Using Landform to create both the dramatic and the subtle

Following our recent visit to our amphitheatre project a year on from its installation, we wanted to take a moment to talk about landform in our design work.

Technically the definition of landform is “a natural feature of the landscape” and in a broader sense, encompasses a whole range of features from oceans and valleys to mountains and plains.

Landform in a design sense usually comes in the shape of earthworks and these have been used since ancient times with varying functions from creation of spaces for worship to burial grounds to defence structures. Many ancient landforms are of huge historical significance and have the power to both inspire and perplex us; one example being Silbury Hill in Wiltshire which is the largest man-made mound in Europe but whose purpose still eludes us.

Over time the use of earthworks within the landscape has evolved to become an essential tool of designers and landscape architects like Capability Brown and more recently Charles Jencks who both used the earth to sculpt many of their iconic landscapes. Today landform is used within design for many functions from boundaries and borders to sculptures and art forms.

Many of our schemes here at Studio 31 incorporate some form of landform, often taking inspiration from the surrounding landscape. One of our project sites borders an estuary and is protected from the tidal water by a large bank of soil acting as a sea wall. Our design reflects this dominant feature, using earthworks to both frame the breath-taking views whilst simultaneously protecting the site from the coastal winds which prevail upon it. This is a site of particular ecological sensitivity so the use of landform here has further benefits in maintaining a continuous wildlife corridor.

Other sites draw inspiration from the natural topography of the site. Many clients at first feel it is necessary to spend much of their budget levelling difficult sites but we look for ways to work with the natural landscape to create landform that works with levels rather than omits them. An example of this would be our terraced garden project which uses levels to complement a basement structure within the building whilst still showcasing the surrounding landscape.

In other cases, we have used landform as a sculptural element, creating entertaining spaces like our grass amphitheatre or more recently a moulded curve which will form the back drop for an impressive sculpture.


Landform remains a diverse tool at the fingertips of landscape architects with its effects within the landscape both dramatic and subtle, formal and informal, grand and humble. With health ever present at the forefront of our design work, it also allows us to retain the use of local and natural materials within a landscape scheme, creating impressive sites which are healthier for not only our clients but also the native flora and fauna which inhabit them.

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