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. 

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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!

The Drive: Exit into Tucson

I’ve admired many landscape designs along the freeways and arterial streets in Arizona’s two largest cities for decades.

A critical mass in their horticultural community gets sense, place, and designing for traffic speeds. Photos from 12/22/19:

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This is the first time I exited onto West St. Mary’s Road. Always informative and fun, colleague and friend Scott Calhoun suggested meeting at a parked food truck for lunch.

Since I arrived early and Scott was riding from afar, I had extra time. Burger King was good for a free parking space, so I walked the rest of the way.

ADOT designed some attractive concrete accents at the bridges.

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There’s no shortage of cyclists in Tucson. One cyclist on a mountain bike…

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Desert Willow / Chilopsis linearis above a mass of Beargrass / Nolina microcarpa makes a pleasing vignette while waiting for the light to change. Both are seriously bulletproof species in a wide part of the southwest.

And the other cyclist on a road bike…

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I’ll work back to how I exited I-10. Room for plants to mature.

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Regarding a request to see more Las Cruces pics on my blog, which I’ve shown many, I replied, “I have more to post on Arizona because there is more good arid-region design and plantsmanship in a few blocks of Tucson or Phoenix than in a mile of Las Cruces and El Paso or 2-3 miles of Albuquerque.”

These huge, almost trailing gray shrubs are…Texas Ranger / Leucophyllum spp. During the monsoon season, I’m sure many locals or visitors are very impressed.

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They are spaced well for rhythm, as are their masses for structure. No need to design 3 times as many plants for immediate effect, only to later remove half or more. Or shear into muffins, cylinders, boxes, …

Occasional accents were tucked in, but one must be stopped to appreciate them. Or rolling the dice by walking along the right shoulder, protected only by a curb.

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A minor detail, but some different massing of plants away from the yuccas, then placement of the occasional yucca further from those masses, especially from the drivers’ direction, would have shown off the planting better.

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A few Texas Olive / Cordia boissierii were used, but those were off to the right side and not too visible.

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It’s time to walk back, to join my cyclist / plant nerd friend for some lonche.

This ocotillo had a hard night, yet it’s still trying to hang on by blooming.

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Now, I’m stumped…

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The color combos work, but I’m stumped at the tallish Dasylirion mass in front of the interesting design motif at the corner.

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The plants appear to protect the artistry from taggers, yet they block a large portion of it from view.

I’m standing taking this, so that’s not far off the height of a typical pickup truck or SUV driver. Though perhaps the art is more visible from a Bubba Truck height?

No matter it’s still very appealing.

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An inlet shows where passive water harvesting was employed, to allow storm water from the street to soak into the median plantings.

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Both of us showed up for lunch for one of the best tortas I’ve had. And we’re wearing short sleeves in late December!

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Inspiration on the Trail

A few left and right turns for several miles takes you off Thompson Peak Parkway, and into a well-considered trailhead approach and parking area at the Gateway Trailhead of the vast McDowell Sonoran Preserve.

First, you drive by one of a pair of attractive walls along the parkway, a generously wide walking path of decomposed granite (DG) in front.

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3,974 foot elevation Thompson Peak, with the antennas on top, is distant center. That late “winter” view is stunning, even from the Google Van’s street view!

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Once parked, you walk through the open, breezy shelter that was awarded LEED Platinum for the design. The design team included a landscape architect, who had their desert eyes on. They had sensitivity for what makes the Sonoran Desert or any arid land great! It’s so harmonious with the natural place.

The upward swoop of the roof line soars into the blue, the sound of crunchy DG walking.

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The use of concrete for seat and other walls, plus structural elements for the rammed earth in columns, works well.

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The gap in this wall is probably for drainage out.

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What a cool spot for a mini ampitheater, as it defines “only go off the trail here” using the seat walls. The curved forms are a good contrast to the angular mountains and verticals of saguaros.

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Onward!

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That smooth DG  gives way to the majority of the trail system I saw, small desert rocks left. While not a trail designer, my years of mountain biking the ABQ foothills saw a few places where the small rock was removed, called “sanitizing”.

While smoothing out riding, that sanitizing practice mostly takes away from riders developing technical skills, and it can cause increased erosion of the trail surface.

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Until I’m ready to go home, I’ll gradually get better at hiking through rockier sections of trail, though I have to be careful. The small elevation gains are what I can handle, though I might be able to increase those in the next 2 months. I’ll still seek out more smooth trail lengths, as I build back my strength, balance, and stamina.

Some of that may be at the Phoenix Mountains Preserve instead of here.

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Expansive views into North Scottsdale are made better across a larger stand of Teddy Bear or Jumping Cholla / Cylindropuntia biglovii. Leafy low desert shrubs like Jojoba / Simondsia chinensis grow more often along arroyos at the drier end of their range.

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Notice the differences in the ribs on Saguaro / Carnegia gigantea vs. ribs on their large Compass Barrel / Ferocactus cylindraceus

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Mountain bike tracks…

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Good to emphasize these warnings…

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Their trail signage is among the best I’ve seen in public open space.

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“Hyper-summer” began late in the low desert, but it’s here until I return home with lows about to stay around 80-85F. I intend to continue hiking different trails, though starting at sunrise.

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Do you have natural areas you can easily access, which inspire your person and gardening instincts, for your immediate climate and vegetation?

Or do you have that but plan ahead to avoid dangerous weather conditions like here?