GESTALT in action

In a moment of weakness last spring, I agreed to allow my back yard labyrinth to be on the Tour of Homes.  (The fact that I knew even then that I'd be in the middle of opening weekend for A Christmas Carol at Newnan Theatre Company is only one indicator of my insanity.)

Since the summer was brutally hot and dry, the labyrinth was a wreck: dead grass, overgrown ivy/weeds, a decaying fence.  I couldn't really do anything until I was done designing the largest regional burn in the U.S., but in the middle of October I got down to business.

I reseeded the place, had a new fence installed, and then turned my attention to the southwest corner.  It has been problematic for years: the ground slopes from the labyrinth to the brick border, with the result that I had to excavate the bricks every six months or so from the soil that had washed over them.

And so I decided to create a level area there by building a mini-retaining wall and filling it in.



I sketched out the curve with the yellow rope, measured it, and then made a quick estimate of how many concrete blocks I'd need. 

Needless to say, I completely underestimated how many blocks I would need, but that's the purpose of an ABORTIVE ATTEMPT.

Lots of digging, stacking, and driving back out to Home Depot.

Finally, it was done.

Here's how GESTALT works.  After all that hauling, adjusting, restacking, filling, and raking, I stepped back and viewed the area from all around the labyrinth: the fire pit, the entrance, the center.

Something didn't look right.

Whereas before the brick border snaked innocuously down to the back fence, often concealed by ferns and ivy, now it was in my face, and it didn't feel right.  The curve was blah.  It didn't contribute a thing to the energy of the space.

It was missing something.  That's GESTALT: look at the thing and see if it looks whole.  If it doesn't, then what is missing?

Sometimes, this is a simple problem.  You get so busy working on details that you don't notice that the whole project is unbalanced until you step away from it.  That chord in the chorale is wrong; that rhyme sounds idiotic; that character's dialog sounds like a third-grader wrote it.

Sometimes, the problem is more subtle.  There's nothing essentially wrong with the brick border in the photo above.  It's just not right.

Fortunately, after eight years of working on this space, I have a vocabulary built up in my head of what will contribute to the space and what won't, and so figuring out how to fix this was not very hard: it needed circles.

There's the one circle around the tree, but there's a larger arc that cuts through the tree before it continues on its way to the west point of the labyrinth space.

Now we're in SUCCESSIVE APPROXIMATION.  I have to make some adjustments to the bricks (cutting, stacking, etc.) to make the circles tidy, but for now we'll let it sit there and annoy us for a while.  I may end up paving the area with flagstone like the fire pit.  That would provide a nice echo/resonance.  But that's a task for another season.