TypeContrastResulting Attributes
NaturalisticMaximumEmotionally Active
Esthetically Dynamic
Spatially In Depth
GeometricMinimumEmotionally Active
Esthetically Dynamic
Spatially In Depth

Shapes can be divided into naturalistic shapes and geometric shapes. In a landscape, naturalistic shapes, such as trees, usually predominate in contrast to manmade, geometric shapes, such as houses. Landscape architecture is the art of reconciling the two extremes of landscape and manmade shapes.

Geometric shapes express minimum contrast and are thus more decorative than naturalistic shapes. Multiple or repeated use of geometric shapes increases and enhances their decorative effects.


One way of making a geometric shape more decorative or less contrasting is to employ the Golden Mean Rectangle. You construct such a rectangle using a straight edge and compass:

  1. Draw a square
  2. Use the diagonal of half the square as a radius. Rotate this radius to the base line, then extend the rectangle to the point where the arc meets the baseline.

The resulting area will be 1 as to 1.618. The ratio of the width to the length will also be 1 to 1.618, and the ratio of the extended base to the original base will also be 1 to 1.618.

For more on the Golden Mean Rectangle, see this article on Wikipedia.

Marcel Duchamp’s famous painting, “A Nude Descending a Staircase” shows the repeated use of geometric shapes. The multiple use of the same geometric shape was not only decorative, but demonstrated how a painting could show movement. The picture created a furor, as it was a new way of using Shape.

Try it!

Move the slider to compare the two images. Do you see how the naturalistic trees show more contrast? Compare the images in terms of their emotional, esthetic, and spatial attributes.

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