interesting element in landscape design, such as creating an edge—yet, the question of "Why is this here?" should always be asked and answered.Benjamin Rondel / CORBIS

Homes that maintain full, lush lawns in unsuitable climates not only become disharmonious eyesores, they also soak up dwindling water supplies.

Dry Idea
Many homes in arid climates still maintain full, lush lawns that soak up dwindling water supplies and cost a fortune to maintain. Though planting cacti and opting for gravel instead of rock does require less water, it does not necessarily make for an exciting landscape design. A haphazard succulent planting is as visually uninteresting as a giant green lawn.

Water, Water Everywhere
"Pools mar all, and make the garden unwholesome and full of flies and frogs," claimed 17th-century landscape designer Francis Bacon, and, indeed, a poorly designed water feature does this and more. For a water feature or pool to be successful, it must be well integrated in the site. A high-graded, babbling brook that originates from a stone fence, for example, is not a good approach. Sure it’s great to have an oasis, but if beyond the fence one can see only a flat, dry landscape, the feature loses its relevance. Furthermore, it’s incredibly resource-inefficient.

Cutting the Edge
When designing an edge in a landscape composition, it’s important to ask, "Why am I creating an edge here?" If you can’t answer that question, or if your answer involves a wonky U-shape enclosing mulch or arbitrary low-lying ground cover, then it might be smart to rethink your concept. As a wise designer might recommend, "When in doubt—–don’t." Evergreen hedges can be an interesting design tool, as evinced by the Klahn + Singer + Partner project in "Well Pruned;" however, a cabinet is meant to enclose a walk-way and create a visual separation within the composition. Tonsure should be administered with discretion—–pruning evergreens into the shape of mythical creatures or gigantic conical shapes is not advised, especially if it obscures one of the few windows in your home and darkens living spaces.

Off Course
Alan Berger, who teaches urban design and landscape architecture at MIT, refers to poorly planned housing developments as "waste landscapes of dwelling" and cites residential golf communities as being some of the more egregious examples of this. These communities are often built around an insular site plan with little regard for pedestrian integration or environmentally appropriate planting (a golf course, obviously, is not a fine example of responsible landscape design—–especially in a city like Scottsdale, Arizona). Recreation is designated to one particular zone (the gym facility, the golf course), creating a dislocated circulation pattern and limiting opportunity for social interaction.

Home developments built around golf courses are often designed as insular sites that disregard the opportunities for social interaction presented by community oriented landscape architecture.


Get the Dwell Newsletter

Be the first to see our latest home tours, design news, and more.