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  • Luke Llewellyn

Artificial Intelligence and Landscape Design

Image: AI art generators infinite interpretation of Central Park, New York

I think it’s safe to say I’ve been massively impacted by SCI-FI throughout my life. Whether by the portrayal of interdimensional travel in Phillip Pullmans His dark materials and Doctor Who or traveling alongside Captain Jean Luc Picard on the Star Teck enterprise. There’s been no end to thought provoking fiction that I believe can change one’s perspective on the world. Although, the idea of space travel has never really been fictional. It’s more of a half fiction. Indeed, NASA are now even planning on creating a base on the moon. That really will be a ‘giant leap for mankind’…

This idea of half fiction half reality brings me on to Artificial Intelligence (AI) ‘Intelligence demonstrated by machines, as opposed to intelligence of humans and other animals. Now, I’m not the only one to have made the comparison between the terminator films and Matrix movies (Where all of humanity becomes enslaved by machines) and Chat GPT. Apparently, risk analysists have added AI to the list of things that could result in the end of humanity, alongside Climate change and nuclear war. Chat GPT is a super intelligent chat bot, that can analyse data, write articles, essays, complete exams, etc... etc…

But that’s a different story. I wanted to focus on the AI that’s currently storming the internet through generating truly incredible works of art. This, in my opinion has and will continue to change the world of art and design as we know it into something completely different. So, for those who aren’t in the know, AI art is able to generate completely original new images of just about anything you could imagine, by scouring through images available on the internet and learning almost how to create them based upon trends and styles. Quite recently, artists in the UK have been raising the idea of bringing in new legislation to control this AI, because they feel as though they are being ripped off by it. Rightly so in my opinion…

As an operator of the A.I art generators, one needs only type a list of words to describe just about anything and hit the Submit button. The AI then creates an image within a matter of seconds. The art style can vary completely based on the descriptive words used. For instance, using the words ‘Hyper realistic’ can result in almost photo realistic images generated. You can also use images along side your description. For instance, you could take a photo of Loch Ness, and then describe the Loch Ness Monster raising its head out of the water and ‘hey presto!’ it will be done. For example, the first image below is an AI image generated of Lancelot Capability Brown using a laptop. This was created using the original image underneath.

As a gardener and horticulturist, I’ve been truly privileged to have been taught about and read about the journey of human civilization, and the gardens/ landscapes that evolved alongside us. This has given me an understanding and respect for the intelligent design that surrounds us all and has led me to ask the question:’ Is AI art going to become a part of the future of landscape design?’

To better understand the capabilities of AI art, I thought it would be interesting to first test it’s ability to recognise the different landscapes created by some of the legends of garden design and see how it interprets them. Considering I’m testing capabilities, we should probably start with Capability brown.

Lancelot Capability Brown landscape generated by AI.

Images created using AI to reflect Capability Brown landscape.

One thing I’m immediately impressed by, is the AI’s ability to really try to understand and replicate the genius loci (Spirit of place). In my opinion, looking at the architecture that’s been fabricated, along with the landscape, I immediately think of the Early Georgian style gardens that Lancelot Capability Brown contributed to. I really appreciate the folly in the centre image because it reminds me of the temple of virtue in Stowe, created by William Kent; and the colossal building on the left really reminds me of the Temple of Piety in Studley Royal Park, that gets reflected in the lake below. When looking at the landscape surrounding these impressive buildings, it’s clear that the AI is missing something. Some of the trees seem almost awkwardly placed in the landscape, with no balance. In the image on the right, there’s a low-cut hedge which looks as though it belongs in a formal parterre close to the main building. Yet it’s just been randomly placed in an area of natural landscape, miles away from the main house. I like the way the central image has created an avenue up towards the temple. Although, the way the low height shrubs or borders either side of this avenue don’t really resemble anything I’ve ever seen in historic gardens. It almost looks like a wildflower meadow.

André le nôtre landscape created by AI

Images created using AI to reflect French style landscape based on Chateau de Versailles.

Unfortunately, the AI really struggled to understand who André le nôtre was. In the end I had to be a bit more descriptive, instead describing the gardens of Versailles, requiring parterres, and a palace landscape. What the AI came up with is certainly unique. I love the way how the parterres in the right image have a sort of jagged unpredictability about them with the areas you’d imagine lining up being almost deliberately out of line. I also admire the topiarised hedges. I think it’s safe to say the AI falls short on the intricate, detailed, baroque style parterres that André le nôtre was responsible for, in the gardens of Versailles though.

Gertrude Jekyll landscape created by AI

Images created using AI to reflect Gertrude Jekyll’s garden design.

When looking at these images, you become immediately aware that none of the plants depicted are real. They might have familiar flower heads or growth forms within the border, but they are completely made up to fit the mould that AI thinks you want. This is disturbing, as it could end up interfering with real images in the future creating confusion. The borders do look magnificent though, even if they don’t really resemble anything I’ve seen from Gertrude Jekyll. The rectangular borders are densely planted with a colourful mixture of herbaceous perennials however, which might have some merit to being alike Gertrude Jekyll, where she had an expansive colour pallet, as well as the use of different heights within the border. The buildings depicted also look like they might have an Edwardian theme – fitting the period quite well.

Charles Jencks landscape created by AI

Images created using AI to reflect Charles Jencks design.

I was surprised to not see Charles Jencks signature obscure chess board work of art reflected in the AI’s interpretation of him. Instead, it generated the image on the left. Which, although contemporary in design, doesn’t really seem to reflect any of Charles Jencks work. I tried to expand on the description by using one of the garden names ‘The garden of cosmic speculation’. This resulted in the image in the middle and right being created. You can certainly see what the AI has done, as it certainly fits the description ‘Cosmic speculation’ but seems to have deviated away from the designer I’m trying to get the AI to understand.

Historic gardens through the eyes of AI

I’ve been interested in the history of landscape design for some time. Ever since initially being introduced to Sir Geoffrey Jellicoe’s thought provoking ‘Landscape of Man’. I thought it’d be fascinating to see what the AI would generate when asked to focus on different periods of time and different geographical locations.

Egyptian style garden generated by AI

Images created using AI to reflect an Egyptian style garden.

Yet again, the AI can display a real understanding for Egyptian architecture with those Egyptian style columns being a prominent feature in the design on the left, with a Sphynx above. Horticulturally speaking, the gardens don’t seem to have any variety of plants, but I like the palms that have been incorporated in to each of the images along with the rectangular formality you’d expect from an Egyptian themed garden. Historically, it’s thought that Egyptian gardens were mainly used to grow produce.

The Hanging Gardens of Babylon created by AI

Images created using AI to reflect the Hanging gardens of Babylon

The Hanging gardens of Babylon have been depicted by various artists over the years. Historians still debate their very existence, or if the gardens were indeed in Nineveh, not Babylon. I think the AI generated hanging gardens are quite unique from anything I’ve previously seen. The image on the far left reminds me of the Bosco Vertical, and the image on the right makes me think of Dutch artist M. C. Escher because of the way the stairs are upside down at the top of the building. It makes it seem like a puzzle.

Greek style gardens created by AI

Images created using AI to reflect the ancient Greeks.

It’s clear there’s a trend with AI when it comes to depicting ancient societies. It seems to incorporate the architecture as represented on the internet today. In the case of the Greeks, primarily ruins. I’m really impressed with the image on the right though. I like the way the depth of field draws your eye straight down the centre through the various ruins. I also like the way the AI has created its own type of ‘Greek fret’ or ‘Meander’ pattern and turned it in to a pathway. It really gives a subliminal feeling of ancient Greece whilst your eye is drawn down the centre of the garden.

Islamic style garden created by AI

Images created using AI to reflect the Islamic style.

I was immediately surprised by the intense illustrative detail in the image on the left. I love the way the AI can generate patterns and place them on surfaces. Clearly, it’s trying to replicate the incredible geometrical patterns of the time. Similar to those I’ve seen in photographs of the Sheikh lotfollah mosque. All three images have the classic Moorish style architecture with the arched doorways and domed roofs which one would expect to see in an Islamic style garden.

Roman style interpreted by AI

Images created using AI to reflect the Roman style.

Amazingly, we can see how the AI has created almost a downsized replica of part of the pillars of ancient Jerash, Jordan. The AI can clearly understand how important columns are in expressing Roman history. The AI also seems to intermittently place what look like unidentifiable statues throughout the gardens too. Just as would be expected and can be seen in Hadrian’s villa. I’m sure Pliny the elder would be interested.

Chinese style gardens created by AI

Images created using AI to reflect the Chinese gardens

From my understanding of Chinese gardens, water and rocks are important, as they represent the female and male, Ying and yang aspects of the world, as well as geography within China. I’m fond of how the AI has been able to run through these important elements, alongside the red (for good luck in Chinese tradition) temples. The pine tree in the image on the left reminds me of the Chinese greeting pine, which is famous for growing up in the mountains and often featured in Chinese style gardens.

Japanese style gardens by AI

Images of Japanese gardens created using AI

It’s interesting to see this interpretation directly after the Chinese garden interpretation. You can see the AI is able to create a completely different atmosphere in the Japanese gardens, and rightly so, as it’s a completely different country. It’s very dreamy and spiritual, which I think is a good reflection of the spiritual diversity in Japan. Also, in the image on the right, one can see moss growing on the stones, reminding me of photographs from Kyoto’s moss Temple. The temple depicted in the image on the right also looks slightly like the Silver Pavilion in Kyoto. The trees in the images seem almost cartoony – trying to reflect the ancient art of Bonsai, but equally creating an unrealistic impression of the Japanese garden. The steppingstones look almost polished by hundreds of years of erosion from feet, which adds an air of integrity, detracting from the cartoony trees though.

Italian Renaissance style gardens created by AI

Images generated by AI to depict Italian Renaissance gardens

This must be by far the most impressive visual representation by AI in my opinion. Although, I’m slightly biased, because out of all the gardens of the world I want to see, Italian renaissance has always been at the top of my list. I think it’s because the Renaissance as a period, has so much innovation and creativity, and this is reflected in the gardens of that time too. The image on the left depicts a misty dreamy landscape with all the architecture you might expect to see, but with masses of planting, making it seem as though it’s been forgotten by time. The other two images depict very elaborate Villas in background with pools, urns, and formal parterres. All of which you might expect to see in this style of garden in Italy today.

Modern contemporary design by AI

As fascinating as it is to look in the past at themes based on heritage and Geography, it’s also interesting to see how AI comprehends modern contemporary design, which encapsulates much of the past whilst also embracing the future.

Images generated by AI depicting contemporary modern gardens.

I’m astonished at how varied the AI’s approach is to deliver the designs. The way in which Image 3, 4, and 5 depicts natural design, whilst also incorporating modern Architecture is truly brilliant. With Images 1,2 and 6 it’s clear the AI has met the brief with architectural style planting, alongside that blocky white stone that’s become so popular in modern designs today.

Futuristic gardens created by AI

Just as I began writing about AI with regards to SCI-FI, I shall now end writing about AI with some accompanying images of what the AI might think gardens of the future may look like. The image on the left doesn’t bode well for humanity, as it looks as though it’s been abandoned and reclaimed by nature. As does the central image, which depicts the crumbling remains of a futuristic path almost completely absorbed in the dominating force of nature. The image on the right seems to show a world where the physics no longer applies, with a floating garden UFO in the middle of a luscious expanse of shrubs and trees.

Image created by AI depicting futuristic gardens.

Overall, I find AI art generators incredibly impressive. Although I have only scratched the surface of AI with relation to landscape design, there seems no limit to what can be achieved with it. Throughout my using AI, I’ve kept my description input to a minimum, to see exactly what it would come up with alone, and it’s amazing how much it’s able to elaborate on just two words ‘Futuristic Garden’.

However, it’s clearly still missing a part of the puzzle when it comes to landscape design. When I asked it to try and replicate Andre la Notre, it really struggled to understand what I wanted, and it seemed to have no real understanding of Charles Jencks at all. I assume it’s mainly limited by what’s available to sift through on the internet. If there are countless images of a particular thing, then it doesn’t seem to struggle creating its own impression.

I'm not fond of the fact it makes up plants. If AI did become entangled in our future on the internet, It could cause a lot of confusion if it started to generate images of things we take for granted as being able to look up. For instance, you could search a particular plant, and there could be an AI generated image available online that could be biologically inaccurate…

AI art has been available for such a short time, and it’s already getting lots of attention on the internet. I’m sure the reader agrees with me when I say there are lots of ways in which this AI could be used and applied to landscape design in the future. Whether to give inspiration to the artist or aid the artist in the design process, I think AI art is here to stay. As long as it’s respectful to human artists too… Something tells me this is just the beginning of a massive change, and there will be many more people writing about AI and landscape design in the near future.

All images created using Diffusitron AI Art Generator © 2023 Diffusitron.

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