A process for abstracting native communities in design

The use of somewhat simplified abstractions of natural communities of plants in designed situations combines some of the methods of traditional landscape design with others that depart from those methods. In the following section, a process is outlined, with the goal of facilitating the development of landscapes that feature elements of regionally appropriate communities of plants. It should not be viewed as purely a rigid, linear process, but one in which there is some flexibility and the potential for some back and forth movement among or between steps.

Study the natural model(s)

One could spend a lifetime studying a particular plant-community type and never learn all there is to know about it, in all its intricacies and complexities. That being the case, it is necessary to compress this learning process into a much shorter time-frame, trying to learn the most essential characteristics of community types—environmental factors; dominant, prevalent, and ‘visual essence’ species composition; community structure; and likely successional processes—in order to use such information in design. A logical starting point is to utilise others’ quantitative and qualitative observations in the literature on the community or communities under investigation.

In order to relate such summary information to a specific site, it is extremely useful to supplement a literature review with first-hand field observations of one or more local stands of the community or communities under consideration. The unfortunate reality is that there may be no extant stands of a particular natural community remaining in the region. If there are, however, it can be extremely useful to observe them closely as a basis for design, looking for such elements as frequently occurring species combinations, striking aesthetic characteristics, the density and distribution habits of key species, and particular microhabitat preferences of certain species. The mapping and sketching of selected small areas can provide valuable insights for design in the abstraction or stylisation of the community type in a design context.