Abstraction in Design with Plants

This course explores the expressive potential of plants as a central medium of landscape design, recognizing the principal role of plants in shaping the character of a place for human experience. The course seeks to challenge the frequently stated belief in the subjective nature of planting design by emphasizing the conceptualization and articulation of design intention as a foundation of rational form. It also questions the more proscriptive methodology of planting design based in replication of ecological communities. The course builds on knowledge of plants and their cultural requirements within larger ecological systems, but these subjects are not the primary focus of the course. While the assignments, case studies and readings delve into this knowledge as critical to successful planting design, they are intended primarily to probe abstraction as a way of attaining clarity and distillation of intent with plants and help avoid the superfluous and arbitrary.

Pedagogic Objectives:
• To hone powers of observation
• To develop an affinity for plants as living things
• To cultivate particular points of view and sensibilities about plants
• To understand plants as part of larger biological communities and systems
• To sharpen skills in critical and creative analysis

Requirements: Attendance at weekly lectures and discussion session. Evidence of thoughtful preparation of assignments and readings through questions and discussion during class, or by specific reference to the student’s individual presentations throughout the term. Completion of assignments.

Grading: 50% attendance and participation, 50% readings and assignments

Assignments: Assignments are due IN SECTION on the specified date (see schedule of assignments). Assignments include: readings that are intended to provide a contextual framework for design with plants; focused exercises* that require creative and critical interpretation of plants, and discussion of presentations of several case studies by guest speakers that demonstrate how abstraction has facilitated conceptualization of planting designs and enabled clarity of intent in the spatial and experiential aims of a project.

There is one field trip on a Saturday in September (replacing that week’s Friday session) to the instructor’s home in Westport MA, to explore the fifteen year process of managing a meadow to improve health and to realize specific design intentions. Travel logistics will be discussed during first class.

There is no final exam or final paper required for the course.

*Exercises include: student photographic documentation of a beloved site, from one location, at different times of day and different weather conditions; interpreting a set of abstract paintings by one artist through the use of plants; critically evaluating a local planting scheme using media of choice; developing a planting design of a courtyard using a palette of five plants given by instructor; developing a planting design for her/his GSD studio project.