A Holistic Approach To Design Vs A Synergistic One: The Old Vs The New.

Philosophers from time immemorial have believed that a holistic approach to architectural design that encompasses the three disciplines of landscape design, interior design and urban planning, is the way to ensure that architecture and design fulfills its potential to transform our lives. They’ve gone on to say that it’s only by ensuring that all of these elements – landscape design, interior design and urban planning – work together that we can create aesthetically harmonious, practically functional and spiritually satisfying environments. One such philosopher, is ancient Greek academician and scientist, Aristotle, who is quoted to once have said,

“The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”

A practical example is that of a Landscape design undertaking. From the overall site analysis and master planning to planting and construction details, a holistic approach is taken with the designer’s scheme. Functional use of space, assessments of potential views, sun and shade analysis, grading and drainage all come into play in creating efficient and maintainable projects, no matter the time of day or season.

In a modern African setting and the world, the provisional landscape design process requires following a generic blueprint that some of our supermen in the world of architecture have used for what is millennia now from Le Corbusier to Frank Gehry to David Adjaye, whether tackling a residential, commercial or institutional project, or urban planning. This blueprint is a tried and tested secret ingredient that has been hidden in plain sight, and insists on;

    • First and foremost, an initial meeting is scheduled with a Landscape architect on site to fully comprehend the project direction, scope and your vision – as the client. Initial ideas, material options and budgets are discussed in detail to plan out the overall design.


    • After your approval of a detailed design proposal, you have the opportunity to review an initial scaled conceptual drawing to ensure that the major design elements are functional for the site.


  • Upon revision of the concept to suit your requirements, a detailed design is created which allows you to fully envision the scope of your project. At this stage, the design is ready to be tendered out to contractors for pricing.
  • Tendering and project management should be recommended by the designer to ensure that the project follows through to satisfy your expectations and maintain the overall design intent.

A designer should strive to include unique features that will enhance the client’s outdoor space. This can include the incorporation of anything aesthetically pleasing to create more personalized, functional, and maintainable spaces;

    • Native planting and Natural stone,


    • Water features, Pools and Spas,


    • Wood features, Decks and Fire features,


  • Lighting, etc.

All this can only be achieved by closely working with the client to help make their ultimate landscape dreams a reality.

This approach to architectural design goes very much against the grain, especially in Africa, as Form follows Function which means that the ultimate form of the space is what will determine the intended functions within that space, is an ideology that is more prominent in the Western world with Architects such as Zaha Hadid being very much in the vanguard.

A notable advantage of this approach is that it doesn’t require as much resources as only one architecturally sound design scheme is achieved.
Holistic, a mainstream approach is now applied in health and medicine, psychology, nursing, education, marketing, business, among other facets.

Philosophers today however, believe in the Synergistic approach which deals with interacting parts in relation to the whole.
Synergy, also mentioned as Synergism in certain publications originates from the Greek word, Synergos, meaning working together. It is defined as an abstract concept that refers to a result that arises from interacting parts. In design therefore, a cohesive composition is only as effective as the sum of its elements which in turn means that it’s the ability of the composition to be coherent – orderly, logical and aesthetically consistent relation to its elements.

The synergistic approach unlike the holistic approach, deals with interacting parts, and is consequently characterized by the belief that parts of something are familiarly interconnected and explicable by reference to the whole. This is nonetheless a novel approach that was designed to counter the holistic approach.

An example in a modern African setting is either, that of a cohere apartment building in which the seamless architectural integration of apartments with proper individual entrances and parking, and individual guard body colored glass on terraces builds into a harmony of the building block. Or the application of a special plaster or a novel paint like Plascon’s bespoke cashmere range of interior paints which comes in four palettes, i.e. the Northern Exotica, the Southern Spectacle, the Western Desert and the Eastern Promise, with each representing the natural, cultural and historical riches of their namesake geographical regions in Africa.

    • The Northern Exotica features blues and whites inspired by the French, Arab and African influences of Morocco and Tunisia.


    • The Southern Spectacle is an eclectic mix of purples, mustards, greens and blues; inspired by the diversity of South Africa.


    • Drawing on the colors of the Namib and the markets of Nigeria, the Western Desert is a collection of rust, burnt umber and stone.


  • The Eastern Promise is a warm palette of vibrant spice colors including reds, oranges and yellows, drawn from the printed textiles of the Samburu and Masai tribes of Kenya and beyond.

In a toned down description, a synergistic approach is characterized by the belief that parts of something are closely connected with each other and able to be understood by reference to the whole, thus Function here follows Form meaning that the envisioned function or use of a space is what determines the ultimate form of that space.

A notable advantage of this approach is that a design with an individualistic look with unique characteristics is achieved.
There are other areas rather than design alone in which a culturally synergistic approach is applied; those worthy of note are in health and wellness, radiology nursing, international human resource, and management accounting.

In conclusion, regardless of what approach a designer opts to use – as both are equally applicable – what matters is that the selected approach establishes a platform on which to work with clients, and consequently create a partnership with the designers – might be individuals or a firm – as the success of every project is dependent on the designer’s expertise and the skill of contractors involved, but also the vision and the desire of the clients.


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