Playing scales on the piano is not a favorite past time for many—even a devoted few tire of them.
Nevertheless, they are a necessary part of learning musical theory and applying it to the art of composition.
Designing with scale is similar to musical composition in that a knowledge of how it works is one of the critical tools used in creating a landscape that treats the eye and touches the emotions—much as a piece of music can reach us through the dynamics of composition.
The Effects of Scale
It can make a small house seem large or a large house seem small. It can calm emotions or invoke excitement. Scale can emphasize a featured object.
Seeing an abrupt change from small to large is especially powerful in a small context like a pocket park, giving it an unexpected boost on the excitement-meter. Watching for these opportunities is part of the delight in accomplishing the intentions of a design within a challenging context.
The Style of Scale
Absolute, relative, high or low define scale but they don’t define a style. A scale style is how each designer uses scale to accomplish an intention—an effect. The promise of design is to start with an intention; perhaps concept is the same word. However it’s used, it begins with style. Harry Howard (1930–2000) was known for creating ‘bushland reserves’ in Sydney and was most well known for his use of indigenous plant species and informal planting arrangements, “creating a feeling of the bush without recreating it.” Imagine the joy of accomplishing the feeling of the bush in urban Sydney. Mr. Howard had the style of scale in his back pocket.
Scale with Style
Scaling with style is recognising how scale can serve a style. Think of how it works so well in Japan, where land is at a premium and gardens are a luxury. A gigantic rock, sitting in a small bed of immaculate gravel is the only object in a diminutive garden enclosure that leads to the entry of a small house. Small house, small enclosure, huge rock—scaling with style.
Another example found on Phillip Townsend’s blog shows someone (?) has a talent for combining a stunningly simple piece of geometry topped with Mother-in-Law’s Tongue (S. trifasciata laurentii) that will grow up to 3 or 4 feet tall. Combined with a delicate ground cover and diminutive fountain, the vignette creates a lovely “scale with style” technique worth remembering. It’s almost magical.
Scale as Art
It should be transparent, easy to interpret and delightful to absorb—bubble gum for the eyes—and treasured as a memory of something accomplished with skill and polish. What fascinates about scale has everything to do with us as humans. Da Vinci had it right, and his perspective is still in play as we take our measure against the measure of everything else. Landscape design scale, as an art, requires the same intensity as the effort to create a musical composition whose strains remain in the mind, long after the sound has ceased.
If you have any thoughts or suggestions, please feel free to share them in the comments below.