About a Rock: Mass and Void

“We even have a feeling about a rock, about anything.” – Donald Judd

Obsessive? Maybe not, even for an evasive interviewee such as Judd

Like function, landscape design is much about the relationship between mass and void. Below are views of the same median I designed for vehicular speeds, though it also works for pedestrians and cyclists to a degree.

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The plants are grown in, showing the relationships between boulders, plants, and gravel mulch. The boulders and plants are mass (positive space). The gaps using mulch are called voids. (negative space) 

Together in a landscape, that’s considered legibility.

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The relationship of mass and void begins with the designer and their plan. Moving plants on a plan is easier than in the field. 

Years earlier, young 5 gallon plants were placed by the contractor helped by the owner’s representative 3 or 4 feet away from boulders per plan, further apart than above. That enabled those plants to grow properly in relation to each other and the boulders.

More than not, project owners and contractors don’t get that. Plants that appear on the plan against a boulder are placed too close, ignoring the plan’s scale and growth. 


Nature often inspires good placement. Even if no person placed all this.

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That’s in Picacho Arroyo, near the above streetscape. Remember the Donald Judd quote?

Also, was Judd being too controlling wanting his works to be installed specifically for their space, or even to create spaces for his works?

Onto another streetscape vignette in the same development…

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There are plant and boulder masses with crushed gravel voids, like the other median.

But with differently-shaped boulders that couldn’t be predicted months earlier on a plan, the contractor and owner did a good job of retaining the plans’ spirit and spacing between once-younger and smaller plants and boulders.

The above parties also set the boulders to look real yet deliberate.

Everything matured graciously.

I agree with Donald Judd’s quote starting this post: a rock, anything!

Memorial in May

This is one of three El Paso hospitals I worked on with HKS, in that 2014 to 2016 whirlwind of renovations and new construction for Tenet Healthcare: The Hospitals of Providence Memorial Campus.

It looks great in evening light or even at night, but I also must stop by for a look in the early morning.


Years later, this project is in ongoing maintenance. It’s great to see the solo Parkinsonia x ‘Desert Museum’ full and in bloom, without any topping or chopping.

I hope to encourage some gentle pruning of low and crossing interior branches. It’s all that’s needed!

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Hopefully, I can also get the masses of Bouteloua gracilis grasses to be cut back to the ground instead of mounded, leaving stubble, and only every few years – not annually. There’s no need to do more, as has been done.

The green form of Leucophyllum spp. is being left to grow naturally. A victory!

More than one person I know was either born at this hospital or received care here, and I hope this revives any feelings of care received.

Too bad the seat walls along the sidewalk along Oregon Street were deleted from the contract. Now with the bus lines and landscaping, even without enough trees, those would provide a resting stop walking between the bus, streetcar, or just up the long incline to UTEP.

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I’m just not used to seeing this and other hospitals with hardly any people parked out front or in the parking lot like our post-March 2020 mayhem about COVID-19. Since the saying is how everyone is “sheltering in place”.

Of course, the artist’s sculpture trees look good, too, especially without a few more pesky trees from my original design, which would have somehow blocked their visibility from the street…

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5/15/20 weather:
87F / 55F / 0 or 31c / 13c / 0 

Grape Kool-aid

As a high school sophomore, my parents drove us from our Denver home to Carlsbad Caverns via Santa Fe and Albuquerque, for spring break at the end of March 1982.

The afternoon we drove back, I still remember the scent through open car windows on that sunny, warm day. Grape Kool-aid!

Flash forward to March 25, a gray-leaved selection of the plant we saw, Silver Sierra Mountain Laurel / Dermatophyllum secundiflorum ‘Silver Sierra’, is on a project I designed near my present home.

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Near that multi-stemmed, dwarf tree, I used boulders from the Hueco Mountains on the other side of El Paso plus native and cultural companions Beargrass / Nolina greenei and cultural near-native companions Blue Sotol / Dasylirion wheeleri.

The scent at the right moment was strong, even in our thin, gusty, and dry air.

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To think seeing that plant on Walnut Canyon Drive at Carlsbad Caverns Nat’l Park symbolized my downhill slide future career, including this project.

Though on that spring break trip, I was far from knowing the plant’s name with those scented flower clusters or “Chihuahuan Desert”.

We’re now looking north and downhill along the main street into the same development. More ‘Silver Sierra’ mountain laurels are on the right parkway strip.PH-Anthem Stscp1_2020-03-25-SMLPH-Anthem Stscp2b_2020-03-25-SMLPH-Anthem Stscp2a_2020-03-25-SMLPH-Anthem Stscp2c_2020-03-25-SML


The last location at the same project my design used them is another median or island, also with some stunning views.

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A repeat from years ago: remove the stakes from all your mountain laurels. They are unnecessary a year after installation and detract from each plant.

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I wonder what was once growing in the empty soil area that is no longer there? Still no time to locate the original plans.

All this project’s ‘Silver Sierra’ Mountain Laurel were installed from 24 inch box sizes, and they grow slowly at about 6 inches / year.

That dwarf tree is evergreen and prefers alkaline soils that drain decently, or even excessively as on this project site. They are winter hardy to the cooler edges of USDA z 8a (probably thermal belt locations of ABQ, maybe even Roswell NM), and summer hardy to at least the burning low desert known as the Sonoran Desert.


4/11/20 weather:
71F / 41F / 0 or 22c / 5c / 0