Design Trend: Collage


Why Landscape Architects are Getting Beyond the Grid.

A spate of recent landscape architecture projects are loosening up the traditional orthogonal geometry that has dominated both traditional and modern design and instead embracing a more layered, intentionally incongruous approach to space-making.  

These projects use design strategies closely related to collage and montage.  For much of the past century, strength in design was assumed to be a result of closely adhering to a single geometric framework. Classical design relied on axial arrangements; modern design relied on the grid.  The result has been over a century of primarily orthogonal geometries underlying landscape architectural projects.

But a new trend is emerging that breaks the grid and embraces incongruity.



Above: Jacob Javits Plaza in New York City is designed using an incredibly complex pattern of marble and pink granite sets.  Large marble slabs are arrayed at different angles, breaking the grid of the paving. Curvilinear landforms dotted with magnolias create interior rooms within the monumental space. Design by Michael Van Valkenburg & Associates

photo by Lexi Van Valkenburgh


Exquisitely detailed Bailey Plaza, Cornell University. Michael Van Valkenburg & Associates
Another similar technique used by Michael Van Valkenburg juxtaposes two types of bluestone carpets--one smooth and regular, the other textured and rough--in multiple directions that follow the natural desire lines of the walkers.  For centuries, campus design has been a battle of trying to resolve a classical (often symmetrical) quadrangle design with the more random desire lines of people.  This brilliant design resolves the conflict by expressing the desire lines of travel rather than burying them.  


Elizabeth Myers, professor of landscape architecture at the University of Virginia, wrote a "Manifesto" in 2008 that summarized the some of these techniques: “Attenuation of forms, densification of elements, juxtaposition of materials, intentional discontinuities, formal incongruities—tactics associated with montage or collage—are deployed for several reasons: to make a courtyard, a park, a campus more capable of appearing, of being noticed, and of performing more robustly, more resiliently.”

Overlapping wood, metal, and plantings in this residential project by Bionic in San Francisco

Olympic Sculpture Park, Seattle. Weiss/Manfredi. Photo by Benjamin Benschneider
The design for the Seattle Olympic Sculpture Park literally overlays multiple layers of space, using a Z-shaped hybrid landform to bridge over a highway and railroad track to make the waterfront accessible.  In this project, land itself is built up in strips--collage-like--on top of existing infrastrucure.
Image by Paul Warchol
In early modern art, collage was a way of taking fragments that each had its own external references and colliding them together. This collision of fragments--each with its own meaning--seems especially relevant in terms of urban design trends.  Here the strategy is to moveaway from master planned spaces ("form-based obsession") and toward more of an embrace of spontaneity and randomness.  

photo by Mikyoung Kim.
But this trend seems to even trickle down to residential garden design. This residential project designed by Mikyoung Kim Design in Brookline, Massachusetts features a rich layering of stone, metal, and native plants.


I'm not sure this trend has played itself out yet.  The strategy of layering spaces without reference to an underlying (Euclidean) geometry has many applications and looks and may even be a part of a new aesthetic influenced by ecology and fractal geometry.  
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