Sum of its parts

  • Time needed: ~1-1.5 hours.
  • Participants: min 3-max 5 per group.

The Solbosch university campus garden (Jardin des Semeurs) involved an experiment in designing a garden run informally by students, staff and local residents.  As there were many people with very different interests, it was quite unclear what could fit compatibly on the site or what would actually be built.  While there was money available from the university, this was to be developed entirely voluntarily.  A tool developed by OSMOS we called ‘Sum of its Parts’ whereby different volunteers could find the elements of the garden that they felt would represent their vision of the site.


We firstly split the group into four themes: food, leisure, science and habitat.  We then gave each group a set of cards that contained an unlabelled photo on one side and on the other side contained five entry spaces:

  • A blank space for a title.
  • A blank space for a description
  • Three qualitative categories:
    • Effort to build
    • Cost
    • Maintenance effort

As the group involved non-designers, the photos helped them to communicate ideas that may have been difficult to summarise into a few words or to draw.  Those that could draw their ideas could do so on a blank cards which meant that the pictures were just a guide and not a limitation.

The result allowed the group to focus on what they felt best represented their objectives for the garden while then allowing them to prioritise elements and then see if there were any overlaps or contractions with the other themes.  The process was extremely useful as participants were not trapped by a site design and allowed the landscape designers to find a way to accommodate elements with flexibility.