The site that adjoins most American single-family homes is a principal component of the residential environment. It is frequently larger in area than the house itself and is more visible to the public than the interior of the house. The landscape surrounding a residence is more than just a piece of land. It is frequently the setting for varied family activities, gardening, and enjoying moments in the outdoors. For many families, the residential site is integral to their lifestyle and family history. It is often the location for large family gatherings, special events, or memorable times entertaining family and friends. The site is also a habitat for wildlife and place to interact with nature. The feel of the sun, the sense of a breeze, or the smell of flowers can only be experienced outside. And a well-designed and maintained landscape can add between 7 percent and 15 percent to the value of a property (The Gallup Organization). In fact, some experts suggest that investing in a well-designed landscape offers the best return a homeowner can make on an investment (Money magazine, May 2003).
The design of the residential landscape provides numerous challenges because it directly affects the quality of life of the people who live with the design each day. Well-executed residential site design can positively influence the quality of life by eliminating functional conflicts on the site, providing proper recreational and leisure amenities, and creating an environment that is visually and functionally pleasurable. Residential site design can likewise be a stimulating undertaking because the designer works closely with the clients on a personal basis, deals with the design in a detailed and artistic manner, and typically has the opportunity to see a design that has been created on paper become a three-dimensional reality in a rather short period of time. The residential site is also a potential laboratory to implement and test new ideas and materials. For many landscape architects, the residential site provides a chance to experiment and learn on a small scale before similar applications are made on larger and more public projects.
The design of the residential landscape represents a notable undertaking by design professionals. It is estimated that residential site design represents the largest market for landscape architects in the private sector and accounts for about 40% of their billable hours (Bill Thompson, “Winning Partnerships,” Garden Design, November 2006, p. 10). Virtually all design/build firms and many nurseries are also involved in both the design and installation of residential landscapes. Most homeowners, in fact, receive design services from these types of companies.
Nevertheless, residential site design is an endeavor that is commonly done inadequately, inappropriately, and in some cases, incorrectly. A drive or a walk along a typical suburban street reveals a host of problems and offenses to the eye. Highly manicured foundation planting, overgrown plant material, inadequately sized driveways, poorly conceived approach walks and entrances, and shapeless lawn areas are just a few common problems. The areas in the back of homes are no less guilty of poor layout and visual chaos.
Consequently, the purpose of this book is to furnish the reader with the fundamentals of residential site design. It is written by designers/educators and presents basic principles, concepts, procedures, and examples for preparing site plans and associated documents for residential sites. This book is primarily intended for readers who are beginning their design careers, as well as for current practitioners who wish to enhance their skills and knowledge.
Residential Landscape Architecture is organized in three sections. Section 1, Philosophical Framework, provides the primary principles and concepts on which the remainder of the book is based and includes chapters on the current state of the art, sustainability, and outdoor rooms. Section 2, Design Process, details the process of preparing a design for a residential site from the initial contact with the clients to the completion of the master plan. It contains chapters on meeting and interviewing the clients, base map preparation, program development and site analysis, functional diagrams, preliminary design, form composition, and spatial composition. Section 3, Applications, demonstrates how the design process can be applied to different residential sites and has chapters on special site situations and case studies. In addition, Section 3 has an entire chapter devoted to the theory and techniques of color rendering.
Some of the thoughts and principles in this book represent commonly accepted design knowledge and are used as a matter of standard practice by experienced designers. Other ideas have evolved from the classroom where we have spent more than 60 combined years teaching college students, nurserymen, and landscape contractors. We have discovered numerous concepts and techniques that are felt to be essential in teaching and learning residential site design. Finally, there are a number of thoughts in this book that have resulted from our own practices in residential site design. We are both registered landscape architects and have designed more than 125 residential sites, many of them winning local, state, and national design awards.