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APPLICATION OF GESTALT PRINCIPLES IN PLANTING DESIGN

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CHAPTER 31
APPLICATION OF GESTALT PRINCIPLES
IN PLANTING DESIGN
SERAP YILMAZ AND SEMA MUMCU
Introduction
Landscape is a space perceived visually by the viewer and evaluated
through cultural values and personal beliefs (Bishop et al., 2001).
Landscape consists of a combination of various components (topography,
plants, water structure, land use and architectural forms and atmosphere)
with different properties (Zube et al., 1987). Thus, when separated into
components, landscape becomes geographical layers, losing its integrity
and quality (Bishop et al., 2001). As a whole, through the consistent
components, and perceptual relationships that determine how to observe it,
landscape allows the individual to assess the environment. As a result of
this assessment, landscape is defined as the whole of its content and the
perceptual influences this content forms, not only by its content (Gault,
1997).
Assessment of visual pleasure, which is the result of landscape
perception, is an important issue in landscape research and often
associated with the visual quality of the environment. The visual quality of
the environment is determined by the human, the environment and the
properties of the created design product. Research on the visual quality of
the environment revealed that the quality of the environment depends both
on the environment itself and on the outcome of the perception of the
observer viewing it. The visual quality of the environment is related to
formal features of the landscape such as form, line, colour, and texture and
the relationships among them. Gestalt Theory explains how principles
such as order, rhythm, harmony and complexity can be combined with
design elements such as form, line, colour, and texture and principles such
as proximity, similarity, simplicity, etc. Therefore, landscape elements
such as line, form and colour could be useful tools in design to increase
Application of Gestalt Principles in Planting Design
401
the visual quality of the landscape and create aesthetic satisfaction for the
user. Trees are especially interpreted as powerful signs by the individuals,
as remarkable landscape elements; they attract interest and enhance
sensory stimulation (Prager, 2014).
Gestalt theory
Visual qualities of the elements that form the environment are mainly
characterized by characteristics such as size, shape, colour and texture.
The whole formed by these elements provides a satisfying environment for
the users as long as they are used in accordance with the functions of the
space and with awareness in terms of design principles. Their organization
is determined by certain principles. These principles add variation to the
perception of that environment and allow certain features to emerge as
salient. It was observed that Gestalt Theory, which advocates that the
perception of this salience is sensory and oriented, was more effective and
influenced design studies more than other theories of perception (Lang,
1987).
Gestalt theory is integrated with visual perception (Gabr, 2006) and
concerned with the relationship between the parts and the whole of a
composition. According to Gestalt Theory, the whole expresses more than
the sum of its parts. This theory, which is based on the idea that people
perceive objects as a whole, describes how people tend to organize visual
elements into groups or unified wholes when certain principles are
applied. These principles of visual organization help to form compositions
and styles in a design. The visual quality of natural and built environments
is assessed by their form, proportion, balance, rhythm, scale, complexity,
colour, and light and shade. These formal values contribute to human
satisfaction and can be examined with the help of Gestalt Theory (Aydınlı,
1992; Van Tonder and Lyons, 2005). Gestalt Theory recognizes that a
well-organized form is perceived as a figure or fore-ground according to
its background and, aesthetic satisfaction is increased when the quality of
the figure is increased (Lang, 1987).
In conclusion, Gestalt principles were defined depending on the
differentiations between the figure and the ground that are rules of
perceptibility. The focus of the Gestalt Theory is on the grouping approach
or the tendency for interpreting the visual space. Gestalt principles define
fundamentals in the analysis of compositions of components that form a
complex or simple unity. The psychological organization of a visual
composition is defined as good (not an assessed condition but a feature
defined by form). Good figures include unity, harmony, order, similarity,
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proximity, and simplicity, etc. Such environments that include these
features are regarded as “simple”, “ordered”, and “easily perceived”.
When assessed by Gestalt Theory, good environment and good forms are
equal as most designers agree (Lang, 1987). For this purpose,
psychologists that advocate the Gestalt Theory demonstrated how visual
elements are combined to create a form and express wholeness (Reardon,
2004) and the factors that affect the perception of the form are as follows
(Zusne, 1970; Van Tonder and Lyons, 2005):
Proximity: There is a tendency to visually group objects that are close
enough to create the least resistance against their association.
Similarity: The elements that form an organization create visual
groups if they have similar qualities such as size, shape, colour and
texture.
Closure: If there is a clear surface limited by direction, boundary or
intermediate spaces, the elements that define it tend to be a whole or a
unit.
Simplicity: Simple, open-structured forms become salient and
primarily perceived.
Common fate: In a composition consisting of elements creating
sensation of movement to different directions the elements with same or
similar directions are perceived as a group.
Good continuation: Items moving similarly towards a certain
direction tend to form a group.
Figure/ground: Objects that have distinct boundaries within an
organization and appear closer to the viewer create the effect of a "figure"
and everything that expresses flatness or surface, even though these are
three-dimensional objects, induces the effect of a "ground" in perception.
According to Gestalt theory, the figure-ground relation is very important
for the act of seeing, and formal expressions are strengthened by "depth":
1. Depth
Overlapping: If one of the many figures cuts in by covering others,
this object will be perceived in front of others;
Transparency: If the covering figure is transparent, it is possible to
perceive the figures at the back at the same time. In this case, since the
distance between both objects can be perceived, the expression of
depth becomes clear;
Grading: This is the formation of a sequence by grading the objects in
an organization with a specific order. Grading is provided by size,
colour, tone and texture. Large figures are observed in the foreground
Application of Gestalt Principles in Planting Design
403
when compared to small figures, dark colours are observed in the
foreground when compared to light colours and hard textures are
observed in the foreground when compared to soft textures.
2. Linear pattern
This is a type of volumetric expression that shapes an organization
formed by linear patterns without losing their characteristics.
3. Defined boundary
For an object to be perceived effectively and to display strong figure
properties, it should have salient boundary lines.
Planting design and landscaping preferences
The environmental character, which is the essence of the space, is
formed by the combination of form, colour, and texture that create the
spatial integrity. Spatial relations and the features of the components that
form the space should not diminish the quality and general atmosphere of
the space (Bott, 2000). When considered in this context, compared to other
variables, plants have been regarded as a particularly powerful factor in
visual quality and the relationship between plants and visual quality is
emphasized (De La Fuente De Val and Mühlhauser, 2014). Researchers
state that vegetation often serves as a method of beautication and as a
visual attribute (Smardon, 1988; Ignatieva et al., 2011; Raskovic and
Decker, 2015). With their form, texture, colour, and scale plants are
regarded as the most effective components of a landscape and the colour,
form and texture of the plants and their combinations that form the
landscapes should not disrupt the natural appearance that the landscape
should reflect. This situation reveals the importance of planting design in
the perception of the space.
Planting design is strongly associated with functional, ecological and
aesthetic qualities (Dee, 2012; Robinson, 2004). Aesthetic qualities of
planting design directly affect the scenic beauty of landscapes and this has
recently been an important component of landscape planning and
management strategies (Daniel, 2001; Scott, 2002). Therefore,
understanding the visual qualities of plants presented through colour,
form, and texture is very important in order to search for their effects on
people in terms of aesthetic pleasure and to reflect these effects in planting
design principles. These design principles are identified as balance,
contrast, diversity, emphasis, harmony, order, rhythm, scale, sequence,
unity, movement, and viewpoint (Booth, 1990; Bell, 1999; Robinson,
2004).
Plants become an important tool in designing more preferred
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landscapes through design principles. However, an important issue to
consider in planting design is the determination of the characteristics of
preferable landscapes and how these principles should be associated with
design principles. Knowledge of the characteristics of the relationship
between the individual and the environment allows designers to design
spaces that are more suited to the preferences and activities of the users.
The visual quality of a space could affect the experiences-feelings in that
space. This could affect pleasure so that the individual is attracted to a
space she or he likes and avoids a space that she or he dislikes (Nasar,
1988). Studies on preference and the visual quality of landscapes revealed
certain qualities that the landscape spaces should possess. The naturalness
in a landscape (Kaplan and Kaplan, 1989; Ulrich, 1983; Herzog, 1989;
Hartig, 1993), depth (Ulrich, 1983; Herzog, 1988; Gault, 1997); wideness
(Nasar, 1992; Schultz and Zelezny, 1998), consistency, legibility,
complexity and mystery (Kaplan et al., 1998; Kuper, 2017) are important
identifiers of landscape preferences. Especially, the "Preference
Framework" proposed by Kaplan and Kaplan (1982) is a model for
predicting individuals’ landscape preferences. According to this model, the
environmental characteristics are in two groups: the first is coherence and
complexity; and the second is legibility and mystery (Kaplan et al., 1998).
The mystery that affects landscape preferences is assessed in the present
study, because mystery is a driving force in discovering a new
environment (Prager, 2014). Mystery is the potential of the landscape to
obtain new information, or is the ability to create interest and to provide
more information (Heath, 1988; Kaplan, Kaplan and Ryan, 1998, Prager,
2014). It involves the user making more sense of the environment through
movement and discovery. In order to create a sense of mystery in an area,
it is necessary to form partial screens (closure) or hidden areas to stimulate
the curiosity of the individual (Kaplan et al., 1998). Trees particularly
affect the experience of mystery as elements that separate the landscape
into parts and provide perspective (depth) (Prager, 2014). Kaplan (1982)
stated that the cognitive concept of mystery is associated with the presence
of the sense of depth, or the perception of depth through a strong linear
perspective. Thus, a scene is provided that the landscape defines to give
information to the viewer from its depth areas (Gault, 1997). As a result,
mystery is also formed in spaces with depth (Kaplan and Kaplan, 1989).
Recent studies on the aesthetic dimension of plantation design have
been focused on different concepts such as the relationship between
Kaplan and Kaplan's model of environmental preference and plant density
and the extent of the view (De La Fuente De Val and Mühlhauser S.
2014), the effects of the presence or the absence of trees on the perceived
Application of Gestalt Principles in Planting Design
405
aesthetics and attributes of urban squares (Raskovic and Decker, 2015),
how factors such as plant colour composition, plant composition, and plant
species diversity are related to the visual quality of the landscape of urban
parks (Polat and Akay, 2015), and how characteristics of trees are
associated with a tree's aesthetics and aesthetic preference in terms of the
savannah hypothesis and the Gestalt grouping principle of closure
(Gerstenberg and Hofmann, 2016). These studies have addressed different
concepts and environments related to planting design; however, studies
based on the gestalt theory that focus on the relationship between mystery
and depth and landscape preferences are limited. However, the use of
gestalt principles in planting design would be very effective on the general
atmosphere of the landscape because gestalt theory focuses on the effect of
the whole, not on the parts. The plants are powerful parts that create a
figure effect with their structural features (size, form, texture and colour)
and they can create a whole that contains mystery and depth when the
relationships between these properties (i.e., size-colour-texture hierarchy
between the plants, covering-covered relationship between the plants) are
structured with an emphasis on the figure-ground principle. Thus, a model
proposal was developed in the present study based on the use of Gestalt
principles in planting design to materialize the relationship between
Gestalt principles and planting design.
Planting design model based on gestalt principles
Individuals perceive whole plant compositions rather than the visual
properties of each plant. Landscape aesthetics, therefore, overlaps with
Gestalt Theory that focused on the idea that “the whole is other than the
sum of its parts”. Gestalt Theory argues that in order to make a whole
meaningful, the organization to bring the parts together is more important
than the sum of its parts. In this context, Gestalt Principles also overlap
with planting design. An aesthetically pleasing landscape can be achieved
through design principles such as order, symmetry, proportion, and
balance (Ewald, 2001). When these principles are applied in planting
design, design elements were addressed to exhibit depth and mystery
within the context of the figure-ground approach of the Gestalt theory. In
order to strengthen the depth-mystery in planting design based on the
above-mentioned figure-ground relationship, the following methods were
considered:
1. Transparency: In planting design, light-textured plants add depth to
the space by creating the feeling that the space continues towards the
background by allowing the elements in the background to be observed.
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2. Overlapping: In planting design, placement of the plants in front of
each other to cover parts of other plants, and the fact that the covering
plant is at the front and the covered plant is at the back, create depth in the
space.
3. Grading (measure-value grading): An individual knows that the
objects in the distance are perceived as smaller and their colours fade.
Utilizing this feature, as the plants in the background recede they get
smaller, their colours fade and they become light textured and as the plants
get closer to the observer they become taller, colours get darker and their
textures get firmer would create measure and value grading, thus, creating
a perception of distance in individuals and create depth in the space.
The plants could be combined in the landscape based on Gestalt
principles when these are considered as figures. Thus, the designer can
enhance the desired effect in the space using the composition of the plants.
Thus, in the scope of the present study, the research question was
determined as "How should the plants be composed based on Gestalt
principles to strengthen the perceptual data about the qualities that affect
the preference of the space?" In this query, it was considered that the
plants would be active figures and salient, and the ground plane and the
natural environment behind them could form a background for these
plants. Because the plants are attractive and impressive elements with their
mass, colours, texture and form, plants should be placed in the space
defined by landscape as figure representations. This will become possible
when the plants are placed in organizations in order to create a figure
effect. Finally, when plant combinations are organized according to the
figure-ground relationship revealed by psychologists advocating Gestalt
Theory, features of depth and mystery could be obtained in a landscape
space through the colour and texture of the plants.
The visual quality assessment of an individual about a space depends
on personal traits of that individual as well as the visual data he or she
receives while she or he is in the space. Thus, the qualities of the elements
that form the space are directly related to how the space would be
perceived and how it would stimulate the observer. Within this context,
how does the designer create mystery-depth during planting design?
Stage I: The plants are enabled to be perceived as a whole rather than
individually by making use of Gestalt principles such as similarity,
proximity, continuity and closure. In other words, plant groups are formed
through using visual features of plants such as colour, texture and size and
the characteristics of these groups change hierarchically (rhythmically).
When the similarity-proximity relationship in hierarchical change between
the colour, texture and size of the plants is well-formed, the plants are
Application of Gestalt Principles in Planting Design
407
enabled to be perceived as a whole rather than individually (Fig. 1).
Fig. 1: Forming continuity in change in colour-size-texture of plants
Fig. 2: Forming rating in change in colour-size-texture of plants
Fig. 3: Forming the covering-covered relationship between plants
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Stage II: While forming plant groups, planting design is provided with
mystery and depth through using the figure-ground principle of Gestalt
principles (transparency-covering-rating) (Figs. 2-3):
The figures (Figs. 1-3) reflect the strong perceptual effects of the
proposed design model. Based on the idea that the environment is a source
of information for the individual, the spaces could be perceived as deeper
and more mysterious when the proposed designs are used. In Figure 4, the
obstructed fields of view created by the planting design and the
transparency feature provided by the light textured plants used in the
background aimed to create a sense of curiosity in the observer.
Fig. 4: A space planted based on the proposed planting design model
In the figures below (Figures 5-8), the reflections of Gestalt principles
on a space designed based on the above-mentioned (based on the figure-
ground relationship) planting design model by evaluating the collection of
the plants with the principles of visual perception are presented. The
similarity and proximity that exist in this landscape were provided by the
homogeneity and harmonious transition between the colours, textures and
sizes of the plants. The use of these principles strengthened the visual
expression of the plants. The continuity feature in the plant textures in this
landscape, which is caused by the placement of lighter colours and smaller
sizes towards the background, strengthens the depth. The closure feature
of plant textures also strengthened the mystery of the space by the
transparency of the plants that allowed the partial observation of the
background. The existence of these principles also strengthened the formal
expression of the plants in the visual field thanks to the perceptual data
they provide.
Application of Gestalt Principles in Planting Design
409
Conclusion
The present model proposed for planting design was developed based
on the "environment-human-perception effect". The appearance of the
environment is perceived not through the perception of individual objects,
but through the relationships between these objects. When an individual
looks around, he or she combines the observed parts and perceives all
parts by integrating them into the whole. Thus, the missing parts in the
environment are completed during the perception of the individual.
Therefore, the planting design model was evaluated based on the Gestalt
principles (similarity, proximity, closure and continuity) and the aim was
to introduce the effect of depth and mystery into the space using the
figure-ground effect.
Fig. 5: Assessment of the space planted with the planting design model based on
the similarity principle
Fig. 6: Assessment of the space planted with the planting design model based on
the proximity principle
The following considerations were emphasized in the model:
It was considered that the space could be perceived as deeper and
more mysterious than it already was by providing certain clues in
terms of depth for the individual. The grading between the textures
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and the sizes of the plants and the overlapping and depth between
the plants were used as the clues of depth. Thus, the proposed
model was designed based on the fact that sizes decrease and
textures get lighter as the objects move further away from the
individual, providing the feeling of distance.
Fig. 7: Assessment of the space planted with the planting design model based on
the continuity principle
Fig. 8: Assessment of the space planted with the planting design model based on
the closure principle
When the overlapping of plants is implemented by benefiting from
transparency and textural grading, it results in an inability to
observe everything clearly, introducing mystery to the space.
The closure in the space created a perception of a boundary.
However, the occupancy and emptiness in this boundary create the
sensation that the space flows towards the background. Thus, the
space gives a sense of openness and freedom of movement, and is
perceived to be wider than it really is.
Application of Gestalt Principles in Planting Design
411
Further studies could aim to develop an analysis method or model that
would be constructed with Gestalt principles to improve the landscape
preference and qualities, such as naturalness, consistency, legibility,
complexity and mystery.
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Conference Paper
Research issue: The greenspace as a dynamic part of the urban landscape is facing problems such as urbanization and lack of allocating enough space to balance the hard and the soft body of the cities. The monotony of greenspace in the form of planting stereotypes is a common attitude in the design of urban green landscapes in Iran. The result of this attitude, in addition to limiting the perceived dimensions of the planting design, has led to the proliferation of artificial landscapes and the inefficiency in the presence of the ever-diminishing of valuable urban sites. Research Objective: A review of the theoretical implications of the planting design for examining its basic dimensions as the underpinning of the landscape formation process and the possibility of enhancing existing attitudes in the design community. Research method: This is a descriptive-analytical study based on documentary data collection (the study of related literature and articles) as well as surveying (field observation and imaging of implemented samples. (Conclusion: The lack of a holistic approach, the dynamism in planting design, and the ideal visual vocabulary in reflecting the discourse of the designer-utilizer of the landscape's visual quality create a gap as a direct result of the divergence of the goals conceived of the planting design in improving the quantitative and qualitative green landscapes.
Conference Paper
Abstract Research issue: The green space as a dynamic part of the urban fabric is facing problems such as urbanization and lack of allocating enough space to balance the hard and the soft landscaping of our cities. The monotony of green space in the form of planting stereotypes is a common attitude in the design of urban green landscapes in Iran. The result of this attitude, in addition to limiting the perceived dimensions of the planting design, has led to the proliferation of artificial and inefficient green spaces in the presence of the ever-diminishing of valuable urban sites. Research Objective: A review of the theoretical implications of the planting design for examining its basic dimensions as the underpinning of the landscape formation process and the possibility of enhancing existing attitudes in the landscape design community. Research method: This is a descriptive-analytical study based on literature review as well as surveying (field observation and imaging of implemented samples). Conclusion: The lack of a holistic approach, the dynamism in planting design, and the ideal visual vocabulary in reflecting the discourse of the designer-utilizer of the landscape's visual quality create a gap as a direct result of the divergence of the goals conceived of the planting design in improving both the quantitative and qualitative urban green spaces. Keywords: Green space, Landscape aesthetics, Basic design principles, Visual composition
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Abstract Research issue: The greenspace as a dynamic part of the urban landscape is facing problems such as urbanization and lack of allocating enough space to balance the hard and the soft body of the cities. The monotony of greenspace in the form of planting stereotypes is a common attitude in the design of urban green landscapes in Iran. The result of this attitude, in addition to limiting the perceived dimensions of the planting design has led to the proliferation of artificial landscapes and the inefficiency in the presence of the ever-diminishing of valuable urban sites. Research Objective: A review of the theoretical implications of the planting design for examining its basic dimensions as the underpinning of the landscape formation process and the possibility of enhancing existing attitudes in the design community. Research method: This is a descriptive-analytical study based on documentary data collection (literature review) as well as surveying (field observation and imaging of implemented samples). Conclusion: The lack of a holistic approach, the dynamism in planting design, and the ideal visual vocabulary in reflecting the discourse of the designer-utilizer of the landscape's visual quality create a gap as a direct result of the divergence of the goals conceived of the planting design in improving the quantitative and qualitative green landscapes. Keywords: Greenspace, Landscape aesthetics, Basic design principles, Visual composition
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Trees can enhance human mental and physical well-being in urban environments. However, the tree benefits in urban planning are insufficiently recognised, and there is little knowledge on the tree characteristics that are relevant to humans and how they are evaluated. This paper presents perceptual tree parameters and their relation to human preferences. In study 1, participants sorted 24 tree images by perceived similarity. Hierarchical cluster analysis and multidimensional scaling (MDS) revealed the distinction between conifers and deciduous trees, crown shape, the two-dimensional crown size to trunk height ratio and the crown density as important to humans. In study 2, participants rated the trees based on their preferences. Multiple linear regression analyses showed that a high two-dimensional crown size to trunk height ratio and a high crown density predicted deciduous tree preferences. These findings are discussed in light of the savannah hypothesis and the Gestalt grouping principle of closure. In the task of tree selection and placement for urban areas, the identified perceptual tree parameters may allow for achieving a coherent overall picture with a simultaneous increase of tree species richness. Thus, urban landscape planning can apply the presented findings for increasing ecosystem health and residential satisfaction.
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First published in 1992, Nick Robinson's Planting Design Handbook has since become widely used as a definitive text on landscape architecture courses throughout the world. It examines the horticultural, ecological and aesthetic characteristics of plants, discusses the structural and decorative roles of planting, spatial composition, species selection, planting plans and spacing, and the vital role of management. With its fresh look at aesthetic principles and its analysis of the design process, it reveals how a systematic approach can allow the greatest freedom for the creative imagination. This second edition still provides a complete examination of both the principles and the practice of design with plants, for public, institutional and private landscapes, but is fully revised and updated, taking account of developments in professional practice and reflecting a variety of media and approaches currently used. It incorporates conceptual design approaches to planting, a range of design methods as well as tried and tested analytical and objective procedures, and a wide range of new international examples of planting design. The ecological basis for planting design has been broadened to include examples from warm temperate and subtropical vegetation types as well as those of the cool temperate and Mediterranean climate area. The layout of the book is clearer and more spacious, with colour illustrations. While retaining the beautiful and detailed line drawings of the Chinese architect and painter Jia-Hua Wu, it includes an international range of new photographs and professional drawings. These illustrate a range of media now effective and useful in professional practices of various sizes.
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The balanced relationship between nature and urbanity in cities concerning ecology, sustainability, climate, and well-being is an omnipresent aspect of modern urban planning. Accordingly, the perceived value of trees in urban squares is a crucial, albeit hard to quantify, determinant of successful plaza design. Against this background, we investigate the extent to which the sheer existence of trees affects the perception and assessment of public urban squares. In order to measure the subconscious effects of trees on place perception, a two-group online survey was carried out that simulated different greening scenarios. The empirical results indicated positive effects of trees on the perceived aesthetics and characteristics of urban squares, such as city image, worth to stay there, cleanness, and shopping atmosphere. We show that the assumed price level in adjacent restaurants as well as the willingness to visit, in terms of the willingness to stay in an urban square (i.e., the desired duration of visit) and the willingness to revisit it (i.e., the desired frequency of visit), are positively influenced by the presence of trees. Our results provide direct implications for urban planners and city managers.