A dictionary of Design Terms

Balance /When designing, I prefer to think in terms of balance rather than symmetry. Pure symmetry often feels rather static and I like to deliver a sense of dynamism or movement within the spaces I create. A sense of balance is the cornerstone of good judgement.

Beauty /Hardest to define as what may be termed beautiful is highly subjective. Beauty may be perceived superficially or on a deeper level. Keats famously described it as follows: “Beauty is truth, truth beauty – that is all ye know on earth , and all ye need to know”. So, beauty is perceived when you look below the surface of something and is found in the notion of truth rather than in a physical attribute. Beauty is often associated with personal or collective memory ie we might perceive the things that we hold close to our hearts eg a landscape from our childhood as being beautiful. Beauty connects us to the landscape.

Collaboration /Good design is about listening to and understanding your requirements. I welcome clients who wish to be involved in the design process as the results will always be better. This process becomes a journey that you may experience as intimately as you wish and as your time allows.

Concept /Often a single design idea resulting from survey and analysis that facilitates the smooth passage of the design process as it provides a reason for a choice or the solution to a problem. It helps to both simplify and unify a scheme. However, concept should never impose itself on a design and become a symbolic narrative or allegory. Rather, by the subtle power of suggestion, it should offer something that is perhaps felt rather than understood, leaving room for the inhabitant to respond freely in his or her own way.

Connection /At the core of landscape design. A garden connects the house to the wider landscape but more importantly, it connects us to the land and to ourselves. This connection is often emotional or spiritual and almost always deeply felt.

Design with heart /I’ve coined this term to refer to the subjective side of design. I have a strong sense of affinity with the landscape and can only describe this affinity as literally being heart-felt. This is what drives me to be a landscape designer and informs the decisions I make. I look at historical, cultural and ecological context when designing but it is the combination of an intellectual idea and a subjective or emotional response that really motivates me. The result will be an outside space that in some way lifts you out of the mundane world and connects you emotionally to the land.

Excellence in design /Great gardens are the results of excellence in design, and don’t come from horticultural expertise or constructional know-how alone. They are the result of a complex process of drawing together and unifying of these often seemingly disparate strands into one whole which somehow becomes greater than the sum of its parts.

Geometry /2d as opposed to form which is 3d. I look for strength in both to shape a space but will use planting and consideration of light within that space, to soften this strength.

Geometric abstraction /A technique used by early C20 abstract expressionist painters. They felt that you can approach the truth of something more effectively via the abstraction of form rather than simply trying to figuratively render what you see. We can’t literally recreate the magnificence of Nature in a relatively small space but we can create the essence of some aspect of Nature that will move us.

History /History has a hugely important role to play in design. It is experienced objectively ie as factual information about place and subjectively eg as a sense of time passing or a sense of belonging or ownership. In looking at History we are stepping backwards in order to leap forwards. It’s a kind of sling shot way of looking at the world in which we make progress or create something new as a result of an informed knowledge of the past. Choice and creative use of materials may reflect history or sense of continuity of a place. History becomes an effective tool helping to connect us to the landscape.

Making space beautiful /Creating outside space you’ll want to stay in. Making seductive spaces characterised by an atmosphere, promoting refuge, repose, revitalisation or stimulation.

Making space work /This is the objective side of design and refers to the functionality of a space. Effective survey and analysis combined with listening to your brief will makes for functional as well as beautiful outside spaces.

Mass and void /The relationship of space to form, or the balance of the two within a composition. It’s essential to judge this effectively in order to deliver effective outside space.

Rhythm /Established via repetition of elements but more interesting when combined with accent, punctuation and variation. A sense of rhythm can be used to effectively unify a design.

The search for truth /Refers to honesty in design that reveals the real character of a space and of the materials you use. This is achieved through an ongoing process of simplification and distillation of ideas. Philosophically, perhaps best described as a process of looking below the surface of things; stripping away surface layers or removing the husk to obtain the kernel. Seeing beyond the obvious and uncovering the beautiful.

Transitional plane /An area or space linking the physical and the spiritual. A plane of existence revealing the thinness between the material and immaterial world encouraging you to see beyond the surface of day to day life and experience a world of infinite possibility. Experiencing a sense of “otherness” in a garden might give us brief access to this plane of existence.