Garden Design Essentials: Positive-Negative Space

Garden Design Essentials: Positive-Negative Space

Space, a critical element of layout, is present in the outside world, thanks to the huge skies overhead, the apparently endless horizon of the ocean or a remote view of treetops.

We are able to benefit from the greater environment in our landscapes, but how we play space can greatly enhance a backyard or patio on an individual scale. Everything depends on how we see a scene and notice dominant 2- or three-dimensional forms along with the surrounding space that frames them.

This phenomenon is known as “figure-ground ambiguity” — you alternately observe the positive attitude after which the negative ground as its silhouette. Together, the ground and figure assume a pattern of their own.

You will find literal methods to state this, such as with a symmetrical, white and black tile pattern. And in addition, there are figurative methods to convey this idea, with an eye-pleasing equilibrium of strong and amorphous components in the landscape,

Here are some great ideas for highlighting the picture’s positive and negative visual equilibrium.

More in this garden layout series: Using Lines | Using Rhythm | Using Texture | Using Shape and Mass

Arthur Dyson Architects

What can I say other than “wow!” If the doors of this room are opened, it’s almost as though the world becomes part of the space. The designer gets major kudos for orienting the house toward the stunning sunset view and for catching that magical universe as a backdrop to the distinct lines of the built environment. Even the large clerestory window reads to this layout as a pattern.

Griffin Enright Architects

The same notion of borrowing the remote perspective is seen here, since this layout is determined by a lush, verdant canyon and the architectural frame of trees to specify positive-negative space. The bedroom walls and transom windows serve as static foreground contours, while nature beyond is changing with the seasons.

R.J. Gurley Construction

A deeply coated desert terrace is the dominant type within this landscape, its rock pillars echoing the bold tree trunks and cacti at the edge of the pool. I enjoy how the curved pool intersects the terrace, its distinct edge suggesting an almost yin-yang pattern. Occasionally this pool is the positive type, but depending on the time of day and the place of the sun, it can also see as the negative form.

John Maniscalco Architecture

A simple, serene window looks out on a personal universe. The natural play outside evenly matchs the solid volume of the tub. Together they create one scene, cohesive and compelling.

Stelle Lomont Rouhani Architects

There’s a different pattern within this property. The house itself is a dominant object on the horizon, however this lengthy grass-and-crushed-rock driveway reads as a similarly bold presence. A continuous border of ornamental grasses plays a significant part to downplay the pressure between the commanding architecture and the strong lines of the driveway.

Windsor Companies

Two beautiful, multitrunked color trees gain prominence within this backyard, thanks to the way in which the bluestone terrace has been located to highlight their inherent elegance. Patios almost always read as the positive, more dominant type in a landscape, but here, the terrace is a backdrop to the trees. The entire scene reads as harmonious and balanced, and I think that it is since the patio’s generous scale feels like a theatrical stage, with the trees as star performers.

environmental concept

Sometimes just outlining one contour can help to create yet another shape. Within this small auto courtroom, the simple notion of planting a 2-inch floor cover grid around the pavers illustrates the positive-negative pattern. And similarly, by planting a lush Cecile Brunner climbing rose around the two arched garage doors, yet another attractive positive-negative form is created.

I couldn’t talk about positive-negative spaces without revealing you at least one checkerboard. It is a favorite design motif, and here it is fairly profitable. Imagine this veranda planted with only grass or paved with only concrete. Neither solution would be as powerful as this one, where a practical walkway becomes a work of art. Another reason this layout works is that the squares are in proportion. There’s nothing.

Dick Clark + Associates

All of the eye sees this is in excellent harmony with the larger surroundings. The courtyard pool lines up with the breezeway to frame a rugged stand of desert trees; collectively they draw your attention to the huge skies. The negative areas — skies, trees and distant mountains — are equally as important as the positive ones — home, pool and breezeway.

Timothy Lee landscape layout

Portals, thresholds and doorways often specify a backyard space. Here, the beautiful curved arbor above a backyard gate reads as the positive form in the garden. It is balanced by the strong stepping stone that will lead you farther into this softly planted environment.

Deborah Cerbone Associates, Inc..

Formal knot gardens and parterre-style designs allow for the horticultural play of positive-negative forms. We first observe the dark green boxwood X-shape layout of the two formal bedrooms. Then, the silvery white contrasting elements (in the triangular sections) catch the attention. Which segment is the positive form and that is the negative? You need both to finish the design.

LDa Interiors & Architecture

Like planting outlines of ground cover in a terrace or training vines to frame a window or doorway, the colour you choose for a home’s exterior trim can dramatically alter its look for the better. The usage of glistening black to highlight the gorgeous millwork and oval window on this home is motivated. Consider how to use the positive-negative contours of your architecture to create a similar impact.

Old-School Design: Frame Your Garden View

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