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What is Interpretive Design?

Many people have never heard of Interpretive Design, but broadly speaking, it is storytelling, and sometimes storymaking. It has a powerful relationship to Landscape, in that the linking factor between all the stories which happen in a place, is the place itself.


Within a single Landscape there will be many interweaving and overlaying stories. Some are intensely personal, some  community wide, and others again much broader, so that the site is just a snapshot of a much bigger story.






For example, a single park may be where a woman remembers building cubbies by a creek side as a child: the taste of mud between her teeth, and the call of frogs at dusk.


For others, the same park holds a story of pioneering settlement: of clearing bush, orchards, and the last bastion amid encroaching suburban sprawl. The smell of overripe peaches giving way to that of cold cement.


Looking more broadly again, we can tell stories of the geology and ecology of a site, and of the traditional owners of that land, and how they lived within it.

“We come to know a place because we know its stories.”


'Landscape Narratives': Matthew Pottier and Jamie Purinton



We also have the opportunity to make our own stories: by imposing a built form such as a memorial, or a fresh sculpture, we can change the narrative of a place, and spark thoughts and a stronger sense of place than may have existed before.


Which stories we choose to tell, and how we tell them, will change the way that a place is understood and experienced.


Key to the idea of Interpretive Design is that it is not simply about the passing on of information, but rather the experience a person has. It may shock, provoke, comfort, or change the way that we think or feel about an issue. It is inherently about enriching people’s understanding.


"The landscape is like being there with a powerful personality and I'm searching for just the right angles to make that portrait come across as meaningfully as possible."


Galen Rowell


This is especially true when it comes in a Landscape, which is not approached in the same linear fashion as a chunk of text. We can choose where to approach the story from, what to notice, and the experience that we have in that space.


Interpretive Landscapes are inherently immersive environments.

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