Several years ago, a friend of mine, Michael Cronan, began a talk to a group of architects and designers by discussing what he referred to as the scale of design. Cronan began by asking the audience to imagine a horizontal scale where there is a far left end and a far right end. From this point, he began to describe the primary design disciplines and, in relation to the scale, how each is approached.
“At the very left side of the scale,” he began, “you have fashion design, for it occurs mostly at the same scale of the finished product; by draping material and fabric over a mannequin or a model, the designer is able to see the results almost as soon as the design is created.” He went on to speak of the graphic design profession, which he suggested was just to the right of fashion design on this imaginary scale. In graphic design, the scale at which the designer works is very close to that of the finished product and is maybe only a few weeks away from being brought to reality. Then came product design, interior design, and following these was building architecture. In these design professions, the scale at which the designer works is incrementally smaller relative to the finished product, the building architect relying on plans that may be 48 times smaller than the finished building and with the results being realized in the future by a year or more.
Then—and this is where the story hit home—Michael got to landscape architecture, especially landscape design that involves large sites, such as golf courses. “Finally, at the very far right end of the scale,” he said, “is the landscape architect who must envision his designs at a minuscule scale compared to the finished site. What is most dramatic is that the design will very often not be appreciated to its fullest until all of the plants have matured. In some cases, this will be long after the designer is deceased.”
Golf course design—especially the routing part—is at the extreme of the design spectrum. While we may play golf courses as soon as they are opened, most get better with age. Trees flourish, areas fill in with growth, and all elements become more seasoned. Augusta National is a prime example of such conditioning. None of those who created it were able to appreciate it in its true finished state, that which we now take for granted as we watch the Masters each and every year.
My friend Michael credits colleague David Meckle, dean of architecture at California College of Arts and Crafts, with this approach to understanding the scale of design work. Meckle, who has a distinguished career in architecture and design — although not golf course design — has worked in a variety of design offices and regularly uses this comparison to point out the importance of appreciating scale as it relates to the design process.