Olmsted Design Principles




Design of “passages of scenery” even in the small spaces and in areas intended for active use. Creation of designs that give an enhanced sense of space: indefinite boundaries, constant opening up of new views. Avoidance of hard-edge or specimen planting, creating instead designs that have either “considerable complexity of light and shadow near the eye” or “obscurity of detail further away.”



Creation of designs that are in keeping with the natural scenery and topography of the site: respect for, and full utilization of, the “genius of the place.”



Designing in specific styles, each for a particular effect. Primarily in the “Pastoral” style (open greensward with small bodies of water and scattered trees and groves) for a soothing, restorative atmosphere, or in the “Picturesque” style (profuse planting, especially with shrubs, creepers and ground cover, on steep and broken terrain), for a sense of the richness and bounteousness of nature, with chiaroscuro effects of light and shade to produce a sense of mystery.



Subordination of all elements, all features and objects, to the overall design and the effect it is intended to achieve. The “Art to conceal Art.”



Separation of areas designed in different styles, so that an “incongruous mixture of styles” will not dilute the intended effect of each: separation of ways, in order to insure safety of use and reduce distractions for those using the space; separation of conflicting or incompatible uses.



Provision for adequate drainage and other engineering considerations, not simply arranging of surface features. Planning or designs so that they promote both the physical and mental health of users.



Planning of designs so that they will serve a “purpose of direct utility or service;” that is, will meet fundamental social and psychological needs: “So long as considerations of utility are neglected or overridden by considerations of ornament, there will be no true Art.”


Charles E. Beveridge, January 1986

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