For me, landscape does not exist in its own right, since its appearance changes at any moment.
~ Claude Monet


Documentation of the DTS Project House’s landscape design serves many of the same purposes as the documentation of the architectural design, but the differences in architecture and landscape necessitate qualitative differences in the documentation. As the landscape architect Laurie Olin points out, nature is ephemeral, always growing, changing, and dying – it is unstable, while architecture is stable, lasting, and fixed. How are these very substantial differences reflected in how landscape design intent is documented and conveyed?

mills studio presented its design intent for the DTS Project House to the Owner’s in documentation that stresses the real world nature of architecture and mills studio’s intention that architecture provide certainty and stability. The design documents depict architecture precisely, stressing that architectural intent and outcomes must be intentional and not accidental. But, how to best document the design intent of landscape design when many of its aspects are as landscape architect Dan Kiley describes as open-ended, alive, incomplete, and unresolved. How do you convey design intent for a medium that is installed at one size with certain visual qualities, changes as it grows and changes with the seasons, reaches maturity, and then begins to decay and even die? How do you convey growth, uncertainty and variability? And is it the certain or uncertain aspects of landscape that should be stressed in design documentation?

Many presentations of landscape design intent seemingly express the open-endedness and variability of landscape with less than specific, sketchy drawings of basic sizes, shapes, and swaths of color that convey an approximation of the design’s general character and atmosphere created. It is not only the planting that is shown as inexact, but also the architecture. There is little attempt to convey the differences in the nature of architecture and landscape. The format of the presentation seems to be based more on the capabilities of the digital program and / or the presentation maker than the content of the design and the nature of architecture and landscape. mills studio finds most presentations of landscape design intent unconvincing with the imprecision conveying a lack of commitment to a definitive world view, a lack of a conceptually based design, and a lack of understanding the different natures of architecture and landscape. Often, landscape is presented as open to subjective interpretation instead of objective evaluation. Although certain aspects of landscape are indeed variable and beyond full human control, the design outcome should still be intentional and based upon a precisely defined conceptual framework. Structure, whether building or landscape, enhances the qualities of nature and expresses the necessary duality of the manmade and the natural. Thus, the landscape documentation for the DTS Project House stresses the conceptual and structural aspects of the landscape design and how the landscaping is intertwined with the architectural experience. The architecture is precisely shown and the landscape planting shown with equal conviction. The landscape design drawings convey the intended spatial qualities, the intended transparency and opaqueness, the layering aspects that affect and are affected by the architecture, and the intended structure of the natural. The landscape design drawings communicate how nature is organized and how architecture organizes the DTS Project House landscape. The DTS Project House landscape is not the experience of an isolated nature, it is the experience of nature through the lens of a very specific piece of architecture. The Landscape design drawings convey this fact.

Technical Documentation of the landscape design necessary for permits, LEED compliance, installation of infrastructure supporting the landscape, and hardscape features is very similar in format and content as the architectural documentation. The documentation shows what is to be built or installed and how it is to be built and installed. The differences in the nature of architecture and landscape do not substantially change the documentation and mills studio takes the same approach as it does with architectural drawings: documentation should be extensive and reduce accidental outcomes. Planting is one aspect of the landscape that cannot and should not be fully resolved in drawings. Drawings should provide the structure and organization of the planting – provide parameters for its installation, but precise placement, grouping, and orientation of plants and organic materials can only be effectively determined on site at time of installation.


Landscape drawings are of two types: design drawings and contract documents. The landscape design drawings include plans, elevations, and sections delineating the plan and elevational relationships of the landscape to the DTS Project House architecture. The design drawings help mills studio consider and evaluate these relationships, convey the landscape design intent to the Owners and consultants, and document the landscape design for public review.

The landscape contract documents show the scope of work as necessary to show compliance with requirements of permits and certifications such as LEED. The contract documents show the hardscape to be constructed and how it is to be constructed and show the organization of the planting sufficient to structure the plant installation and sufficient to install landscape infrastructure, such as electrical conduits and irrigation systems.

Technical drawings for specific aspects of the landscape, such as lighting, electrical, low voltage, and irrigation are completed by consultants.

Digital Models

The digital 3D models constructed to document the DTS Project House’s architecture include the landscape and hardscape elements. The landscape elements are individual layers that can be turned on and off in any combination so that the layering of landscape upon the architecture can be explored.


A separate set of renderings show the specific and full landscape design. The Landscape Design is shown in the context of the DTS Project House architecture. Comparison of the Landscape renderings with the architectural renderings show how the Landscape Design affects the DTS Project House architecture.

Planting / Landscaping

Exact plants and organic materials are shown in images of actual plants and materials. Images of actual plants and materials show the specimen variabilities and series of images convey the visual attributes of living plants in the different stages of their growth and blooming. Images of actual specimens are also used to evaluate offerings at nurseries and necessity for approving specimens in person.

I’ve always been interested in the idea of the artificial landscape. Reforming the landscape. Architecture being a method of reforming the earth’s surface. We reshape the earths surface, from architecture to paving streets, to parking lots and buildings that are really reforming the surface of the earth. Reforming nature, taking over what we find.
~ Lebbeous Woods