Doing Garden Design, part 3: Field Notes

As summer’s yard work draws to a close, I offer the following garden-related “notes-to-self” that have been scribbled in my journal during the season.

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fatsia berries

 

PLANT CARE

  • Consider and then use the best available tool for any given task.
  • Don’t cut corners in any task, large or small.
  • Learn about the form of root systems of undesirable plants, the better to eliminate them.
  • When pruning, eliminate dead, weak, and crossing shoots/branches. Be mindful that any cut made will determine the leading edge of new growth. Try to visualize the direction the new growth will take. Cut to encourage growth into outward-inclined free space.
  • No two plants can thrive in the same exact location. Choose one. Carefully extract the other. (See item #4, above.)
  • Mulch, and mulch again.

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magnolia, with hardy geranium ground cover

 

REFINING THE DESIGN

  • Think big, pay attention to tiny details. Be on the lookout for surprises.
  • Allow room for growth.
  • Build into the design some tolerance for chaos. Selectively groom to let in happenstance.
  • Cut losses with too-far-gone plants or schemes.

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giant fern, unfurling

 

MINDFULNESS

  • Note the cycle of patience punctuated by decisive action.
  • Observe with focus.
  • Stand back regularly, and take the long view.
  • Pace self.
  • Slow down. Patience is a goal.
  • Stop and smell all of it.

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tulip

 

All photos by Laura Kraft.

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Doing Garden Design,                                                                                part 2: Drawings / Plans / Designs

Gallery

This gallery contains 10 photos.

In the previous post, the initial step in my garden design was to compile and analyze a lot of data, and to make many lists. Now, it’s time for pencils and paper, to bring unformed ideas into physical being. Drawing … Continue reading

Doing Garden Design, part 1: Analyze This

(a 6-part series)

1996                                                            2016

A garden constantly changes over time. So, too, does the gardener. And (lately), so does the climate. After 3 decades of tending my lush and ever-bearing yard, it was time to re-think its current design. There was little to limit my imagination except the limits of my physical ability and my time.

I approached the design similarly to the way I approach any architectural design project, with a progression of phases.

Phase 1. Identify Problems in Need of Solutions:

  • Some beds have become grass-and-weed-choked beyond repair.

this path (L) has become tangled up (R)

 

  • The shade from established trees has expanded.
  • I have gotten more measured in my energy expenditure as I age, and need to dial down the amount of high-maintenance plants.
  • The summers have gotten hotter and drier; some plants now wither where they used to flourish.

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this slope became too dry and shady for its plantings

 

Phase 2. Gather Facts About Prevailing Conditions.

Over the years, I have developed a head full of experience and opinions about this garden’s performance.

The hardscape (paths, stairs, retaining walls, and paved areas) has been developed over the years. It will essentially remain as-is.

I have noted plantings that have succeeded and those that failed. Some of them combine with others. Some are easy to care for. Some offer great rewards, such as long blooming time, delicious scents, beautiful colors, and/or striking textures.

On the other hand, others are short-lived, invasive, fussy, too chaotic, or I just don’t like them.

I made the following double-duty diagram.

new-plantings-exposure-1

sun/shade exposure        /        existing features, to remain

 

Examples of elements well worth keeping as-is:

rhodies

enormous old rhododendrons with 70’ tall Western Red Cedar beyond

grove

native ground covers within the rhododendron grove

flower-garden

sunny flower garden near house

 

Phase 3. Scheme, daydream, and imagine possibilities. Start wish lists, accompanied by deep research in books and on the web. Some of my lists:

  • Flowers I want.
  • Drought-resistant shrubs with “winter interest.”
  • Plants that will bring sparkle to the shade.
  • Plants (from small-to-large) with remarkable foliage.
  • Scented plants to locate near the path.
  • Evergreen ground covers, bedding plants, and specimens.
  • Plants with notable shapes.
  • And so on…

wish-list

I love the evocative names, and all of the promises they hold

At the end of this third phase, armed with information and ideas, I am ready to start drawing.

The next 2H Pencil post will be:

Doing Garden Design, Part 2: Plans

upper-plan-rendering_edited-1

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How Writing by Hand Benefits the Brain

Dalton-Ghetti-pencil-alphabet

Educator Ainissa Ramirez observes that…”those who are taking notes by hand are processing the information and representing it in a way that makes sense to them. They are learning…So in this age of technology, (she is) suggesting that students take notes with paper and pen. It’s a crazy idea, but hear( her) out. This is a re-post of her article:

The Lowdown on Longhand: How Writing by Hand Benefits the Brain.

“My Catholic school third grade teacher was extremely tough on me. Her biggest gripe was my handwriting, which looks more like an EKG scan than penmanship. For years, I harbored not-so-fond memories of her, but now I know that her strictness about penmanship was actually helping my brain develop. Recently, scientists have shown that longhand writing benefits the brain.

Today, cursive writing is becoming a lost art as note taking with laptops becomes more and more prominent in classrooms. But what we are losing is much bigger than a few scratches on a page — we are losing a robust way of learning.

There has been much debate on the use of laptops for note taking in classrooms. The pro side sees laptops as an efficient way of collecting and storing information. The con side sees laptops as an opportunity for distractions and multitasking. What’s missing is an understanding of how taking notes by longhand influences the brain. Recent studies have shown that students taking notes with laptops performed worse on conceptual questions than the students taking notes by longhand. In short, they had the information on their computers, but did not have an understanding of that information in their brains.

So in this age of technology, I’m suggesting that students take notes with paper and pen. It’s a crazy idea, but hear me out.

A Plea for Penmanship

When students take notes with their laptops, they tend to mindlessly transcribe the data word for word, like speech-to-text software. But taking notes verbatim is not the point. What is lacking in their note-taking-by-laptop is the synthesis, the re-framing, and the understanding of the information. Students that transcribe with laptops have shallow connections to what’s being presented to them. However, those who are taking notes by hand are processing the information and representing it in a way that makes sense to them. They are learning.

Now, I’ll be the first to say that longhand writing is so 19th century. But we need to answer a question: do we want students to have a deep or shallow connection to the information we’re giving them? While we live in a world of short sound bytes where news is thrown at us unprocessed, this should not be the mode for schools. In the 21st century, the ability to connect knowledge in new ways is more important than the knowledge itself. So students with deeper connections to information can link it in new ways — they can create.

The Pen is Mightier

All this begs the question of how we can incorporate longhand in a digital age. What about a daily notebook, written by hand?

A lost art in the world of science is the lab notebook. In it, scientists write down observations, impressions, and all the variables and outcomes of an experiment. If you are teaching STEM classes, might I suggest that you resurrect the lab notebook and have students personalize it? Give them assignments where they have to hand-draw pictures of what they see and what they predict. Let them figure out how to visually represent these things — without digital pictures, by the way. The data says that taking images with a camera does not improve one’s memory either, so these notebook entries must be written or drawn. Skill doesn’t matter. What we are fostering are experiential links in a child’s brain, and one of the best pathways is through their fingers.

If you are not teaching STEM classes, have students carry a personal notebook in which they write down observations and draw things by hand on whatever topic. We are trying to create more connections to information, and developing fine motor skills along the way.

If you have a classroom with lots of technology, try to integrate note taking. Often when I give my PowerPoint slides to students, I pass out a version that doesn’t have all the information that students are seeing on the screen, which means that they need to fill it in by hand. And when I glance over their notes, I see how their work doesn’t always look the same. This is great because my students are doing the most important thing we can teach them — they are learning how to teach themselves.

So let us not confuse efficiency with the real goal of teaching. Teaching is not a job of cramming as much as we can into a brain. It is about learning. And getting students to learn means that we must use every pathway to connect them with the information. Using laptops reinforces the Industrial Revolution ideal that every kid should get the information in the same way, and that it should come out the same way. But by occasionally replacing the laptop with a pen, learning happens, which is why we got into this business in the first place.”

 Blog re-post courtesy of Ainissa Ramirez.

Pencil Alphabet” image courtesy of Dalton M. Ghetti.

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I invite your comments.

 

 

 

When We Work Together, What Should You Bring to the Design Process?

people_edited-1Bring problems, not solutions

To get the most out of the design process, it is best to present me with a problem statement rather than a solution. Isolating the problem statement is easier said than done. I find clients usually understand their design problems perfectly. They know what parts of their layout are inefficient, which finishes are outdated, which views are not accessed, which views should be blocked, what needs are simply not provided for in their home.

Most clients take the next step and propose a solution: “We need a room laid out like so, with a door here and a window here.” Of course no one knows your house better than you do. However, as an architect, I can step back, analyze your needs and study your house as a system which accomplishes the following:

  • provides space for needs and uses
  • allows varying levels of access
  • expresses family priorities
  • allows for privacy as well as togetherness
  • interacts positively with its surroundings

By taking all of these factors into account, in addition to issues of structure, cost, codes, and so on, I can present a solution you may have never thought of that solves your problem very well.

Here’s an example. A two-career, two-computer couple hired me to add a study/library to their home. They stated that they wanted this room right off of the kitchen, because it would be “close to everything.” They felt that the problem needing a solution was: how do we get light into the kitchen if we block off its sliding glass door with another room.

I understood that this couple needed a new room, but questioned whether it had to be right off of the kitchen. In fact, that would make it too close to everything. I proposed location a little further off the beaten track. This proposed location was secluded enough for actual study to take place. It had the added benefit of being structurally simple and not taking away the kitchen’s light and access, which were established and enjoyed.

I will help peel apart the issues driving your design. The first few sessions may well consist largely of discussion and questions about your house, your needs, your priorities, etc.

Bring an open mind

When presented with solutions you may never have thought of, it is best to have an open mind. You may discover that I have hit upon a great solution! It goes without saying, though, you are the final judge. A good way to evaluate a design is to ask the following question: Does it solve your problems constructively? This is the most important thing a design must do.

Bring a notebook

I recommend that clients keep a record of the design process. A notebook, folder, or journal allows you to have a central location for questions, issues raised at each meeting, items to consider for the next meeting, opinions, priorities, lists, and so on. Many clients collect photos of projects they like. I regard these as impressions, not necessarily as solutions to directly reproduce.

Bring hard information

If you have house plans already, by all means, bring them. It will give me a good head start on preparing “as-builts.” This can save many hours of billable time.

Bring a budget, even if it is not “set in stone.” Be honest about your intentions so that I can work towards the best solution that you can afford. Without an accurate budget range to work with, I will probably propose more or less than you want.

Eventually, you will be responsible to provide data such as your legal description and tax assessor’s number (for permit). If site information is required, such as a survey or a letter or report from a soils engineer, it is typically provided by the client.

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Best Tool for the Job

In the 21 months since I posted ”Why I Prefer Using a Pencil” on 2H Pencil, technology has marched on. We’ve been through slightly more than one cycle of the phenomenon described by Moore’s Law, that integrated circuits double in performance every 18 months. Devices have gotten smarter and smaller and more connected. BIM, 3-D modeling, 3-D printing and the Cloud are the current darlings of architectural office technology.

In this time period, I’ve continued to think about my relationship to technology. Rather than classify myself as a “tech geek” or a “non-tech geek”, I am, simply, VERY selective about the technology I adopt and use regularly. I prefer a car with a stick shift, because I like to feel the workings of the engine. I prefer not to have a phone on my person at all times, because it feels intrusive and distracting. I prefer to have GPS available when I am on the road. I still prefer using a pencil when it comes to drafting.

For a while in my career, I was in sync with my professional peers with regard to architectural office technology. And when offices began to replace manual drafting with CAD, I learned the fundamentals along with everyone else. But by then, I was more involved in the management than the production side of projects; at that time, CAD was used strictly for production of construction documents. So I used a red pencil on printouts more than I sat at the Microstation.

I was not in the habit of using CAD when I started my own firm twenty years ago. Laura Kraft  Architect is intentionally a one-person firm, structured so that can follow my preferences as I see fit.   As a solo practitioner, I have no need for in-house team coordination/collaboration/sharing. Processes and findings are all stored in my head or on paper, or as digital files in Word, Excel, WordPress or ArchiOffice. In addition to these technologies I do use, I’ve got an iPad on which the mail, web and portfolio apps are the most useful for my architecture practice. However, I find that in the course of a day, I still prefer a notebook to a note-recording app.

I’ve got Vectorworks and Sketchup on my office computer, and can get around both programs. I use them on rare occasions when they can do something that the combination of a pencil, an enlarging & reducing copier, a scanner, a digital camera, and/or a quick chipboard model can’t do.

As mentioned in my first post, for the scale and one-off character of custom residential design, the focus of my practice, I believe manual drawing is a viable and appropriate tool. Hand drawn/drafted Pre-design and Schematic drawings are perfectly expressive, informative, loose and evocative for clients’ needs. Custom residential construction documents do not necessarily require the extreme precision available and inherent in CAD.

For me, some significant points against CAD are these: in my office, there is no IT department except for a portion of my own left-brain. When glitches occur, as they do according to Murphy’s Law, it’s incumbent on me to figure them out and fix them. Problems are eventually solved, but at often at too high a cost of time and aggravation. Add to this the necessary, frequent, and expensive upgrades to keep the system viable. Sometimes, advanced technology can take more than it gives.

However, when an un-filled need arises, I can enthusiastically embrace a high-tech approach, if it holds a workable solution. As an example, in the past 7-8 months, I have given free rein to a strong artistic impulse, which has expressed itself as digital art, created with Photoshop Elements, and then printed on a high quality printer. The process I have chosen to work with would seem to fly in the face of my hands-on proclivity.

This is a primary reason I currently make use of a digital process: the first image below is an oil painting I started over 30 years ago, reworked numerous times, and never finished. Re-working the gradients led to a loss of freshness and luminosity, which I desired. You can see that the multiple layers of paint have begun to slough off. I never gave up on wanting to resolve this image. There was something about the rotation of forms, the gradients, and the ambiguous relationship of foreground to background that intrigued me.

 painting _edited-1Hand painted with oils on canvas

Rotation test_edited-1Digitally created

The second image is a recently created digital version. With the computer, I was able to try many versions of the composition, adjusting the characteristics of the gradients, the colors, and the forms in a relatively short time interval. The Elements program allowed a range of explorations that were not within my grasp with the paintbrush. After 30+/- iterations, I came to a resolution that feels right to me. I don’t think that the manual process would have ever been the way to work out the problems in this painting.

I discovered an ironic reversal of the architectural “tech geek” ethos. In architecture, technology such as CAD, BIM, and 3-D modeling are embraced and preferred as predominant tools, whereas hand-drawing and manual processes are seen as oddities/novelties (though much appreciated by contractors, I find). However, in the art world, digital art is often stigmatized as less authentic than, and inferior to “hand-made” art.   As a category, it is commonly excluded from calls for work in competitions, awards, shows, etc.

Now I’m in the position of, on one hand, extolling use of the pencil for my technical drawing (no longer a conventional method), and on the other hand, extolling use of the computer for creation of my art images (also a non-conventional option). This apparent contradiction is, in fact, consistent because these choices, and all of my technology choices, are based on evaluation of how the pros and cons of each tool adds up for me. I hold that technology is best when it serves unobtrusively as a means to an end. When I find a tool that improves my process, I embrace it. When I find a need that can best be met by some new form of technology, I use it. If a tool impedes my process, I reject it. If some new gadget or program fills a need that I don’t have, I pause and reflect; adoption of such things can create a need where there was none before, and then there is no going back. So in these instances, my tendency is to resist the seduction of “the next new thing,” in order to keep life, architecture and art as simple and uncluttered as they can be.

All Images courtesy of Laura Kraft.

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The Camera as an Artist’s Tool

I am taking a drawing class in which we sometimes work from photos, which by their nature, capture 2-dimensional records of 3-dimensional things, fixing a composition, and in so doing, eliminate several fundamental challenges of drawing.  I have long believed that it is preferable to draw directly from life, and to wrestle with the illusive third dimension, than to draw from photos.

But I am learning that there are opportunities in letting a camera do some of the work.  Compositions can be tested, cropped and re-cropped with ease, enabling quick explorations and unexpected discoveries.  A universe of subject matter can be accessed from the comfort of the studio.

Here is a painting by Charles Sheeler that I love for its stillness, sense of space, composition, color and subject matter.

Image

 American Interior, 1934

From the website of the Yale Art Gallery where this painting resides, “American Interior is the last and most complex of Sheeler’s paintings of interiors. A master photographer, Sheeler used his own photographs as the basis for many of his paintings. He modeled this composition on one of a group of photographs he had made in 1929 documenting the living room of his former home in South Salem, New York. He photographed the space from above to create a steeply rising floor. In the painting, the cropped composition, oblique view, tilted perspective, and distilled contrasts of light and dark that flatten the forms and emphasize their geometry reveal the artist’s eye as a photographer. His modernist vision responded to the purity of forms and patterns found in American crafts, shown here in the Shaker box, textiles, and chair. In American Interior, Sheeler celebrates both the clarity and precision of the camera and his love for simple, handmade American objects.”

The camera can be an artist’s best friend.

In researching this blog post, I found that Yale Art Gallery’s website, in addition to access to its collection, includes an intriguing online magazine called “What is Art and Why Does it Matter?  I am reminded that computer is a great tool for virtually visiting museums and galleries around the world.