Green and open spaces have become firmly established in people’s consciousness, shaping, among other things, the cultural identity and quality of life of societies. The Corona pandemic has further increased the importance of open spaces, especially in cities. It is high time to think about how they are planned and what the basic elements of the planning are.
The basic elements of Landscape Architecture
As in architecture, landscape architects aim to create good spaces for people. Currently, landscape architecture is planning open-use and flexible open spaces that try to respond to the needs and history of the place. (Outside the Door, 1997). These spaces are open to the public and thus also influence how people meet. However, the planning of the open space influences not only how people meet but also how they meet flora and fauna and the other way around. Is the space narrow or wide? Is it urban or more scenic? Is it flat or hilly? These are some parameters that change the encounter.
“To be able to address the vast of potential design and environmental issues, the landscape architect must possess knowledge and skills in a variety of related disciplines including art, civil engineering, ecology, geography, sociology, psychology, horticulture, and business.” (Basic Elements of Landscape Architectural Design, 1989)
As in architecture, various elements such as surfacing, surfaces, and walls are available in the organization of space. The focus is on human dimensions.
What differentiates the two disciplines in this regard is the use of vegetation. It is through the use of these that the space designed by landscape architects changes over a day, a year, a decade. Space is never quite finished, to be precise.
The use of design elements changed over time. In the Romanesque period, for example, nature became a symbol. The environment was seen as the mirror of the world within.
At that time, visual references and aesthetics were in focus.
Landscape architects are concerned with questions such as, how is the vegetation arranged, in what form is it cut, how is the composition with the other plants, what is the texture, color, and scale. These issues are still relevant today, but no longer meet the demands.
Modern landscape architecture tries to reflect on the landscape, to understand processes of nature, and to allow them again. This means, for example, that one prefers to use plants that are already on site instead of integrating new ones.
Often one does also to a large extent without the care and lets the plants grow and die again. This process is called succession. The problem with this wild “urban nature” is often that it is not perceived as aesthetic by outsiders. It can also attract different species of animals, not all of which are as welcome as the bees.
Another approach is to use plants that are particularly well adapted to site conditions. Urban trees suffer from pollutants in the air. Many have among other things problems with a salt scattering in winter. Above all, however, the high degree of sealing causes problems for the trees. On the one hand, this offers little space for the roots and, on the other, it leads to a lack of water. Added to this are climate change and the rising temperature in cities.
In Japan, one of the urban trees is now the three-toothed maple. It originates from mountain forests, has a high frost tolerance, and copes well with drought stress.
Plants that have useful properties, such as purifying water are also popular. They produce oxygen, from which the fauna can benefit. A plant well suited for water purification is for example Lemna.
A similar strategy is used to deal with the topography. Many channels were straightened in the course of industrialization. These are now being restored to a “near-natural” state.
When designing with the topography, one must be aware of the deep impact this has on the environment.
The topography of most places has grown over centuries and has developed through various human and non-human factors. These traces are erased or altered by change. An example of how to deal with historical traces in the landscape is the Olympic Park in Munich. The hilly landscape is characteristic of it. Yet it has been artificially created and consists of rubble from World War 2.
Change in topography means also a change in water and light flow. Spatially, topography can create strong visual axes and relationships. It can also create new spatial sensations or optical illusions. A popular means to divide the space with topography is the HAHA ditch. You have probably seen this before if you have been to a zoo. It is used to create a spatial boundary without dividing the space.
These plans allow a flexible result and are less focused on the aesthetics but more on the function of the space.
- ST Raum (1997). Outside the Door, p. 68
- Norman K. Booth(1989). Basic Elements of Landscape Architectural Design, p.2
- Straßenbaumliste (galk.de)
- Lemna minor – Hydrotox – Labor für Ökotoxikologie und Gewässerschutz GmbH – Freiburg