Preliminary design is the first step of the design process in which a freehand illustra­tive site plan is prepared in a semirealistic graphic manner. The term semirealistic means that the graphic symbols combine realism with abstraction. In other words, the

graphic symbols are stylized impressions of the actual elements. The plan gives the clients a view of the entire design “as seen from an airplane,” with all the elements drawn to scale (Figure 9—1).

The purposes of preliminary design are to (1) provide the designer and clients with a comprehensive view of the entire design, (2) study the coordination of all ele­ments of the design, (3) study the appearance and aesthetics of the design, and (4) provide the clients with an opportunity to give feedback to the designer.

Comprehensive View

One purpose of the preliminary design is to allow both the designer and the clients to study and analyze the design as a total environment. In a way, preliminary design is the first complete picture of the proposed design. Although the functional diagrams also showed the entire design solution, they did so in a more general and functional man­ner. By comparison, the preliminary plan studies all the design elements that will make up the environment and graphically depicts them in a more exact and realistic manner.

Coordination of Elements

Another purpose of preliminary design is to study the visual relationships among the design elements. The designer considers the placement, size, form, and general mate­rial of each element in the context of other surrounding elements. For example, a wall or fence is studied in association with an adjoining pavement. Or the placement of a shade tree is coordinated with other surrounding plant materials. Each element is studied as a portion of the overall design, not as an isolated or separate piece.

Design Appearance and Aesthetics

One of the major purposes of preliminary design is to study the design appearance of the spaces and elements. The aesthetics of the entire design as well as individual ele­ments within the design are primary concerns during preliminary design. In this step, the designer begins to make choices about size, form, and general material of all ele­ments in the design. Although decisions are not made about specific patterns of ma­terials, the designer does select among general material types. For example, the de­signer might choose between stone or brick, wood or concrete, deciduous or evergreen, and so forth. The basic principles of design are also taken into account to create an overall design pleasing to the eye.

Clients’ Feedback

The preliminary design can usually be understood by the clients with explanations by the designer, though some clients have difficulty understanding a plan drawing re­gardless of how nice it looks. In a preliminary plan, trees resemble trees, a deck seems believable because of the wood symbols, and pavement is understandable because the clients can see stone, brick, or concrete represented on the plan.

Frequently, the preliminary design is the clients’ first exposure to the design, and it is often their first chance to voice thoughts and feelings about it to the designer. This is critical for both the designer and the clients. The designer needs to know how the clients feel about the design in order to understand whether or not it meets the clients’ expectations. Likewise, it is important for the clients to give feedback. It is improper for the designer to possess a “take it or leave it” attitude toward the design. Ultimately, the design will be something the clients live with day in and day out, and so it must be acceptable to them. They are apt to feel more positive toward a solution when they have been involved in its creation. The clients will not only be more understanding about the design, but they will also have had a personal involvement in its growth.

Figure 9-1

Sample preliminary site plan.

The preliminary design is an intermediate solution that requires further refine­ment based on the reactions of the clients and/or the designer. The clients often see things within the preliminary design that need to be changed. Likewise, the designer may want to restudy portions of the design in order to improve it. It is not unusual for the designer to study a series of alternatives and refinements during preliminary de­sign. Because all the elements are being studied in a coordinated effort, the designer may very well see things differently in comparison to earlier phases, and thus may want to make appropriate adjustments.