Modernism, in the context of landscape design, is a result of forms and functions that reflect the need for outdoor living spaces that enhance contemporary lifestyles. As Garrett Eckbo, one of the central figures in modern landscape architecture, said, landscape design is the “arrangement of environments for people.”
Contemporary garden design tends to focus on scale as opposed to formal landscape designs that are based on axial relationships. It also foregoes the more classic landscape design forms and larger scale from Greek, Roman, and classical architecture traditions. This design motif became popular in the 1950’s baby boom, particularly in California where weather and lifestyle was very conducive to this innovative style.
In modern landscape design, boundaries between areas of color, textures and shapes are undefined–or conversely, sharply defined. Color and composition create the emotional response. Combining freshness and flair, these designs use dramatic geometric shapes to create a point of view that is fluid and natural. Water and light are often used, as in artfully-lit outdoor water fountains, to enhance the sensual loveliness and liveliness. The designs are arresting, both close up and far away.
Form and Function in Modern Landscape Design
As the maxim says, form follows function. Modern landscape design is an aesthetic that shows only what is necessary while often leaving surfaces exposed. The simplicity of modern design reveals itself in that every form has a function, even when that function is merely to engage the senses.
It is possible, sometimes desirable, to use modern design techniques without creating a high-tech look. That is, to make use of horizontal and vertical planes that manufacture a modern sculpture effect–and let colors and plantings evoke a warm, welcoming feel. It is that juxtaposition–hard and soft, linear and non-linear, energetic and restrained–that is the essence of modern landscape design. “Less is more” is the modern landscape design mantra. A huge plant palette is not necessary. Rather, it is how plants, materials, and textures are used and mass them together that create the contemporary effect.
The architecture of the house needs to be carefully considered when using a contemporary garden design. If the house is bold, the grounds need to be strong also.
The home and landscape can be tied together through selective use of plantings or the intelligent placement of a hardscape feature, such as an organic approach to the front door.
Using Today’s Technology in Your Modern Landscape
Naturally new technologies in building materials are a big component of modern landscape design, which can mean a new approach using old materials or a new approach using new materials. Often, it is the contrast of material usage that suggests modernism.
Concrete, with its sturdiness and malleability, has won a firm place in contemporary garden design. Its cool, gray color alone establishes its credibility. Its uses run the gamut from flooring to columns to stark, amorphous benches. In addition to concrete, advances in steel and glass technologies, plus construction methods, can be even further exploited within the modern landscape design.
Often materials, such as stone, metal, plastics, steel and glass, are left in an exposed or raw state. Part of the beauty of these materials derives from their interplay with nature–the way steel rusts to a warm, burnt look, for instance.
The Spaces of Modern Landscape Design
Landscape themes such as English, Asian, Zen gardens, natural, Japanese or modern identify not only your property but also your tastes and style. Color, form, line, scale, and texture are your means of expressing those landscape design preferences.
Your choices can be demonstrated in the plants and hardscapes you choose. Beauty can be a maple imported from Japan. It can also be the wild grass native to the Texas coastal plains. You may have outdoor works of art to display in your landscape. Or you might use a stream that ends in a waterfall as an ever-changing sculpture of sound and movement. Landscape lighting is another crucial tool of contemporary garden design as it creates ambiance and lets you enjoy your landscape night and day.
Other uses of space in contemporary designs include:
* Outdoor rooms for living. These living areas, in effect, make your home bigger. They also serve to create transition areas that connect the indoor and outdoor spaces. In this regard, this style is similar to a Mediterranean landscape design with its underlying principle that the outdoor living area should be just as enjoyable and functional as the home’s interior.
* Outdoor kitchens. The center of outdoor entertainment, outdoor kitchens provide a natural gathering place. Their design should complement both the house and the landscape. Above all, their design should be functional.
* Luxury swimming pools. When designed from a modern viewpoint, luxury swimming pools are anything but a boring rectangle or kidney-shaped pool. They become sophisticated and exciting, eye-catching and mesmerizing. Often, you can combine them with an outdoor water fountain that eliminates some redundancies while adding vitality to your overall design.
Modern landscape design is even more appropriate today than it was 50 years ago. Jeff Halper with Exterior Worlds says, “Contemporary garden design has gotten only better with time. With today’s busy lifestyles, there is less time for gardening. Also, we need to use our gardens for multiple functions these days–sanctuary, entertainment, a place for children to play safely. Modern landscape design addresses all these wants and needs.”
Robert Irwin, the landscape architect of the Getty Center in Los Angeles, puts it this way: “…maybe the world is an art form [and] the gardening of our universe” reveals our participation in that work of art.