The Power of Passion
- By Melanie Jauregui - April 2001

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     As my prospects review my portfolio and sample plans, I list my impressions and ask more questions about the practical aspects of the design. I'll toss out a few ideas as bait to see whether they strike, nibble or swim past. At this point, I'm careful to be vague, because I don't want to get locked in to something I may (and probably will) want to reconsider. I note which pictures they linger over and why. Then, as we review other sample concept plans, I discuss the design process and their budget to define the scope of the work and to assist me in preparing a proposal to suit their needs.
Good Groundings

     Following these client meetings - and while I am considering a huge array of aesthetic options - our firm's civil engineer, Michael Brown, performs a site reconnaissance. This happens before and actual design work begins.

     For small sites located within subdivisions, he'll provide me with an accurate plot map and information on any issues he thinks might affect the direction of the design. For larger or more complex properties (or those with extensive grade changes), he'll generate complete topographical maps. And, when needed, provides his engineering expertise and support.

     While Brown maps out existing conditions, I'm doing my homework: I review the clients' wish list, photos, any magazine articles they've given me and any other clues I've gathered. In many cases, I end up giving myself a refresher course in certain styles or reacquainting myself with a particular poet, artist or architect who came up in discussions or who I recognize as having influenced their lives, their style and their aesthetic choices.

     I walk the larger,more complex properties again - alone this time. In some cases, I'll take a bag lunch and a camera and spend a good while on site. I find this time spent on the land to be invaluable, because it's the land itself that properly dictates so much of the design.

     In producing my concept plan, I initially make a rough layout of the use areas, each of which I treat as an outdoor "room" that relates to the other outdoor rooms and to the home itself. These rooms are what I call the "urban" areas of the garden. They are typically near the home, but not always.

     By contrast, the further away I move from the house, the more wild and natural the design becomes until the work transitions into the natural landscape on the boundaries of the property or in the distant or borrowed views.

     With older homes or homes with distinctive architecture, I will make direct references to the vernacular of the house in my designs. But this is not a hard and fast rule for me: In many cases. a design concept will grow independent of cues from the house itself. In fact, the more generic and repetitious the architecture (as with homes in planned developments) the less I allow it to influence my design.

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This is a reprint of an article originally printed in Watershapes Magazine - Volume 3 - Number 3 - April 2001