Walls and fences comprise still another set of elements the landscape designer can use to define the third dimension during spatial composition. As with plant materials, the designer is typically most concerned with the location and function of walls and fences as well as with their general materials during preliminary design. For example, the designer may decide that a wall near the outdoor entry foyer should be stone, whereas a fence along the east property line should be constructed of rough-sawn cedar. The designer usually does not determine the actual appearance of walls or fences or the specific pattern that the materials will have on these vertical planes. Again, this study of details occurs in a later step (see Chapter 12).
There are two general categories of walls and fences that can be used on the residential site: (1) retaining walls and (2) free-standing walls or fences. Retaining walls hold back a slope or upper level of ground from a lower area of ground (Figure 11—81). As indicated in the earlier section on grading, retaining walls can be considered a visual and functional part of the ground plane. Their location and function is directly tied to the grading of the ground’s surface. Retaining walls are usually constructed with a masonry material, such as stone, brick, or masonry block, or with a pressure-treated wood that can withstand constant contact with the ground.
Free-standing walls or fences are elements that stand in the landscape without the support of other structural elements (Figure 11—82). Free-standing walls are most often constructed of a masonry material, whereas fences are usually built with wood or one of the many types of metals.
Both retaining walls and free-standing walls can be used for a number of functions on the residential site. Walls and fences can fulfill the same functions as plant materials do in the vertical plane by serving as spatial edges, screening views, creating privacy, directing views, modifying exposure to sun and wind, and directing movement
through the landscape. As stated before, the advantages that walls and fences have in fulfilling these functions in comparison to plant materials are that walls and fences do not take time to mature and they do not require specific environmental conditions for location. Walls and fences also do not take up much area on the site and are very practical where space is limited.
In addition, walls and fences can be used for several other purposes: (1) architectural extension of the house, (2) background to other elements, (3) unifier, and (4) visual interest of form and pattern.
Architectural Extension Walls and fences can be used to visually and functionally connect a house or other building to its surrounding site in several distinct ways. First, walls and fences can repeat the materials that are on the house’s fapade in the landscape, thus providing a visual link between the house and the site (Figure 11—83). This repetition of materials creates a strong sense of unity between house and site. The second way walls and fences can connect a house to its surroundings is by serving as extensions of the house that stretch out into the site from the house (Figure 11—84). Such architectural extensions act like “arms” that reach out to “embrace the site.” Both these techniques make the house and site appear as a totally integrated environment.
Background Walls and fences can serve as neutral backgrounds to other foreground elements if the color and material patterns of the walls or fences are subdued. In this use, walls and fences can screen out distracting views so the eye can rest comfortably
on the intended focal point in the foreground (Figure 11—85). Walls and fences used for this purpose are often best placed at the edge of a space or along the site boundary.
Unifier A similar use of walls and fences is to visually connect or link otherwise unrelated elements (Figure 11—86). A fence or wall can unify separate elements and make them all seem like they are a part of a cohesive composition.
Visual Interest Walls and fences can be designed and detailed with attractive patterns of materials and textures that delight the eye (Figure 11—87). Walls and fences can also be designed so that protrusions or indentations cast attractive light and shadow patterns that change throughout the day and year. Although the designer might not detail these ideas during preliminary design, they can still be considered as part of the concept and intent at this point.
The layout of walls and fences can also furnish visual interest. Walls and fences do not always have to be placed in absolutely straight lines. Instead, walls and fences can create attractive lines and patterns in their plan alignment (Figure 11—88). The layout of walls and fences can accentuate the overall design theme architecturally. Here again, the design of walls and fences needs to be closely coordinated with form composition so that it is reinforced in the third dimension.
The material presented here on walls and fences has shown the basic and typical ways these two design elements are used in landscape design. But, it is important for the landscape designer to go beyond the norm to realize the variety and opportunities that these vertical planes offer in the spatial development of quality residential design. To do this, walls and fences should be designed with as much concern, attention, and sensitivity as interior walls.
The illustration in Figure 11-89 shows an interior and exterior setting in which walls and fences (1) help create a variety of spaces, (2) vary in height to provide different degrees of privacy, (3) include openings (windows) for defining special areas and views, and (4) support a number of furnishings (potted plants, sculpture, pictures, etc.) that provide additional character to each of the spaces.
These four aspects of designing with walls and fences need to be explored so that these design elements can be as spatially valuable as interior walls.