Design Continuity in an Outdoor Space

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February 7, 2024

Creating a harmonious design

Designing outdoor spaces like parks, promenades, and campuses requires endless considerations to ensure a cohesive and harmonious design. With these considerations comes the challenge of maintaining a continuous design throughout the outdoor space. Continue reading to learn more about how to address common challenges in achieving design continuity.
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Why is design continuity important?

Continuity throughout a design ensures a comfortable and pleasant experience for users of the space. Though most users of the space will not realize the attention to detail or be aware of all the design choices made to create continuity, as they spend time in and experience the space, they will feel those details. A space that lacks continuity of design can feel disorganized or incomplete, and cause feelings of discomfort for anyone inhabiting the space.

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How can you achieve continuity in your design?

Designing a cohesive outdoor space requires planning from the start, and begins with the core building blocks of any design – the visual elements of line, shape, space, form, value, color, and texture.

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Visual Design Elements

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Look anywhere around you and you’ll see lines. Horizontal, vertical, curved, or diagonal—lines have an impact on how we perceive space. Lines can lead the eye to a particular feature or focal point or guide us in a certain direction.

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Shapes are made up of lines and are two-dimensional forms. The use of different shapes in a design can evoke specific emotions, thoughts, and perceptions.

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Assessing a space’s size, shape, and layout is essential to a seamless design. Space that is filled with things is considered positive space, while empty space is considered negative. It is important to achieve a balance between positive and negative space.

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Form is the backbone of any design and refers to the three-dimensional shapes within the space. Form is enhanced by adding things like textures, colors, or patterns.

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Color brings a space to life and can be used as a contrasting or complementary design element. Colors can help set the desired mood of a space and evoke an emotional experience.

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Texture is used to add depth and interest to a design, and every surface has texture. There are two types of texture: visual and actual. Visual texture appears only as a visual quality of the surface, such as with marble. Actual textures are both seen and felt, such as natural wood.

Visual design elements are brought together using the visual design principles: balance, rhythm, emphasis, proportion, movement, contrast, unity.

Visual Design Principles

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All elements in a design have weight, so it is important to create balance within the space. Some elements are heavy and attract attention, while other elements are light and provide a complement to the bolder elements. Achieving a proper balance between design elements is crucial to a harmonious outdoor design.

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Creating rhythm within a design can help a space feel comfortable and safe. Rhythm can be found in the spaces between repeating elements. By repeating color, line, texture, and forms throughout a space, one creates visual interest and rhythm. There are five types of visual rhythm that can be used within a design: random, regular, alternating, flowing, and progressive.

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A powerful design principle, emphasis is reserved for the most important pieces of your design. Emphasis is used to make certain elements of your design stand out.

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Proportion is the size of the design elements in relation to one another. This principle offers another strategy for communicating the important elements of the design—the larger elements are more important, smaller elements are less.

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Movement in a design controls the elements in a way that leads the eye or the user in the direction you want. Whether that’s using lighting to highlight a sign or pathway, barriers to create structure, or color to add emphasis.

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Placing differing elements adjacent to each other can create a unique and appealing contrast within your design and making the various elements stand out. For example, a warm material like wood paired with a robust material like aluminum creates an attractive contrast.

Applying visual design concepts to an outdoor space

By prioritizing these visual design elements and principles within your project and ensuring everything is cohesive and complementary, you can achieve design continuity across your site. This means being intentional about specifying products that will complement the exterior design; elements that features similar lines and shapes, colors and texture, balance and rhythm, emphasis and proportion, movement and contrast. Below are three scenarios where design continuity is achieved by applying some of these concepts.

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Scenario 1

In this first scenario, we see an outdoor patio connected to a restaurant. As we take a look at the individual elements within the design and how those elements come together, we can recognize various concepts discussed above.

Rectangular shapes and forms are visible throughout the design, from windows and doorways to furniture and planters, and even the hardscape. The consistent use of rectangles through the space creates a structured, modern look. Looking at the textures within this space, we can see that a textured, stone material is used on the building façade, while the furniture in the space offers an attractive contrast to the design by pairing textured finished aluminum with high pressure laminate surfaces resembling warm wood. Rhythm in the design is created through the use of repetition; the repetitive use of windows, wall luminaires, planters, and table placements all contribute to the rhythm within this space.

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Scenario 2

This scenario features a waterside boardwalk. We can see that smooth, curved lines and circles are repeated throughout the design: the circular openings on the upper deck, the curved shape of the building, the curve of the stairway, and the curved archway in the background.

Even the furniture used in this design features curved lines. The alternating placement of the circular windows creates movement and proportion. Planters along the boardwalk provide organic shape, color, and contrast to the design, and alternate with seating to create more rhythm. The wood furniture adds additional warmth to the space and makes it feel more inviting. The use of greenery also softens the predominantly concrete space.

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Scenario 3

In the third scenario we can see a simple park setting with walking paths throughout. This is a place full of nature and filled with organic forms like grasses, shrubs, and trees. A wood deck adds warmth and texture to the space. Wooden bollards, benches, and building elements in the distance create a continuous look throughout the design. Concrete backrests integrated into the bench create a contrast between the warmth of the wood and the cool, smooth concrete. Continuity and flow can even be found in the wood decking and wood slats of the bench as they both carry in the same direction. This scenario is a perfect example of how much intention and detail is required to achieve a continuous design.

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Designing with complementary products

Specifying products from multiple manufacturers while maintaining design continuity can be challenging because there are typically differences in aesthetic, quality, and materials. A solution to this challenge is to specify manufacturers that offer families of products with similar aesthetics throughout their portfolio. This can ensure that the elements within your design will feature cohesive lines and shapes, complementary colors and textures, and identical quality that will stand the test of time and age in a similar manner and timeframe.

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Benefits of architecturally neutral elements

One way to promote continuity within your design is to design with architecturally neutral elements. Furniture, site amenities, luminaires, etc. that are timeless and architecturally neutral are easy to design with because they blend seamlessly into any space. Their design aesthetic ensures that no matter the surrounding architectural style, the products will be complementary to the design. Ease of design is important, but something that might be overlooked is the future state of a design. When a building exterior is updated decades from now, architecturally neutral elements will remain cohesive even in  updated surroundings.