What are the 6 principles of landscape design?
From where I stood, it seemed like a thousand golden shards of mirror were illuminating the water channel as it descended the twelve terraces, its course determined. My gaze followed the glittering sheen of the cascading waters and duly aligned itself along the rows of magnificent Chinar trees, framing the view that I knew I would associate with boundless enchantment for the rest of my life.
Far in the distance, I saw the shimmering waters of the Dal Lake, lapping gently in anticipation of the thousand gleaming shards that they would soon be one with. A graceful shikara caressed the waters as it rowed across the Lake, silhouetted against the setting sun, the majestic Pir Panjal in the backdrop. The colourful hollyhocks of the garden blew with the wind, nodding in approval of the breath-taking beauty of the scene. The water from the fountains gurgled in delight. Somewhere, a hoopoe sang its sweet song. The cold breeze whispered in my ear- “Gar firdaus bar rooh-e-zameen ast, hamin ast-o, hamin ast-o, hamin ast”.
“If ever there is paradise on earth; it is here, it is here, it is here.”
The most unforgettable gardens and landscapes often leave an indelible impression on the mind by virtue of evoking in it a distinctive ‘mood’- of exuberance, relaxation, or simply, meditative contemplation. A mood can be well established by the deliberate arrangement and composition of spaces, choice and types of plants, featured landscape elements and most significantly by the wholesome engagement of the senses as one moves through the space. My most vivid memory of Kashmir remains with Nishat Bagh, truly the ‘Garden of Delight.’
One of the finest examples of Mughal gardens in India, Nishat Bagh’s enduring design exhibits a blend of culture, aesthetics, functionality and expression. The articulation of experiences- both tangible and intangible- is crucial for the practice of landscape design. The experience will always change as the plants mature, environmental conditions change, and people use the space. Design principles guide designers in organising elements for a visually pleasing, harmonious landscape. Physical and psychological comfort are two important concepts in landscape design that are achieved through the use of design principles.
We discuss the following six principles here:
A landscape is said to have unity when its predominant features have some visual characteristics in common. Organised landscapes with predictable ‘patterns’ are easier to “read.” Psychological comfort is also derived from the sense of pleasure that a viewer perceives from a unified landscape. Unity can be achieved by repetition. Repeating lines, shapes, plant forms, colours, and texture creates rhythm in the landscape. Material can be used repeatedly throughout the yard for unity, but interest can be created by slightly varying its size, colour or texture. Note, however, that too much repetition can create monotony, and too little can create confusion.
In Nishat Bagh, the central water channel, shah nahar, forms the garden’s main visual axis, uniting the twelve terraces with regularly placed fountains and chinar (sycamore) tree-lined vistas. The flower beds that run along the central canal are planted with similar coloured blossoms, creating visual harmony. The careful selection of species ensures that the visual rhythm is maintained even as seasons change.
Balance helps achieve visual order in any landscape by means of equal visual attraction and weight, usually around a real or imaginary central axis. Balance may be symmetrical (“formal”), in which both sides of the axis are evenly distributed with the same objects or visual weight, or asymmetrical (“informal”), in which each side attracts the same attention by virtue of similar visual weight, even though objects and spacing are dissimilar. Form, colour, size, and texture significantly affect balance.
The shah nahar at Nishat Bagh forms the dominant central axis exhibiting symmetrical balance, a feature of the formal layout of the traditional Mughal Garden. However, the secret of Nishat Bagh’s charisma lies in the masterful application of the less obvious ‘perspective balance’- the balance of the foreground, midground, and background. In any composition, the objects in front usually have greater visual weight because they are closer to the viewer. This can be balanced, if desired, by using larger objects, brighter colours, or coarse texture in the background. Nishat Bagh achieves this delicate balance to perfection. This can be best observed from its lowermost terrace at the edge of Dal Lake. The lower terraces are adorned with bright red blossoms and smaller shrubs of finer texture, providing a dramatic foreground against the seemingly coarser Zabarwan mountains in the backdrop.
Dominant features that draw attention to a particular location, move the eye around the space, or guide circulation are called focal points. They create emphasis and keep a design’s unity and balance from becoming monotonous. A single contrast in colour, texture, form or height – such as provided by a bench, tree, pool, or flower bed – can provide emphasis. The ability of an object to capture attention usually depends on its contrast with adjacent objects.
Beginning at the top, the central canal runs through each of the terraces in Nishat Bagh. At the third terrace however, the water flows into a larger square pool, with not one, but five fountains, drawing emphasis to the space where once stood a stone baradari (pavilion). On the second terrace, which is considered the most beautiful, are Persian lilac trees planted as focal points to break the monotony of the cypress and chinar.
Scale refers to the size relationships among people, plants, and the built and open spaces. When all three are in proportion, the composition feels balanced and harmonious. Users feel more physically comfortable and more secure in a landscape with proportions suited to human scale. Plant material, garden structures, and ornaments should be considered relative to the human scale. Other important relative proportions include the size of the house, yard, and the area to be planted.
A 4-foot-high shrub with a 4-foot spread may be too large – and therefore out of scale – in front of low windows. Next to a high-rise building, however, the same shrub would be out of scale because it is too small.
The planting on the terraces of Nishat Bagh are mostly low or mid-height shrubs. This tends to enlarge the perception of the magnificent surroundings, namely the Zabarwan mountain range and imposing chinar trees spread across the expanse of the garden, to initiate a humbling, awesome feeling within the viewer.
Space in landscape design refers to the nature of space as a volume and as an element of design. An entire lot can be considered to be a block of space with dimensions of length, width and height. Plants, fences and buildings are used to spatially divide the lot into smaller living spaces analogous to the rooms of a house. Logical arrangement of such outdoor "rooms" creates a functional and aesthetically pleasing landscape. These outdoor “rooms” should have separate identities. They should meet the user’s area requirements and direct movement from one space to another.
Although Nishat Bagh’s rectangular layout includes 12 terraces, it has only two sections, namely the public garden at the lower terraces and the private garden for the Zenana (women’s quarters) at the uppermost (twelfth) terrace. The Zenana is concealed behind a 5.5 m high wall with a facade of blind arches at the foot of which is the impressive eleventh terrace, with twenty-five fountains in a pool. Thus, gradation in height, presence of a focal point and density of planting ‘divide’ the Garden into public and private.
Line is the most common element in any composition. Lines are a powerful tool for the landscape designer because they can be used to create patterns and forms, develop spaces, control movement of the eye, establish dominance, and create a cohesive theme in a landscape. Lines in landscape can be created by the edge between two different materials, the outline or silhouette of a form, or a long linear feature.
Lines may be curved or straight. While curved lines create an informal, relaxed character that is associated more with nature and asymmetrical balance, straight lines are structural and forceful. They create a formal character and are usually associated with a symmetrical design, and lead the eye directly to a focal point. The shah nahar at Nishat Bagh forms the dominant linear axis and leads the eye all the way from the Dal Lake, through the ascending terraces of the garden up to the peak of the Zabarwan mountains beyond the horizon. As the eye moves up, the space feels even larger.
The fundamental concept of landscape design is creating attractive and functional outdoor spaces through artful composition and spatial organisation. The principles of landscape design guide the initial design process to creating well-connected, liveable outdoor spaces, visually pleasing to the eye.
The splendid beauty and timeless aesthetic of Nishat Bagh are a result of careful deliberation and articulation of spaces to create ambiance and expression. It is a given that the various design principles as manifested here have played their part well. And yet, Nishat Bagh would not be as spectacular without its beloved chinar and cypress trees, or the beautiful summer blossoms of frilled hollyhocks, scarlet salvias and peonies.
Next time, we understand the importance and criteria for plant selection in garden and landscape design.
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About the Writer
Reva Saksena is an undergraduate architecture student at the School of Planning and Architecture (SPA), Bhopal. She has experience working at SiteLens Cultural Research Division of India Lost and Found (ILF) by Amit Pasricha. She is the winner of the "2021 Berkeley Prize Essay Competition.”
About the Editor
Srishti Mehta is the author of From the Land of Mist and Snow: Haikus from Antarctica. She is a creative writer, editor and publisher. She is the Editor-in-Chief at Zeyka. She is a graduate of the St. Xavier College, Ahmedabad, and the H.R. College of Commerce and Economics, University of Mumbai (MU). She has been the India Ambassador of the International Antarctica Expedition (2018) with 2041 Foundation. She has diverse volunteer experience in natural field studies, explorations, and journalism with numerous organisations including the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS), Mumbai.
About the Illustrator
Shruti Bhagwat is an undergraduate architecture student at the Sir J.J. School of Architecture. Shruti has a keen eye for art, design and detail and a passion for books and movies. As the head of public relations for her college, she has organised and hosted multiple events for the institute’s talk series- ‘Manan.’ She was a finalist of Spacematrix’s Designathon 2020.