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Instructor Class Description

Time Schedule:

Iain M Robertson
L ARCH 322
Seattle Campus

Introduction to Planting Design

Traditional ways plants are used in landscape design. Composition and design characteristics of plant materials. Technical considerations for selection, climate, cultural suitability, availability, costs, and maintenance. Open to nonmajors.

Class description

Introduction to Planting Design is a spatial design class that explores and practices creating spatial experiences with plants. It considers plants as a ‘design medium’—the variable, pliant (but not always compliant) material out of which designs are formed. It examines plants' distinctive qualities as a design medium, some positive some negative, and the design implications of the fact that plants are living organisms that respond to environmental conditions. It considers the differences between creating designs with static materials and designing living systems. Although Introduction to Planting Design focuses on spatial design it also addresses physiological and horticultural factors that affect plant growth and ecological considerations of creating living systems.

Spatial design using living plants differs fundamentally from designing with non-living materials: * Designs composed of plants are dynamic, changing, responsive & evolving, they are never static. * Planting design is the design of ecosystems not the creation or placement of static objects and spaces. * Unlike designs that are made with non-living materials, planting designs are never ‘finished’ but must be managed--another form of design. * Designers are in total control of non-living materials, but are never totally ‘in charge’ when designing with plants--the medium has a mind of its own! * In response to these qualities of plants, the course advocates a flexible, interactive approach to working with this medium--a ‘design partnership’ with plants.

Student learning goals

1 develop 'seeing' skills through practice the art/science of careful observation * inferring site conditions, use patterns and design considerations from observing plants in diverse landscapes. * infer design principles from observing people/plant interactions

2 increase familiarity with the diversity of common landscape plants (not plant identification) * develop a conceptual system for classifying plants for design.

3 understand the design process and the implications of plants as living things * working with growing plants & designing living systems rather than inanimate objects.

4 observe plants/designs from multiple perspectives & integrate/synthesize these perspectives * plant needs & site/environmental conditions * human functional spatial needs * human perceptual and aesthetic responses * ecological implications

5 develop spatial Intelligence and design skills * the ability to see and analyze existing spaces * the ability to conceive and create new spaces with plants * the ability to convey designs through simple graphics/models & verbal presentations.

6 develop your ecological literacy & a stewardship design philosophy * observe how plants respond to environmental conditions 7 practice and develop your own design creativity * observe plants and take delight in thinking about design opportunities

General method of instruction

COURSE FORMAT & METHODS Introduction to Planting Design is a design class. Design is learned through active practice not passive instruction, 'thinking by doing'. This 'lecture' class integrates short lectures with in-class design exercises that apply lecture topics to the design of a specific place on the UW campus. Course reading consists of lecture notes and PowerPoints. See course web site: The class includes weekly planting design observational assignments; campus field trips; student presentations; and mid-term and final design projects in lieu of exams. Weekly assignments encourage you to explore and develop your observation and design skills finding answers to questions in the great outdoors--the designer's 'laboratory'.

Recommended preparation

An open and lively mind, willing to engage and experiment with deisgn concepts and eager to explore plants in the living landscape on our doorstep and beyond.

Class assignments and grading

COURSE CONTENT Introduction to Planting Design explores plants as a ‘design medium’—the variable, pliant, but not always compliant, material out of which designs are formed. It considers the distinctive qualities (opportunities and constraints) of plants as a design medium and the design implications of the fact that plants are living, growing things that continually change through interactions with, and responses to, environmental conditions.

Because plants are alive planting design is fundamentally different from designing with non-living materials. * Designs made of plants are never static--they are dynamic, changing, responsive and evolving. * Planting design is the design of dynamic, changing, growing systems not the placement of static objects. * Designs composed of plants are never ‘finished’ in the way that one might finally complete a design made of non-living materials. * Unlike designers using non-living materials, designers creating designs with plants are never totally ‘in charge’--the medium has a mind of its own! Thus the course advocates a flexible, interactive approach to working with this design medium--a ‘design partnership’ with plants.

Introduction to Planting Design is a spatial design class. It explores the design of space created by plants and sequential experiences of moving through space and among plants. Introduction to Planting Design also considers physiological, horticultural and ecological factors that affect plant growth. The course integrates the design manipulation of plants to create functional and pleasing spaces with the fact that the medium is an interactive component of living ecosystems. Designs composed of plants must consider biological and ecological implications as well as functional, spatial, and aesthetic implications.

COURSE REQUIREMENTS & GRADING Weekly exercises (due Tu of following week) 30% In-class design exercises 30% Midterm project 20% Final project 20%

Weekly exercises record plant- & design-related observations made outside. Weekly observations must focus on the week's theme and be recorded on three unlined 8.5 x 11 pages. Put your name on the front of each page, number pages, label the week’s theme clearly. Late submissions not accepted without prior agreement.


The information above is intended to be helpful in choosing courses. Because the instructor may further develop his/her plans for this course, its characteristics are subject to change without notice. In most cases, the official course syllabus will be distributed on the first day of class.
Last Update by Iain M Robertson
Date: 03/28/2014