DesignDesign Journey: Lessons from ‘Lord of the Rings
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Design Journey: Lessons from ‘Lord of the Rings

At Io LandArch, we believe that the landscape and architecture design process is a journey through cognition and time to create sustainable, vibrant places. It’s an expedition often lined with challenging obstacles and tough decisions. But it’s also filled with anticipation, magic, and a hero-worthy project as your reward.


What better archetype to look to for lessons in undertaking an epic design quest than The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien? Tolkien’s novels are rich with symbolism about the struggle between industrialization and nature. This series follows Frodo Baggins in his quest to save his home and all of Middle Earth (representing peace, nature, community, and sustainability), from the forces of Mordor (greed, industrialization, war, degradation of nature). So, before you embark on your design quest, you’ll benefit from these five lessons relevant to turning your plans into reality.

1. Know your destination.

“You step into the Road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to.”― J.R.R. Tolkien.


Many people have some idea of what they want from the planning and design process. But the vision can be a little hazy and the outcomes are unclear. Therefore, it’s important to clarify your objectives and identify potential challenges and opportunities so you end up at the right destination.

Virgin River in Utah. Photo © Stuart Ruckman

Photo © Stuart Ruckman

2. Find a map.

“One does not simply walk into Mordor.” – Boromir


One does not simply wish a project into existence. It’s a process and can vary depending on the type and scale of the work you’re undertaking. For most landscape architectural projects, this is a traditional design-bid-build sequence. We begin with a project plan to help you gain perspective of the timing, phasing, and budgeting for the journey ahead. Furthermore, these plans will also communicate your vision to the contractor.

Community members at a public event providing input on what they’d like to see on a map for the Logan Arts Master Plan.

3. You are only as good as your fellowship.

On your design journey, you’ll need a whole team of capable professionals to advise you, advocate for you, and move your project forward. When selecting your various consultants, imagine you’re really selecting your fellowship. But instead of Sam, Gimli, Aragorn, and Legolas, you’ll need designers, engineers, and contractors who are genuinely aligned with your values and vision.

4. Know your enemy.

The forces of Mordor can be likened to the challenges we all share: sprawl, climate change, blight, and inequitable communities. Undoubtedly, you’ll have to navigate the dangerous terrain with such traps as delays, budget constraints, and sometimes logistical or legal hurdles. There are also plenty of trolls along the way, luring you to quick and easy solutions. Examples of these include maintenance-free landscapes and Disneyfication, or a false sense of place. Having an experienced advisor that’s armed with proven strategies can help you avoid these pitfalls.

5. Find the magic.

“A wizard is never late, Frodo Baggins. Nor is he early; he arrives precisely when he means to.” — Gandalf


Finally, the most important lesson is to find your Gandalf. Having a great designer/planner by your side is necessary for success. This person will help you conjure your big vision, form a fellowship, create a map, and serve as your guide you along the way.


We believe in the importance of creating beautiful and sustainable places. Our design magic is to create awe-inspiring ideas and help our clients on their journey. If you’re ready to begin your design quest, click here for community design or here for residential design.


The Healy House’s historic garden in bloom.

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