“When you look closely at anything familiar, it kind of transmogrifies into something unfamiliar — the sort of cognitive version of saying your name again and again and again, or a word again and again and again, and getting a different sound of it after you’ve repeated it forty times.”
Great photographs have the ability to make you see a familar subject with fresh perception, and to bring meaning and connections to the ordinary. This is in part because they capture a moment in time, stripping unnecessary detail away from the image, and leaving the viewer to contemplate the subject and composition for only what is shown. This is a technique that landscape architects also use to direct the experience of users within a space.
Bringing a sense of formality and hierarchy to a space imbues it with a resolved sense of order, allowing the designer to highlight elements deserving of particular attention. Curating a palette of materials and plants should complement that objective whilst also providing colour and textural variety.
But it is the careful arrangement of those perhaps ordinary elements that may invite questions in the minds of the viewer. It is the unusual juxtaposition of object and context that can carry a narrative. This is a particularly powerful technique when used to interpret site history, as it allows a greater appreciation of place to develop that simply what is physically presented.
Other ways this technique can be used are to provide textural or material contrast, or to present an object at a surprising scale.
As well as carrying narrative, such elements also encourage viewers to engage with a space; observing, touching and reflecting. Being engaged with a place can help to develop our own sense of identity and empathy towards that space. There are particular places that I remember from my childhood where even now I can recall the sense of spatial enclosure, the smells and little features that had meaning only to me.
Even a skilled landscape architect can only direct the visitor experience so far, as it is always viewed through the lens of an individual’s life experience. What one person perceives as unique and interesting may be passed by entirely by another. What I hope for when designing is that, through the skilled design and detailing of spaces, a visitor is left with a slightly different perception that they started with, perhaps one they did not expect.