Designed to Blend with Nature

Designed to Blend with Nature

Efforts to beautify a landscape must take into consideration not only the natural attractions but the approaches and facilities that can augment the beauty that is already there. Whether it is a highway, a trail, a campground, or a picnic shelter, the element of design must enter into making such constructions as near a part of the environment as possible. Blending man''s work with the surroundings can help preserve the atmosphere of an area and heighten its attractiveness.


A good scenic highway should be completely functional and in harmony with its environment and all other resource uses in the area. To accomplish this, the engineer must translate objectives and requirements into precise design criteria. This requires far more meaningful definitions of functional and environmental aspects of highway and road design than are usually provided the designer.

At present, too many designs are based on criteria which relate only to a class of road without regard to the peculiar use requirements and environment of a particular road. Basic design requirements are essential to a functional and safe highway. However, the designer should also consider the requirements of the area and its users and how the geometric road pattern blends with the other features of the landscape and enhances the visitor''s enjoyment.

The elements of design must be thoroughly investigated by the planning and design engineer. User requirements are determined by the planned development of an area, the traffic between various points within the area, through traffic, and the specific requirements of the road user along the route. These are well defined in the Bureau of Public Roads planning procedures for metropolitan areas, and are adaptable to rural areas.

Determining precise road location is the most difficult job that can be assigned a highway engineer. Not all objectives are compatible. Total cost must be a strong factor. Various watershed problems such as erosion, pollution, change of ground water table, and local flooding must be either avoided or controlled. Other considerations include: (1) How well the road serves the abutting lands; (2) whether the highway provides reasonable access; (3) whether the area''s resources development is enhanced rather than disrupted; and (4) economic aspects from the standpoint of the lowest operating costs to the user. The cost of maintaining the road structure and its appurtenances must be reasonable. Design elements of safety and esthetics, though difficult to evaluate on an economic basis, must also be seriously considered.

Many tools are available to assist in the solution of these problems. One of these is the topographic map, but others are equally important. Planning commission development plans and zoning maps should be used. For many areas, soil-type maps are published by the Soil Conservation Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. These maps are invaluable in locating suitable areas for roadbuilding and potential problem areas. They are also excellent guides to the type of developments which may eventually occur in an area. Other planned developments, such as reservoirs and flood control works which will be major attractions to the road user, must be considered in the initial road-planning stages.

In addition to published materials, many experts in fields such as fish and wildlife, water development, and landscape architecture are available to the highway engineer for information on the environment in which he is building.

Watershed protection has been mentioned as a requirement in the location and design of roads. The natural characteristics of streams must not be interrupted adversely. Channel changes in firmly entrenched streams should be minimized, and encroachment on stream channels must be avoided or adequately protected. Additional measures, such as careful routing to prevent earth movement and balancing of cut and fill, should be taken whenever practical. Systems for the collection and discharge of surface water must be designed with due regard for the protection of embankments and fills and the erosive effect of additional water on minor channels. All disturbed areas subject to erosion must be revegetated or otherwise protected.

Landscaping Roads and Highways

Landscaping in large measure is an intrinsic part of location and design. If the road is located and designed to display and take advantage of the best of the natural scenery through which it passes, if it lies lightly upon the land, if it becomes an object of curving, flowing, functional beauty, then the rest of the landscaping job is a matter of preventing erosion, softening the transition from the old to the new, and applying design talents to obtain harmony and balance.

Perhaps the most important esthetic element in both highway location and landscaping is variety. The ever-changing scene�suddenly opened, well-framed vistas, blooming trees and shrubs, the interplay of light and shadow, fall colors, and snow on the conifers�all contribute to enjoyable and memorable travel. The monotony of a seemingly endless dark tunnel, caused by cutting a highway through dense forest, can be relieved by carefully skirting meadows or crossing vantage points from which such openings can be seen. At appropriate locations the trees can be cut back or thinned to produce an irregular edge and glades where attractive trees, shrubs, and sturdy species of ground cover can be planted.

Landscape plantings have many more specific uses. They can eliminate headlight glare between opposite lanes of a divided highway. Multiflora rose hedges have safely caught or slowed automobiles that veered off the pavement. Long rows of these plants, however, can become monotonous if not used with discretion. Trees and shrubs form excellent sound barriers to separate highway noise from adjacent residential or park areas. Plants that provide food for interesting species of wildlife can be introduced. Wild creatures should be thus attracted to areas where they can be conveniently and safely observed by the traveling public, but will not become a hazard on the highway.

Plants are commonly used to control erosion. If properly located they will also control snow drifting and thus reduce maintenance costs. Trees are often used to help guide motorists around curves and through intersections. Proper planting and thinning can enhance the traveler''s enjoyment of near and distant scenery.


Many of the concepts of trail location and design, particularly in the initial planning stages, are the same as for roads. Trails, however, should be far less prominent on the landscape. They do not need to be conceived as sculptural elements; rather they should be, as far as possible, completely immersed in the landscape. Geometric requirements for trails are quite flexible as compared with highways; they lend themselves to sudden vistas, dramatic overlooks, and casual intrusion on unique scenes of natural beauty.

Trail standards should reflect the needs of the users. Thus they are subject to great variation. The scenic trail must be designed to accommodate the amount and kind of expected use, and the age and general physical condition of users. A family hiking to a picnic area will need a safe, hard-surfaced trail, while hardier souls who prefer the ruggedness of a wilderness need only trail of minimum quality.

A trail should have a definite purpose, such as leading to a scenic overlook, historical site, or wildlife sanctuary. It can be designed in a subtle manner, building suspense or anticipation by allowing occasional brief or incomplete views or hints of the final goal. It can lead the traveler from one interest point to another, but not necessarily to the point itself. The trail might allow a glimpse of a small pond or take the traveler to within earshot of a waterfall. The visitor can then detour to "discover" the scene, as if no one had ever been there before. The trail also need not arrive at its destination by the easiest or most direct route. Upon reaching his goal, the traveler should have a feeling of accomplishment, of having communed with nature, of having "found" most of the interest points along the way, of having struggled to the top of the overlook where he can rest and enjoy his prize�the scenic view spread out before him.


A structure''s ideal function and form in a forest setting should be derived from a realization of the best possibilities of the site and brought into being by the creative talents of a trained designer (usually a professional architect or landscape architect). On sites where groups of forest structures are involved, such as resorts, winter sports lodges, and summer homes, it is often best to centralize or cluster the buildings. This method of planning makes central utility and sanitary systems, roads, and parking feasible, and provides privacy through architectural devices rather than through distance. Proper use of screen fences and walls, hedges, and decks allows the necessary living area to be compressed and pulled back from the major natural attraction. The surrounding landscape may then be left wild and devoted to common enjoyment. In this way the land needed for human occupancy can be developed without destroying those natural features of the site which made it so attractive in the beginning.

The "clustering" concept can also be applied to billboards and other highway advertising. Scattered advertising signs can be removed from our roads and replaced by selected, well-designed roadside turnouts where an attractive sign mall advertises business and products available in the nearby community. A small building may be added for the dispensing of pamphlets and information, as well as a telephone shelter for those who wish to make reservations or appointments.

To be acceptable in the natural environment, individual forest structures such as observation-point shelters, informational signs and exhibits, recreation facilities, and visitor centers should be conceived in terms of beauty of both form and function.

Functional Beauty

A truly effective structure must be convenient, work well, and serve its intended purpose. User traffic should flow to, into, through, around, and away from the structure in a planned, logical sequence. Its parts and materials must be in balance with each other and with the type and amount of expected use. For example, durable flooring should be used where traffic is heaviest, and adequate seating should be available where elderly people tend to pause and rest.

Beauty of Form

The beauty of the forest structure is dependent, at least in part, upon the beauty of the site. The two must be integrated in a way that emphasizes the best features of each. If the designer decides that the structure (a picnic or overlook shelter, for example) should be in complete harmony with its surroundings, the site itself should be allowed to suggest the plan, form, and location. The site should be altered only as necessary to take advantage of its best features. Masonry, using local rock, could exhibit the desired features of permanence and firmness. In this way, the transition from the natural surroundings to the man-made structure, from the exterior to the interior, is made gradual and unobtrusive.

Landscaping should consist primarily of on-site plants left in place and protected during construction, or moved into place to complement the preserved plants and the structure. Lichen-covered rocks can be preserved or carefully moved to heighten the harmonious effect. Natural pools, rushing streams, or falls can be used or carefully altered to emphasize the wondrous ability of still and moving water to evoke in man the moods of relaxation, reflection, and excitement.

If the designer decides, on the other hand, that the structure (a stop sign or special visitor center, for example) should stand out from its surroundings, he may emphasize contrast to attract attention. Some sites, especially the relatively flat or unspectacular ones, benefit by having their best features accentuated through contrast with imaginatively designed structures. Landscaping in the immediate vicinity of a contrasting structure might be used to heighten these effects. Plants of unusual shape, color, or flower; semiformal layouts of paths and terraces; and fountains or artificial falls may be tastefully used by the designer to add interest to a drab site.

Most successful structures are designed as an appropriate mixture of harmony and contrast. How well the structure blends with its surroundings, how much it claims the space around it, or how much it contrasts with the environment should be evolved through the creative talents of the trained designer. If all of this is done with perception and imagination, if the site and the structure work together, if the result is one of visual attractiveness and functional unity, then we have achieved beauty.


Wood, stone, and water are a natural part of the landscape. When used with imagination and skill in structures foreign to the landscape, they can soften the fact that an alien element has been introduced, or actually heighten an appreciation of a natural setting. Some of these materials are available in manufactured forms, such as exposed-aggregate concrete and laminated wood beams. When applied with taste, they are both economical and appropriate. Discarded items such as railroad ties and broken pavement can occasionally be salvaged and used effectively. Man will always need economical, durable, and esthetically pleasing materials to walk upon and climb upon, to hold back the earth, to retain privacy or control people and animal traffic, and to form placid pools and rushing falls.