A line, if broken down; originates from a dot. A dot started with an idea of putting something down. Everything that is created begins with a thought, an idea – a concept. This is the same for landscape designs.

When we see beautiful spaces well-planned and laid out, a few questions come to mind. How did they come up with this? Where did they get this idea from? How did they turn a bare piece of land to something so exquisite?

When a client approaches a Landscape Architect, what is presented is the idea. From that, the Landscape Architect (L.A) forms (a) concept(s) and that guides them in the design.

7 Guiding Principles

Design is a back and forth task. The L.A has to constantly consult the client in order to achieve the desired results. The following are some of the things that can guide the formation of a concept in a landscape design:

  1. Intended function of the space.
  2. Symbolism. A landscape can be a symbolic representation, in terms of the materials used, shapes, plants and general planning of the spaces.
  3. Working with the existing land (forms). A designer should design with nature as the land form determines what can and cannot work.
  4. Creating something new: It can be change of use of the space or development on virgin land.
  5. Representing or commemorating an event. Erecting a monument, a garden or plaza in commemoration of an important event. For example, Uhuru Gardens.
  6. Surroundings. The design might need to screen off unpleasant views, link the immediate surroundings or create a buffer.
  7. Cost. This affects the quality and amount of materials used as well as the expanse of the area under design.

With these and other factors in mind, the L.A then embarks on a design process. This process often starts with a rough idea, sometimes a sketch (or doodle) of the spatial relations which helps bring in different elements to consider. This also helps determine suitable placement of the elements in the space. This is then gradually refined into a design.

Case Study

For illustration purposes, Let us consider the following:

A piece of land is currently being used as informal parking during the day. The client initially wanted to have a properly defined parking lot with a lawn which could be used for office functions and outdoor sitting areas.

  • A run-through of the site:

a)      40 metres by 70 metres

b)      Fairly flat ground

c)      Most of the vegetation consists of old indigenous trees which should be maintained (contributing to the uniqueness of the space and much needed shade).

d)      Adjacent to offices

e)      A waste cubicle exists at the current entrance

The L.A often starts sketching on site; the existing conditions as well as the possible design.


Landscape Architecture 1   Landscape Architecture 2   Landscape Architecture 3

First draft:

  • Multi-functional spaces: Using part of the lawn as parking; surface finished with turf blocks
  • More pedestrian interaction with the site as well as different sitting areas

Landscape Architecture 4

Source: Author

Second alternative:

  • Supposing the client asked to include a staff cafeteria, more parking space and a water feature.
  • Includes a terrace for extra sitting and possible podium during functions
  • One way traffic

Landscape Architecture 5

Source: Author

Third alternative:

  • Different location of fountain
  • One way traffic
  • Radial terrace
  • Use of stepping stones to link different areas

Landscape Architecture 6

Source: Author

The Never-Ending Process

Interestingly, one never finishes a design. There will always be a possible change here and there or an alternative that could equally work. What determines the end of a design is whether the initial idea is achieved to the client’s satisfaction and whether it is functional. This is what makes a landscape meaningful. Therefore, it is important to note that the placement of the different elements in a landscape is a process and is never cast in stone, it can change.