Connecting the natural world to the built environment has become so popular in recent years, that it even gets ink in fashion magazines. Known as biophilic design, the practice was famously advocated by the late Yale social ecologist Stephen Kellert. He summarized the approach with a list of design and decorative principles called the Kellert Elements. Among other things, biophilic design favors natural materials, curves over straight lines, and natural light and vistas are fundamental.

Unfortunately, there’s no point in creating a vista when there’s nothing much to see. It’s practically a no-brainer that the integration of nature and architecture would move outdoors to create an approach to landscape design that is less formal than traditional yards, gardens, or parks.

The High Line

One flagship example of this harmonious approach to landscape architecture is New York’s High Line, a mile-and-a-half shoestring park built along an abandoned, elevated rail line. The park is a tourist destination in itself. It’s also this writer’s favorite way to travel from the Whitney Museum in the far West Village to her favorite Chelsea restaurant nine blocks up.

A few key principles incorporating nature and architecture make the High Line work, say advocates.

A Focus on Movement

One is the emphasis on movement. The High Line’s curving paths draw a walker through it, much like a woodland trail that promises a fine new sight just around the bend. Then the park delivers on its promise, delighting the eye with miniature meadows of native plants and tiny woodlands of native trees. The micro-environments include inviting benches set to allow a visitor to enjoy a quiet moment in the sun or the stunning views of New York City. For The High Line never forgets where it is and Manhattan’s concrete canyons add to its impact.

Harmonizing Nature in New England

Down the street in my New England town, the landscape architect who moved up from the city with her young family incorporated some of these same principles into her new home. The property offers ample room for both she and her husband to work remotely, a wide yard with a picnic table, swing set, and a greenhouse. 

Embracing the Wild

The previous owner had planted some of the acreage with berries that sold at local organic markets. The new neighbor has let the shrubs grow wild. The unplanted fields remain waving grasses — except for the winding path she cut around the perimeter. The path in itself is a powerful argument for engaging a landscape architect. On average, landscape design costs around $4,200 per project, and powerful design can unify buildings and sprawling multi-purpose lots. 

Breaking Away From Tradition

Next door, a second-generation country resident went solo when she reconfigured her landscaping. When she bought her bungalow, there was a circular drive that looped around the back and separated the built environment from the land so effectively that the only time she enjoyed the outdoors was to drive around on her lawn mower. 

That circular drive had been in place for more than 100 years, according to the old map of the neighborhood that hangs in my study. Back then, instead of houses with addresses, the bulk of the structures had names such as Pig House, Horse Barn, and Sheep Spring. Given neighbors like that, a circular drive enclosing a human residence probably made sense–not anymore.

Modernizing With Landscaping

The neighbor ripped up half the asphalt, only keeping enough to reach the garage. Then she built fences with curving tops that connected the buildings to each other and to the land.  The whole property seems larger now, and both more inviting and more private. Before she did any of this, the next-door neighbor let those old neatly mowed lawns grow wild. They are meadows now, selectively cut in attractively curving islands. The meadows are still evolving. But for now, tick-repelling wild thyme is growing thick and tall, while there’s still plenty of room to play with the new puppy.

The changes that blend nature with structure have paradoxically given both these properties a more contemporary and current feel.  Personally, I hope both creative neighbors stay around for a long, long time. But I am sure when it comes time to sell, their modern and wild landscaping will be an asset.


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