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Classic Elements of Resort Design
By Brian Burton

Designing resort and recreation facilities is much like problem-solving - you must understand the issues, define the goals, plan the steps, and generate solutions. Clearly defining the goal is intricately tied to understanding the issues. Planning resort and recreation facilities involves developing a clear approach and process that can lead to effective execution of solutions. A designer's challenge is to assemble the necessary tools, information, and approach.

Resort design should take into consideration four basic principles: Problem Definition, Target Audience Identification, Organization of Ideas and Resources, and Execution. The Execution phase is only one of the four that involves creating something tangible, a concept that is often difficult for designers and clients to grasp. It is common to want to jump in and immediately start creating something. However, following each step in the problem-solving process is essential, resulting in a much sturdier foundation upon which to build. Building ideas upon decisions leads to a more successful design solution.

Defining the Problem

The most difficult stage of any design project is usually grasping an accurate understanding of the problem. The designer and client must communicate clearly to define the goals of the project. Many projects begin without a mutual understanding, so it is up to the designer to interpret the client’s requests and challenge them, because there is always a problem to solve, even when it is not formally stated.

The designer and client should agree to a formal written outline stating the nature and scope of the project. Having this approved project statement greatly increases a designer’s ability to complete it successfully. In some cases, the very act of drafting this document causes the client and designer to realize that additional, or more careful, planning is required. Often this can mean completing a feasibility study once the target audience has been identified.

Identifying Your Audience

Obviously, it is essential to understand exactly whom your end product will serve. Families (by definition, this involves children) are a significant market for most resorts and recreation destinations. Designing a quality environment for families is a specialized and unique skill. The physical environment - its atmospherics, layout, equipment and furnishings, and the management of the facility - has a profound impact on fun, learning and behavior, since children of different ages have unique needs and interests. This highlights the importance of designing the environment to take into account children’s needs (fun and safety), parents’ needs (rest and relaxation), and the needs of the staff to be able to accomplish their jobs.

The Feasibility Study

A high-quality feasibility study is crucial to the long-term success of a resort or recreational facility. A good feasibility study will clarify ideas and identify resources that will go into the marketing plan - a market-driven strategy and concept design that is the road map for development and operations.

While feasibility studies usually include a demographic analysis of the market area and socio-economic lifestyle characteristics of residents and visitors, a good feasibility study also analyzes the competition, the local culture, site constraints and opportunities. From this analysis, a detailed development program is crafted, including product specifications, in addition to a concept plan and an economic plan projecting the project’s potential for success.

When conducting a proper feasibility study, any attempt to employ a stock formula will doom the project from the very beginning. Formulaic approaches do not take into consideration the dynamics of your particular market, nor could a formula possibly assess accurately the return-on-investment potential of your unique project. A proper feasibility study will be specific to your project alone, and will enable you to study all of its various options.

Establishing a unifying theme

When executing your plan, experts agree that your chances of success improve dramatically if you establish a unifying theme. An excellent place to begin establishing your unifying theme is with the outdoor facilities and landscaping. Consider adapting one of these seven classical landscaping themes that have established themselves over the centuries.

  • “Oasis” Garden: The oasis garden is an earthly private paradise, enclosed to shut out the elements (the desert) with water as the main theme. The oasis retreat has roots in all religions. Examples include the Garden(s) of Eden, Eridu, and Ida Varsha. The central theme is most often represented as a canal or pond, because without water there could be no fruit, flowers, trees or shade. The landscaping of the Taj Mahal, ranked among the finest creations of formal landscaping in history, is a classic example.
  • Chinese and Japanese Landscaping: Chinese and Japanese landscaping is rooted in symbolism and tradition. It is viewed as a place to withdraw, philosophize and meditate. The classic style uses rock, sand and stone, combined with miniaturized trees (bonsai), and colorful ground covers. Winding, serpentine paths linked by bridges are also a common attribute. Although it is an idealization of nature, gardens of this style are often directly connected to the house and buildings. This theme relies on balance and symmetry, which is also found in Japanese architecture. Texture also plays a key role.
  • Spanish/Arabic Retreat: The tradition of the Spanish landscape is that of an enclosed garden with a fountain and surrounding patio as its main focal point. The coloring, as one might expect, is designed to be cool and restful. Beautiful and intricate patterns of stone, overhanging trees and colorful tile work are the mark of the Mediterranean influence giving these gardens a unique and distinctive character of their own.
  • Italian Renaissance Landscaping: The Italian style is linked to the concept of the garden as a place for recreation, meditation and relaxation of the body and the spirit. Fountains, canals, flowers and sculpture all played a part in what is really a combination of art and nature. Often Italian landscapes incorporate staircases, terraces, hidden entrances and elaborate gateways. Italian baroque landscaping also introduced the concept of the atrium and the idea of extending the house out into the garden. Italian landscaping tends to be a three-dimensional creation. Simplicity and clarity are its main strengths.
  • French Landscaping: The French have a long tradition in “landsculpting”, dating back to the days of Rome. They were very fond of building gardens that highlighted the visual contrast between the dark, intriguing woodlands and the light created by broad open spaces. Often the impact of the contrast between these two elements is heightened and accentuated by waterfalls, cascades, ponds, and slowly moving streams. The French tradition grew out of the background of the powerful aristocracy and court. French landscaping represented man's supremacy over nature - rather than a place to ponder and meditate, the garden was viewed as an open-air stadium for the court's pleasure and amusement. The designer thus strives to forge an impression of great space and freedom, which are the defining traditions of French landscaping.
  • British/Tudor Landscaping: The British cultivated a landscaping style that is picturesque, while based in large part on local climate and soil conditions. These landscapes tend to be an idealization of nature, strictly composed and generally quite static. Their formal designs are not created as a place to contemplate nature, but rather as a center for action, mostly in the form of gardening.
  • Contemporary Landscaping: Contemporary landscaping began to emerge in northern Europe during the first half of the 20th century, and combined elements of English landscape gardening with influences from modern architecture. In the early stages it tended to be a lot like abstract painting, and it broke down some of the strict, formal approaches seen in the past. New materials such as wood, concrete, metal and glass, and other non-traditional materials found their way into the creation of this new vitality. The contemporary design utilized variations in scale, time, space and texture to create abstract patterns. Newer designs also created innovations in light and space, often told in color, creating new focal points and visual patterns.