Spring Garden Shadow Box Activity

Recommended for ages 9 and up. 

Sea Ranch Shadow Box
Shadowbox image courtesy of the Architectural Archives, University of Pennsylvania, by the gift of Lawrence Halprin.

Have you ever made a shadow box or diorama, like the one pictured here? How does a shadow box show a different kind of scene or picture than a sketch, drawing or painting?

Shadow boxes allow you to create a three dimensional model. Unlike two dimensional (or flat) drawings, you are able to interact with your design in exciting and new ways!

Landscape architects design and plan the parks and public spaces where we play, relax and exercise. Just like you, they can use shadow boxes to bring dimension to their designs and consider their designs from multiple perspectives. This can help them figure out if they need to alter their design, and where each individual stone, fountain, or plant should go. In the exhibition The Landscape Architecture of Lawrence Halprin, you can see how Halprin created and used shadow boxes to see landscapes from a different points of view.

Try your hand at creating a designed landscape in a shadow box. Design a landscape or attempt to recreate one you’ve seen by creating three dimensional garden reminiscent of Lawrence Halprin’s shadow boxes.

This new perspective will help you explore the thoughtful design work of landscape architects.

Think about:

• Your favorite garden or park
• A painting of photograph of a designed landscape
• An empty space you want to design

What you’ll need:

Cardstock or index cards
Markers, crayons, or colored pencils, paint, or magazines
Flat cardboard (for your base)
Tape or glue

Folding Screen Lawrence Halprin Shadow BoxHow to do it:

  1. You will first need to make a reference before you can make the shadow box. Sketch out, paint, or collage the designed landscape you thought about earlier.
  2. Divide your reference into three sections: foreground (plants in the front of the landscape), middle-ground (plants in the middle), and background (plants farthest away in the back of the scene).
  3. Using the reference, you can now make each section for your shadow box. On an index card, draw, paint, or cut and paste magazine images of the details (trees, plants, water, rocks, and so on) in the foreground. Repeat using a different index card for the middle-ground and another for the background.
  4. Label each index card on the back as foreground, middle-ground, or background.
  5. Fold the bottom of your index cards to form a ¼- ½ inch tab.
  6. Cut around the tops and sides of the images but keep something attached to the bottom of each index card.
  7. Tape each index card to your flat cardboard base using the tabs. Use your reference picture to help you determine how far apart to tape your foreground, middle-ground, and background plants.
  8. Stand back and admire your three dimensional garden!

Take a close look at how your landscape changes as you move. Does your model look the same as your original picture when you move further away, or to the left or right? Is there anything you would add, or change about your landscape after seeing it from a different view?

Imagine that there are people walking through your landscape. Are there places for people to stop and look at something different?  Is it easy for them to move around? Landscape architects don’t just think about how their spaces will look. They also consider how people will use their designed space.

Learn more about The Landscape Architecture of Lawrence Halprin.