Design principles for L/I


  1. Engineer and design with process and flow rather than (artificial) form and object;
  2. Design with sufficient surface space, as landscape solutions are solutions of size;
  3. Use only minimal and essential interventions, instead of comprehensive interventions;
  4. Design for engaged experience, invoking human perception, understanding, awareness, attachment and care;
  5. Design open-ended and over a long time frame, as time is a necessary element and ally when designing with natural system processes;
  6. Re-use existing culturally accepted landscape intervention methods drawn from local ‘survival skills’ and their accompanying landscape artefacts;
  7. Start with a minimum of preliminary large-scale interventions and alter to small-scale incremental adaptations of the site;
  8. Combine an impelling infrastructural framework with naturally emerging (morphogenic) form;
  9. Seek aesthetics of performance and system health;
  10. Choose visualizations appropriate to a landscape approach,that make elements such as quantities, process, time and engaged experience explicit.

1. Engineer and design with natural & cultural system processes and flow rather than form and object

Strive after recognizing the potential of the landscape’s natural-system processes, flows and forces. Recognize that these processes work best under their own conditions and attempt to design with these forces in order to respectfully use them to the advantage of the design. By studying scientific information, available or acquired data and/or site findings, examine the main natural forces that are present at the site and that are potentially useful for the design, such as wind, tidal flux, water flow, turbulence and wave force, plant growth, evapo-transpiration etc. These forces can then be involved in such a way that their beneficial potential is unleashed or reinstated, hereby taking advantage of these forces for natural flows and processes such as sand movement, plant and dune succession, land accretion, site cleaning, water discharge, etc. In this way, the landscape is performing, it functions as a ‘living machine’  and living storehouse, creating ecosystem products and services that are useful for human purpose as well as for the site’s own abiotic and biotic conditions.
Clearly, cultural forces are also involved, such as sand supplementation, earth digging, (building) construction, or recreational demands. The design thus combines human (engineering) technologies with ‘natural intelligence’, such as combining tidal influx with sand supplementation or creating permeable dikes for land accretion processes to reach behind the primary dikes. The emphasis should be on recognizing and putting to use both cultural and natural system processes in order to cooperate with these forces.

2. Design with sufficient surface space, as landscape solutions are solutions of size

When solutions are not found in engineering objects or underground piping but in performing landscape infrastructures, it implies that a larger scale of surface space is required. When human needs for food, water, safety, shelter and energy are found in working with natural intelligence instead of solving problems at nature’s expense, it requires working on a larger scale. Because natural processes do not function on a point or line, they require surface area. They require opening up the ground, they require ‘solutions of size’. Therefore, it is necessary to provide for sufficient surface space.Thinking in landscape solutions automatically creates a spatial solution. In coastal problematique, for example, thinking in a natural-system solution implies that it is recognized that coast is a zone, not a line. As the actual shoreline (the edge of land and water) naturally moves to and fro during ebb and flood due to its tidal range, it is always a zone, an area under influence of both land and sea.  Even in ‘unnatural’ conditions, when the coastline consists of a dike, a zone can be recognized. Underneath its skin, a zone is found of saline influences, resulting in brackish seepage at the surface.
This shift from object to space process solution should be made. For example, from a dump site to a landscape solution that requires space for cleaning processes. From a coastline defence to a coastal zone defence. From underground piping and inaccessible raised concrete channels towards swales, canals and retention ponds, all requiring space at the surface level. Dutch projects such as Room for the River (improved water management combined with nature development and clay excavation) and Nieuwe Hollandse Waterlinie (combining recreation, history, water retention, nature and residential functions) are also examples of spatial solutions.

3. Use only minimal and essential interventions, instead of comprehensive interventions

As the project is infrastructural by nature, designs should focus only on the facilitation of essential underlying elements. Projects do not need to elaborate on details, but can be under-designed. While designing with system processes, often only strategic and essential minimal interventions are to be suggested instead of comprehensive (doing it all) interventions. A minimum structure can be set up that augments and facilitates landscape productivity. By a minimum of input or interventions, the maximum performance is to be created: reduction (and use) of wastes, maximum product output, maximum water storage, etc.
Only an initial condition or framework is provided in order to overcome the known problems, while the ‘infill’ is not designed. As many details (shaping of objects and insertion of design ‘gimmicks’) are not essential for the functioning of the landscape infrastructure, they are not provided with the design. Less detail here means less control, less will to design all. This results in designs that focus on the essentials, that are not predetermined and leave room for natural and cultural processes and community engagement to shape the site. All details that are not essential for the performance and productivity of the landscape infrastructure, are not provided with the design, but left to be done locally by users.Designs are not community-based designs, as they do not directly involve the local community in the design process. Instead, they create sufficient flexibility within the minimal structure’s ‘infills’ for communities to (directly or indirectly) adapt the landscape to local demands.
The minimal intervention principle leads to a design procedure that is based on exposure and response over time. The system is triggered, then a time of monitoring is required in order to see how the system reacts to the preliminary minimal intervention. While monitoring, new minimal interventions can be taken for further improvement of the site’s performance. Minimal interventions are thus needed in the designs for three reasons:

  • they are at the basis of augmenting natural system processes,
  • they often accelerate these processes,
  • and they take care of guiding these processes in such a way that they perform better or more precisely.

This minimum intervention is justified not only by economical reasons, but also by the emergent nature of landscape.

4.  Design for engaged experience, invoking human perception, understanding, attachment and care

Besides design of system process, projects are to incorporate the design for engaged experience. They should focus on the design of the physical environment by use of data, material, ecology, processes, but also design in a phenomenological way: Design for revelatory experience in order to invoke human perception, understanding, awareness, attachment and care. The design of system process and of experience often come together as a pair. The site is opened up both for system processes and visitors, hereby simultaneously benefiting from processes as well as revealing them to the public, and becoming a design that both ‘performs and informs’.
Experience is not just found in a distant lookout point overlooking the scenery of the site, but focuses more on engaged and embedded on-site experiences: being withín the landscape and experiencing the functioning of natural system processes from up close (e.g. ephemeral distraction), as well as being personally involved in the landscape by adjusting and personalizing it (e.g. spontanious interaction).
For example, residents can shift sand-catchment structures to their own liking, hereby becoming involved and learning from previous experiences. Or designers provide on-site information on landscape performance for visitor education by use of information panels and visitor centres.

5. Design open-ended and over a long time frame

Projects should be designed to be open-ended and acting over a long time frame. Time is seen as a necessary element and ally when designing with natural system processes, since most work at a slow pace and simply require time in order to do their job well. Also, time proves to be essential if the design is to anticipate disturbances and prevent catastrophes (such as flooding, sea level rise, nutrient-rich waste water influx, extreme storms, urban heating, etc.) since adaptation and evolutionary processes of complex systems also demand time. Within the earlier stated cooperation of human and natural processes, time provides the possibility for human and environment to spontaneously expose, respond and adapt to one another.
Designs are not determinate but rather open-ended, hereby leaving room for uncertainty and change (in use, appearance) over time. We therefore cannot speak of a finalized blue-print design—a finished form or end-result—since the state of the designs, and their assumed form, are not finalized at the outset. Rather, they emerge and evolve over time. A process of learning is augmented, reinstating lost cultural knowledge and rites of adapting the landscape and adapting to the landscape. The design can leave room for the community to get involved in safeguarding, improving and personalizing their living environment. For example, a structure can be proposed that gives maximum opportunities for natural generating processes, as well as provides flexibility for locals to add functions and program over time.
The element of time can implemented in several ways. Future interventions are often shown in phasing stages, while the expected transformation of appearance or successional stages of the site are shown by use of multiple images assigned to a range of future dates. This also gives insight in the temporal differences that are to be experienced within the time frame. Besides this, designing with time also gives opportunities for incorporating seasonal or tidal differences.

6. Re-use existing culturally accepted landscape intervention methods and artefacts

Seek to (re)use existing culturally accepted landscape intervention methods drawn from local ‘survival skills’ and their accompanying landscape artefacts. This can be don by seeking ways to convert or adapt these artefacts in a way that they become (re)usable for the improved functioning of the site, hereby ensuring a cultural and contextual fit. Often, solutions can be found in local site ‘engineering’ methods.
For example, methods and artefacts used in land reclamation, water management, or coastal defence are re-used or added as minimal interventions to give basic form and structure to the site. This can be the re-use of existing out-of-service secondary dikes as part of the new coastal defence system. Or the introduction of vernacular methods for accelerating land accretion, such as the implementation of risewood dams. It can also mean transforming, adapting or blowing up a local typology in order to provide for a framework that works on a different scale. The (re)use of local methods and artefacts ensures a good ‘fit’ with local natural and cultural conditions, as well as builds upon local traditions and history. By doing so, they provide for a contextual fit with both natural and cultural conditions.

7. Start with a minimum of preliminary large-scale interventions and alter to small-scale incremental adaptations of the site

In order to provide a solid basis for change before augmenting and guiding processes over time, designs often start with a minimum of essential larger-scale preliminary interventions and then alter to small-scale incremental adaptations of the site. These preliminary interventions are essential since they provide the site with a robust framework or scaffolding with enabling voids. Within the voids, temporal processes can act, while the scaffolding framework provides a certain stability. Since the preliminary interventions are often the most costly interventions and are essential for the performance of the site, they are mainly top-down implementations. These preliminary interventions are followed by bottom-up implementation or incremental adjustments helped by site-monitoring.

8. Combine an impelling infrastructural framework with naturally emerging (morphogenic) form

Since the focus is on system, process and flow rather than on form and object, form is preliminary ‘emerged form’, derived from natural morphogenic processes, combined with ‘infrastructural form’ derived from civil engineering, vernacular survival methods or agricultural methods and local landscape characteristics and ‘impelling form’ that arouses care and engagement.
First, this infrastructural form for system processes is often related to the above mentioned minimal interventions. It is often derived from recognizable everyday patterns and invites system processes to be their natural selves, providing for a variety of tempos. An example of infrastructural form is the implementation of foreshore dams for land accretion, or of secondary dikes  as a way of doubling safety and providing transitions between land and sea. Other infrastructural form is derived from agricultural or aquacultural practice, such as growth field patches, ditches, mosaics and zoning, or from the local landscape (geometrical language, urban patterns, polder/delta vegetation types, etc. Still, designs tend not to be overdone or to impose form. In fact, they are under-designed with only the basics laid out.
By doing so, they leave room for forms to freely emerge from natural (and cultural) processes and evolve over time. Emerged form is spontaneously evolved form, creating patterns over time by processes of erosion, accretion, wind, waves, tide, elevation, water run-off, vegetation succession, visitor movements, etc. In doing so, it relates to opening up the site to human and natural forces.
Last, impelling form arouses care and human engagement. Impelling form, as described by Hester (2006) is form that impels (drives forward; propels) by joy rather than compels (drives forcefully) by insecurity, fear and force. The project should design for what people do all day, integrating experience with change and marking time. It is linked to the underdone infrastructural form, as it tempts people to access, experience and adapt landscape in their own way and at their own pace.

9. Seek aesthetics of performance and system health

Aesthetic qualities are mainly found in a healthy ecological process and in the ‘beauty of performance’, the aesthetic quality of understanding how landscape processes work and what they do for mankind. Often this ‘performance beauty’ is complemented with sublime experiences. Since a projects is to be under-designed and contains a high degree of freedom for natural processes, the beauty of the designs are less found in formal compositions and recognized more in the vastness of these raw and naked landscapes of size: The awe and horror of raw natural forces at work, arousing fundamental emotions, and the recognition of the functional beauty of a performing landscape that is beneficial for human and nature.
For example, beauty is found in seeing and understanding how the enormous elemental forces of the sea are calmed by natural foreshores, or the beauty of understanding that a vegetation garden has the power to clean polluted dredge and convert it in to living matter. Or it can be the sublime beauty of storm, wind, waves and tides inflicting their force. It is the beauty of landscape when appreciated in its raw authenticity, not being tamed or tightly maintained. Not an extraordinary decorative and ornamental beautification for manicured sites, but a rustic and simple beauty of ordinary everyday landscape appearance, found in experiencing inspiring native landscape types and visible landscape productivity.

10. Choose visualizations appropriate to a landscape approach

Projects should seek to represent the former principles in ‘landscape approach’ fitting visualizations that make elements such as quantities, process, time and engaged experience explicit. Visualizations of proposed solutions are to be presented not as static ‘end-result’ images, but as a range of images that evolve over time, representing different succession phases of the design. Several types of ‘landscape approach’ fitting visualization are discussed in the topic ‘Principles+Methdods / for visualization of L/I’.