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Mongolian Buffalo

The magnificent steppes always seem to be framed by mountain chains; wherever you move you experience a 360°of both space and enclosure. The gently flowing rivers cross carpet-like grass lands, on which cows, horses, sheep’s and buffalo’s are running freely and peacefully. Once in a while a group of two or three white round tents called gers shine in the sunlight. As you move through the steppe you are free to choose any path you desire, there are almost no preconceived roads. This is Mongolia. It’s landscape is one of the most breath-taking and well-preserved landscapes on earth. While traveling through Mongolia you are sure that what you see today is also what Chinggis Khaan has seen too. Well, almost.

As we stop on the way, a Mongolian shepherd invites us over for suutei tsai (milk with tea and salt) and something else. What this ‘else’ is, is not really clear, our Mongolian is far beneath the required level, but as we enter the ger we discover that they just have slaughtered and cleaned a goat. The guts and other intestines lie on one side, the best meat on the other. And on the side of this bloody scene we spot a memory stick. A what? Yes, and close to the home altar there is the I Mac. When taking a tour outside the ger we bypass children blue torching the head of the goat and see a boy jumping on his horse, while sending an sms. Then we stop and stare at the solar panel attached on the south side of the ger. It looks like the Mongols have skipped the exploitative and wired phase of industrialization and are now plugging into green energy and wireless communication instead. How come? Could it be really true?

Mongolia is locked between Russia and China with no access to the sea, being therefore somehow dependent on the policies of the two giants. With a density of population that used to be 1000x (0.41 p/ km2 in 1918) and now 300x less than nowadays in the Netherlands (404.5 p/km2), it was simply not profitable to make roads and wires. This lack of infrastructure was not very inviting for the big industry. And Russia, being the boss there between 1924 and 1989, didn’t want to make it interesting either. So the Mongolian existence kept on being based on its life stock, which provides milk, skins for clothes, transport and meat. As the cuddle needs fresh grass, the Mongols move their gers along with it, not bothering a lot about land ownership. (Every group of gers claims a circle of occupancy proportional to the size of the life stock, with the maximum size of the distance that a shepherd can do on a horse in half a day. If you are new in an area you search for your own circle where you don’t disturb the others). It has been like this during Chinggis Khaan and it still is. But the times are changing. Since the ‘90’s Mongolia is ‘on the market’ with its untouched natural resources like copper, coal, molybdenum, tin, tungsten, and gold. At this moment around 3000 mining licenses have been issues by mostly Chinese, Russian and Canadian companies. How many of them will provide solar panels in return?

Traditional ger + solar panelOld print of Mongolian landcape

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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: visuallandscape-bk@tudelft.nl

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: [http://repository.tudelft.nl/view/ir/uuid%3Afe6698ae-045c-436b-945b-c61c4b0437e4/]

Online purchase: [http://www.iospress.nl/html/9781607508328.php]

Notes:

[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: http://www.newopticalillusions.com/3d-optical-illusion/face-optical-illusion-2/ [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

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