From Coarse to Fine: Insights from Landscape Design
From Coarse to Fine: Insights from Landscape Design
From Coarse to Fine: Insights from Landscape Design
From Coarse to Fine: Insights from Landscape Design
From Coarse to Fine: Insights from Landscape Design
From Coarse to Fine: Insights from Landscape Design
From Coarse to Fine: Insights from Landscape Design
From Coarse to Fine: Insights from Landscape Design
From Coarse to Fine: Insights from Landscape Design
From Coarse to Fine: Insights from Landscape Design
From Coarse to Fine: Insights from Landscape Design
From Coarse to Fine: Insights from Landscape Design
From Coarse to Fine: Insights from Landscape Design
From Coarse to Fine: Insights from Landscape Design
From Coarse to Fine: Insights from Landscape Design
From Coarse to Fine: Insights from Landscape Design
From Coarse to Fine: Insights from Landscape Design
From Coarse to Fine: Insights from Landscape Design
From Coarse to Fine: Insights from Landscape Design
From Coarse to Fine: Insights from Landscape Design
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From Coarse to Fine: Insights from Landscape Design

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At IxDA's Interaction 13 conference in Toronto, I gave a Pecha Kucha talk titled "From Coarse to Fine: Insights from Landscape Design." In only six minutes and with 20 auto-advancing slides, I explored connections between landscape and interaction design and attempted to illustrate how key ideas and practices from landscape design may influence our own work.

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  • [ Denver Botanical Garden, Denver, Colorado ] I come from a long line of passionate gardeners, and gardening and landscape design have long been a source of ideas, concepts, and even design principles for my work as an interaction designer. Tonight I want to give you a glimpse into a couple of what I think are the most interesting concepts.
  • [ Yosemite ] First of all, consider that the designed landscape borrows widely from wilderness landscape. The patterns, arrangements, and cycles found in nature are things to which we are highly attuned as human beings.Many elements of the wilderness landscape are thus echoed (intentionally and not) in gardens, buildings, and other designed spaces.
  • [ San Francisco Botanical Garden (bottom) and Mt. Diablo (top) ] The forest edge, for example, is a frequent reference for landscape design. The edge is a place of transition -- from shelter to openness, from dark to light ... It ’ s such a strong reference in fact, that features of the forest edge underpin important ideas and concepts in architectural practice
  • [ Southern garden in Lexington, VA (left) and Japanese garden in Portland, OR (right) ] Our experience of place is strongly influenced by landscape. It ’ s the feel and character of our cities, towns, and the streets we live on. Composition, order, and aesthetics reveal stories about space, how we relate to it, and the value we put on it.
  • [ Marin, California (top) vs. Loire Valley, France (bottom) ] If landscape tells a story, it can also be designed as story. An informal landscape presents a casual narrative that invites viewers to experience it organically and in any order, whereas formal landscapes function as rigid narratives that prescribe experience.
  • [ design as temporal choreography ] (“With a Wave of the Hand” © Maria Cordell) Landscape can also be designed to accommodate changes over time -- using what we might call temporal choreography. The principal material of landscape design is living, and it changes at its own pace -- with varying tempos, rhythms, and over different life spans
  • Temporal choreography has to interweave outside factors such as the diurnal rhythms that change the appearance of a design by day versus night... as well as during those special moments of transition from one into the other.
  • The tempo of seasonal change marks the passage of time with similarly dramatic effect. Tress bloom in spring, fill out with leaves in summer, show off in fall, and lose their leaves altogether in winter... significantly changing the composition and experience of a design every few months.
  • [Emeryville, CA] As the seasons change, the experience of space (and protection) also changes, as does the amount and quantity of light. We are warmed by the sun when the trees have lost their leaves in winter -- and are shaded from it by the summer canopy.
  • [Palm Springs & Atherton, CA] Place requires responsive design in landscape terms: Responding to the character, pace, and temporal effects of place. Temperature cycles, annual rainfall, and the availability of shade result in vastly different rhythms for landscapes in different places.
  • [Vancouver & Portland] One can also consider the duration of engagement with a design. Transitional spaces (left) may have only moments to make an impression, perhaps while implicitly guiding or funneling us to a specific destination ...while meditative spaces slow our pace and invite us to stop ... and linger ... and reflect ....
  • [Paris] And finally, temporal choreography seeks to design for the long term, at large time scales It asks how the design will look and be experienced -- not just in the near term, but in the next few decades, or a century from now.
  • [ Olympic Sculpture Park, Seattle, WA ] The second principle I want to share is a philosophy that originates from the practice of aesthetic pruning. Dennis Makishima, the originator of the practice, called it a “ living art form ” .... In short, “ From Coarse to Fine ” is the guiding principle that enables the aesthetic pruner to expose a tree ’ s true and innate beauty.
  • The method is literally about maintaining the natural progression of coarse wood to fine wood while pruning. It ’ s grounded in critical evaluation ... understanding -- and respect -- for the essence of the material, its nature, and its patterns
  • [ Marin ] Coarse to find is also about understanding the context and setting of the material -- in this case, considering a tree ’ s role in the landscape. The treatment of a single tree respects not only its essence, but it assures that it resonates with its own form and that it is self-consistent
  • [ San Francisco ] Considered as a composition, this also assures the tree harmonizes with its context, ultimately resulting in harmoniously layered textures and shapes Sculpted forms and repeating patterns recall the wilderness landscape -- and mix to create a unified whole
  • [ Vancouver ] Coarse to fine is evident in the natural structure of a tree ’ s form, whether young or mature, compact or large. You and zoom in or zoom out, and at each level find consistency and ordered flow from one segment or level to the next.
  • [ Savannah, GA ] Altogether, a completed garden design uses a combination of techniques... Carefully choreographing elements in form and time to arrive at an aesthetically pleasing and enduring composition.
  • [ Denver, CO ] The designed landscape, then, is the result of careful work from multiple perspectives. Some landscapes adhere to line, form, and formal story line, and the flow is orderly and well defined, and its experience is deliberately structured.
  • [ Montreal ] Other landscapes don ’ t look designed at all. Instead, they echo and embrace natural order, cadence, and transitions. All well-designed landscapes apply coarse-to-fine philosophy at all scales, from large to small, from macro to micro. And they choreograph elements in time to bring together many different rhythms into a cohesive and harmonious whole.
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