Monthly Archives: February 2012

Whatever happened to the garden? “The art of the garden is dead,” pronounced the French garden designer Achille Duchêne in 1937. Was it? And is it now? If we take the thriving industry around experience and lifestyle, where the garden coexists happily with watches, kitchens and interiors, it is alive and kicking. But it is having a hard time as the most basic expression of landscape and nature, within the profession of landscape architecture. Although nobody denies its roots in garden design, ever since landscape architecture began to settle as a grown-up profession, the position of the garden has been under attack. The garden as a design problem seemed unable to stand its ground against the large issues of regional and recreation planning, dealing with the social and environmental consequences of advancing urbanization.

But of course it is not a matter of the garden like a Calimero as opposed to the ‘large issues’. The skill of designing a garden – the ideals, the art and the craft – should be part and parcel of the way of addressing the large issues.

In 1945 the Danish landscape architect C. Th Sørensen designed the Musical Garden for an urban park in Horsens, at the surface a sterile exercise in geometry, but in reality an extraordinary range of spatial variations. Sørensen himself described the design as “the best I have designed, something that gives the mind an inexplicable joy.” Clearly he saw gardens as an art form, but he translated these geometric exercises also into large landscape projects, like the Kongenshus Memorial Park (1945-53). In the design his analysis of the natural basic forms of the heath landscape concurs with the visual power of the geometric forms.  The garden as an experiment for landscape architecture.



And what about the baffling similarity between the axial composition of Vaux-le-Vicomte (1656) and the 19th-century Paris of Haussmann? Clearly the lessons learned within the safe playing ground of the garden were taken well into account when the need arose to control the grim reality of traffic and hygienic problems and violent civic uprisings, following the advice of Abbé Laugier, who said in 1775: ‘Let the design of our parks serve as the plan for our towns.’ The design for Versailles (1661) gives a nice insight into how the transition was made from garden design into urban design.




I am aware that the present day metropolitan landscape is characterized more by instable and dynamic processes than by the compositional logic of the classical city. System theory models seem to be better applicable than rational plans and spatial designs. However, if we would apply these models and allow the metropolitan landscape to arise as a logical consequence of integrating sustainable systems and processes, the spatial quality of our living environment would get lost in the process.

The core business of a landscape architect will always be the creation of spatial compositions, however large the shifts in context and problematique, and what better laboratory and experiment is there then the garden? A laboratory other design professions don’t have. We are lucky to have this, so let’s start making better use of it.

If Australian landscape architects are still wrestling with the question which animal to adopt as their mascot they can call off their quest. Scientific research helps them to make their final choice. The Great Bowerbird (Chlamydera nuchalis, native to Australia) presents itself as the best choice.

The great Bowerbird not only builds a bower as a little tunnel to attract females but doing so adds a final touch that makes this bird the obvious candidate to be lifted to the heraldic shield of Australian landscape architecture. All male Bowerbirds stand behind the bower and try to catch the attention of the female bird by throwing objects alongside the back of the tunnel. Everything will do, stones, little bones, shells but the most interesting objects, like bottle caps or a blue plastic clothes-peg, are saved for last to make the best impression. The amazing thing is that the great Bowerbird arranges the objects to size thus creating a false perspective.

For me Chlamydera nuchalis may call itself the Great Bowerbird because it not only creates a scenic (and romantic) route that seems to come out of landscape architecture textbooks, but as an extra the false perspective looks very much like the stunning prospettiva forzata that Palladio build in his Teatro Olimpico in Vicenza.

Needless to say that the suggestion that birds would create romantic illusions is sheer human projection and that this beautiful construction has evolutionary advantages. The illusion may hold the female’s attention for longer than a poorly arranged gesso, the researchers say. But then again, if modern environmental historians are confronting us with their insights that Nature is mainly a cultural construct (Cronon) and post modern sociologists like Donna Haraway (Cyborgs) and Bruno Latour (Hybrids) are confronting us with the constant hybridization of culture and nature why not take a less anthropocentric view on the Bowerbird and grant him a hybridization from the side of nature. To coin a term let’s call it Nulture. And let us perhaps allow ourselves to look at our Culture as something that indeed is evolutionary advantages but nevertheless an inalienable part of nature. For the sake of being congruent let’s call it Cature. A deep bow for the Bowerbird!


Kelley, et al. Illusions Promote Mating Success in Great Bowerbirds. In: Science 20 January 2012: 335-338. DOI:10.1126/science.1212443

Landscape can be defined as “an area, as perceived by people, whose character is the result of the action and interaction of natural and/or human factors” [1].This definition clearly emphasises the sensory relationship between the observer and the landscape. The major question here is: how do we know and understand the landscape through perception?

Although ‘perceived by people’ refers to a holistic experience with all senses, very often it is reduced to the visual aspects. This has to do with the fact that 80% of our impression of our surroundings comes from sight [2]. Also the ‘range’ of our senses plays an important role. Granö (1929) already made the distinction between the ‘Nahsicht’ and ‘Fernsicht’. The Nahsicht or proximity is the environment we can experience with all our senses, the Fernsicht he called also landscape and is the part of our environment we mainly experience by vision [3]. Hence the identifying character of landscapes in the rural and urban realm is, to a large extent, built upon visual perception. Since visual perception is a key factor in behaviour and preference, it is crucial for landscape planning, design, and management, as well as for monitoring and protection of landscapes. But how can we comprehend the ‘face of the landscape’ and its perception? And how can we make this applicable to landscape planning, design and management?

Can you see the face? [4]

We believe that the long tradition and current advances in the field of visual landscape research offer interesting clues for theory, methodology and applications in this direction [5]. Visual landscape research is an interdisciplinary approach that combines (a) landscape planning, design and management concepts, (b) landscape perception approaches, and (c) Geographic Information Science (GISc)-based methods and techniques. While integrating psychological knowledge of landscape perception, the technical considerations of geomatics, and methodology of landscape architecture and urban planning, it provides a solid basis for visual landscape assessment in cities, parks and rural areas. It offers great potential for the acquisition of design knowledge by exploring landscape architectonic compositions from the ‘inside out’, as well as possibilities to enrich landscape character assessment with visual landscape indicators. Since they are crucial elements in landscape perception and preference it is important for landscape planning, policy and monitoring to get a grip on visual landscape attributes like spaciousness and related indicators (e.g. degree of openness, visual dominance, building density and the nature of spatial boundaries).

The field of visual landscape research is expanding every day. Influenced by national and international initiatives it is likely to continue developing in three ways. In the first place by scientific development of theory, methods and techniques. Secondly by implementation in education, and thirdly by knowledge transfer and applications in academia and society (valorisation). In order to facilitate this development a dialogue is needed between the scientific community and society through high quality publications and platforms for knowledge dissemination and discussion. We like to contribute to this dialogue via our platform Exploring the Visual Landscape (EVL), an initiative of Delft University of Technology, Landscape Architecture andWageningenUniversity, Centre for Geo-Information.

Colloquium: Exploring the Visual Landscape, March 22nd 2012, TU Delft. More information:

Book: Exploring the Visual Landscape. Advances in Physiognomic Landscape Research in the Netherlands. S. Nijhuis, R. Van Lammeren and F.D. Van Der Hoeven (eds.). Research in Urbanism Series, Volume 2. September 2011, Amsterdam, IOS press

Download from Repository TU Delft: []

Online purchase: []


[1]  Council of Europe(2000) European Landscape Convention.Florence. European Treaty Series 176. p3

[2]  Seiderman, A., Marcus, S. (1989/1991) 20/20 is not enough. The new world of vision.New York. Alfred a. Knopf. p6

[3]  Granö, J.G. (1929) Reine Geographie. Eine methodologische Studie beleuchtet mit Beispielen aus Finnland und Estland. Acta Geographica 2 (2); 202. Recently republished in: O Granö and A. Paasi (eds.) (1997) Pure Geography.Baltimore andLondon, TheJohnHopkinsUniversity Press.

[4] Source: [accessed: February 4th, 2012]

[5]  See for an overview: Nijhuis, S., Van Lammeren, R., Antrop, M . (2011) Exploring Visual Landscapes. Introduction. In: S. Nijhuis, R. van Lammeren, F.D. van der Hoeven (eds.) Exploring the Visual Landscape. Advances in Physiognomic Landscape Research.Amsterdam, IOS Press. pp15-40