A SENSE OF PLACE

By Luke Hughes.Photos Fluid Design

To successfully see through a really great landscape project requires a lot of thought‭, ‬energy‭, ‬goodwill‭, ‬reputation‭, ‬and a deep‭ ‬understanding of the client and local conditions‭.  ‬As Lansdcape Architect and Designer‭,‬‮ ‬Brandon Wallis says‭, ‬there‮!&‬s more to great landscape architecture than just picking plants and materials‭.‬

Brandon has lived and worked in Sydney’s Southerland Shire all his life and has fostered relationships with local architects and builders that he says have enabled him to not only build beautiful landscapes, but also successfully navigate the complexities of the water front DA approval process.  Pushing projects forward where less experienced designers have stalled. 

I suspect, however, that there is more to his success than local knowledge. There’s a term that all designers learn on the first day of University — genius loci. It’s a Greek term which refers to ‘spirit of  place.’ A good architect or designer can go to a space and just feel it. More than an aesthetic, it’s the ability to sense every aspect of a location and to design accordingly. This sort of design can’t be premeditated or imitated, and takes into account the history of a place, its function and its future.

Q&A

Can you take us through the design process for this project?

I think that landscaping should never dominate the architecture. It should complement and ground the house. It shouldn’t compete with it. If there’s a lot of detail in the architecture, there shouldn’t be a lot of detail in the garden, it’s just going to be too much.

My initial thought on this project was that the house was quite simple. To create balance I put a little bit more detail into the garden. It’s a very square house with some curved elements, so I just extended that into the landscape, introduced a few soft edges into the design.

I just try to create momentum by echoing the lines of the house through the garden. I try to keep the existing levels if possible, which keeps costs down. I can’t have the garden costing more than the house, that would put me out of a job.

A big part of our job is analysing the clients, really understanding them. Who they are, why they are doing what they’re doing. You know, the purpose. A big part of our job is to identify what’s called ‘the purpose of space.’

Every square metre of land has a purpose. It could be thoroughfare; it could be a play area, a utility area, a pool area. Whatever it is, it needs to be defined and it can’t just be made up.

We do bubble diagrams before we design. So we say, ok, this area is going to be linking that space and that’s going to be a thoroughfare to this space. It really helps you layer the design. It helps create momentum in the design, and work out where we’re going to spend more or less money.

This helps you move forward in the design process. Over time, plants grow, things change over the course of twenty years, but that purpose, I guarantee will still be the same.

The clients are paying millions of dollars for that block of land. Once we’ve defined the purpose we move on from there. When you design this way you’ll always have success in your gardens.

Your plant selections work beautifully. What type of gardens have influenced you over the years?

I look back through history at gardens like Versailles and other beautiful French gardens and they’re all clipped and pruned. Now, I don’t want to go to that extreme, but I want to create some sort of informality in a formal garden. This garden has a modern tropical theme but there are also elements of formality in it.

A lot of people think landscaping… ahh, it’s easy… you’re just putting plants in the ground. Well, even that’s difficult! I design a lot of houses and alterations, landscaping is far more difficult because you’re working with nature, and you’re working with materials that deteriorate out in the elements. You’re dealing with plants that change and evolve over time. I don’t think there’s anyone on the planet who can put a plant in the ground and tell you exactly what’s going to happen with that plant.

So you’ve really got to know how plants grow. I design everything for five, ten years’ time, trying to predict how that plant will grow? How it will be maintained? How is this view going to be affected?

I like to do planting schemes initially. But as far as the actual selection of what plant’s going where, I never finalise until two days before we plant it. Everything changes and evolves. I do hundreds of planting plans for Council DA’s and never do they go exactly to plan. Because you get onto site, and I guarantee a client will want to keep that tree, or this tree is casting more shade than we thought, or the wind tunnel from this building is really accentuated.

So, if you don’t do your due diligence two or three days before and really understand that, you won’t get a successful planting scheme and clients will be pulling plants out in two years — you don’t want that.

What about the hard finishes on this project?

We try to echo the interior so that the internal finishes reflect the external finishes. Again, maintaining a flow. Whatever the internal finishes are, whether its timber or tile, the colours, I’ve got to consider the overall feel of it, and bring that through the garden. I have to think about practicality, long-term maintenance, cleaning, all that stuff matters. To do that I have to weigh up the clients. Are they neat? Are they garden lovers? How much spare time do they have?

For material selection on this job, we worked really closely with EKO Outdoor. If the client can afford it, we try to source from one place. They’ve got a beautiful showroom and we send the client in to get a taste of what they like — there’s no right or wrong. To me, a garden should be a space for that person, that family, a space they want to spend time in, that’s a successful garden.

Everyone works hard, school, work, raising a family. If they can walk into one of my gardens and sit there and relax and enjoy it, and enjoy what they’ve achieved, then that’s success to me. I’m not necessarily going to try to force you to put this plant in. I really try to get a lot out of my clients, in terms of getting them involved in the process, not just arriving and switching a light on, here it is! It’s about being involved in the decisions that made this.

We give them a journey as well as an end product. And that’s important. We’ve got to give them that journey, that enjoyment. This way they’ll look back on it as a nice time in their lives, rather than a difficult time. There’s nothing better than watching your kids play in a space that you’ve helped create. You get a lot of self-satisfaction, and there’s probably not enough of that going around.