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“To discover and reveal the deeper substrate of the landscape is something the natural sciences alone cannot accomplish.” – Günther Voght

The Department of Urbanism at the Faculty of Architecture and Built Environment, TU Delft considers urbanism as a planning and design oriented activity towards urban and rural landscapes.[1] It aims to enhance, restore or create landscapes from a perspective of sustainable development, so as to guide, harmonise and shape changes which are brought about by social, economic and environmental processes. In this respect we can consider urbanism as an object or goal-oriented interdisciplinary approach that breaks down complex problems into ‘compartments’ or ‘themes’. The core of urbanism is formed by the disciplines of urban planning, urban design, and landscape architecture. Giving shape to the relationship between man and natural landscape is a core task for this disciplines and involves civil-, agriculture-, nature-, and environmental based techniques as operative instruments. However, in order to work together effectively it is important to identify and develop the qualities of the involved disciplines individually. What is the particular nature of landscape architecture as an independent discipline? The presumption is that the answer can be found in a repertoire of principles of study and practice typical for landscape architecture.

The nature of landscape architecture as a discipline, and particularly landscape design as an important activity, can be characterised by the interplay of four principles of study and practice.[2]

(I) Landscape as three-dimensional construction

Here the focus is on research and design of the landscape ‘from the inside out’, as it could be experienced by an observer moving through space. It elaborates on the visual manifestation of open spaces, surfaces, screens and volumes and their relationships in terms of structural organisation (e.g., balance, tension, rhythm, proportion, scale) and ordering principles (e.g., axis, symmetry, hierarchy, datum, transformation).[3] The basic premise is that the shape of space, plasticity (form of space-determining elements) and appearance (e.g., colour, texture, lighting) of spatial elements in the landscape determine the relation between design and perception. This principle addresses the form and functioning of three-dimensional landscape space, which creates a spatial dynamic. This might be, for example, the framing of a landscape or urban panorama, or the construction of a spatial series along a route, making a pictorial landscape composition. Examples from landscape architecture designing landscape as a three-dimensional construction include: Stourhead landscape garden, Wiltshire (UK) (figure 1), Vaux-le-Vicomte, Melun (France) and Japanese pre-modern gardens.

Figure 1: Stourhead landscape garden (Wiltshire, UK) is a landscape designed from the observers point of view. Views and sightlines are combined with formal, transitional and progressive elements. Study map of Stourhead in 1779 by Frederik Magnus Piper showing important sight lines at eye-level (image courtesy: Royal Academy of Fine Arts, Stockholm)

Figure 1: Stourhead landscape garden (Wiltshire, UK) is a landscape designed from the observers point of view. Views and sightlines are combined with formal, transitional and progressive elements. Study map of Stourhead in 1779 by Frederik Magnus Piper showing important sight lines at eye-level (image courtesy: Royal Academy of Fine Arts, Stockholm)

(II) Landscape as history

The landscape is ‘read’ as a biography, as a palimpsest that evidences all of the activities that contributed to the shaping of that landscape. The Genius Loci expresses the character of the site, not only geographical but also the historical, social, and aesthetic character, and is at the heart of this principle. The landscape is regarded as a layered entity where traces that time has laid over can reinforce or contradict each other. Knowledge of these layers is one of the starting points for new transformations of the landscape involved, or adding a new design layer. This principle involves the evolution of landscape over time and elaborates on operations of ‘erasing’ and ‘writing’ history.[3] Operations of erasing history include: complete or partial eradication, etching, excision, entropy and excavation. Operations of writing history include: parceling, infill, addition, absorption, enveloping, wrapping, overlay, parasitize and morphing. Examples from landscape architecture carefully intervening in the landscape as a historical culture include: Bunker 599, Diefdijk (Netherlands) (figure 2), the Quarries at Crazannes (France) and Oranjewoud Estate (the Netherlands).

Figure 2: Bunker 599 (Diefdijk, the Netherlands) is an example of a careful design intervention in an important historical defence structure of the Netherlands, the New Dutch Water Line. Project by Rietveld Landscape with Atelier de Lyon, 2010 (source: Rietveld Landscape)

Figure 2: Bunker 599 (Diefdijk, the Netherlands) is an example of a careful design intervention in an important historical defence structure of the Netherlands, the New Dutch Water Line. Project by Rietveld Landscape with Atelier de Lyon, 2010 (source: Rietveld Landscape)

(III) Landscape as scale-continuum

This principle regards landscape to be a relational structure connecting scales and spatial, ecological, functional and social entities. Landscape is viewed as a scale-continuum. The design involves establishing relationships via attachment, connection, embedment of a specific site or location into the broader context at different scale levels. A landscape intervention will have impacts on different levels of scale, hitting interests of stakeholders operating on that level. Although scale is a matter of grain and radius, it implies that a particular site is always part of the larger context.[5] Once the frame and granule of the site (object of study) is determined, the rest is regarded ‘context’. The reach of scale is also important, because conclusions on a specific level of scale could be opposite to conclusions drawn on another level of scale (called: scale-paradox). This principle addresses working through the scales as an important basic premise, for example for systematic elaboration of planning strategies (e.g., regional planning and design) and design interventions (e.g., project-based realization). Examples from landscape architecture connecting scales and different layers of interest are: Metropolitan Park Boston (USA) and Emscher Landscape Park (Germany) (figure 3).

Figure 3: Emscher Landscape Park (Germany) is based on a regional strategy elaborated by project-based design interventions. Section of the Masterplan 2010 indicating realised and future projects (source: Regionalverband Ruhr, 2010)

Figure 3: Emscher Landscape Park (Germany) is based on a regional strategy elaborated by project-based design interventions. Section of the Masterplan 2010 indicating realised and future projects (source: Regionalverband Ruhr, 2010)

(IV) Landscape as process

The landscape is regarded as a holistic and dynamic system of systems.[6] In that respect landscape is an expression of the dynamic interaction between ecological, social and economic processes. The landscape is considered as a process rather than as a result. Natural and social processes constantly change the landscape, making the dynamics of the transformation a key issue in research and design. The design is like an open strategy, aimed at guiding developments, no blueprint design. Projects play a role as an open-ended strategy, as in staging or setting up future conditions (e.g., manipulating processes of erosion and sedimentation by water or the development of project-based master plans). Operations focus on the interaction between landscape processes and typo-morphological aspects and facilitate aesthetic, functional, social and ecological relationships between natural and human systems. This principle of study and practice elaborates on models for understanding the landscape as system (e.g. layers-approach) and concepts like sustainable urban metabolism and urban ecology. Examples from landscape architecture using natural and social processes to shape landscape include: Jardin Élémentaires (Italy/France: study project) (figure 4), Nature development De Gelderse Poort, Nijmegen (the Netherlands) and London Guerrilla Gardens (UK).

Figure 4: Jardin Élémentaires is a theoretical experiment were natural processes of erosion and sedimentation by water are manipulated by dams, creating changing patterns of streams and sedimentary islands in a valley landscape. Project by Michel Desvigne, 1988 (image courtesy: Michel Desvigne)

The knowledge reflected by the principles of study and practice form the core of landscape architecture and expresses the integrative nature of the discipline. It embodies a way of thinking typical for landscape architecture and is visible in landscape architecture theories, planning and design processes and products. The understanding and development of this body of knowledge is an important basis for interdisciplinary, context-driven and problem focused research. Boldly stated it is like this: “if you don’t know what the core of your own discipline is, you don’t know what you can contribute to other disciplines”. By developing the typical principles of study and practice of landscape architecture, it is possible to contribute to other fields in terms of theories, methods and techniques, as well as their application via concepts, strategies and interventions. It becomes the basis for exploring the boundaries of the discipline, exchange of knowledge and the search for collaborations and partnerships to engage in sociocultural, ecological and technological issues from the perspective of spatial planning and design.

Notes

[1] This is an abridged version of the book chapter:  S.Nijhuis (2013) “Principles of Landscape Architecture”, in: E. Farini and S. Nijhuis (eds.) Flowscapes. Exploring landscape infrastructures. Madrid, Universidad Francisco De Vitoria, pp 52-61

[2] This principles are adapted and modified from: M. Prominski (2004) Landschaft entwerfen: Einführung in die Theorie aktueller Landschaftsarchitektur. Reimer Verlag; S. Marot (1995) ‘The landscape as alternative’, in: K. Vandermarliere (ed.) Het Landschap / The Landscape. Four International Landscape Designers. Antwerp, De Singel, pp 9-36; S. Nijhuis (2006) ‘Westvaart als landschapsarchitectonische ontwerpopgave’, in: Westvaart in de polder. 4 ontwerpen voor een verdwenen 7-molengang. Leiden: Uitgeverij Groen, pp 35-37.

[3] S. Bell (1993) Elements of Visual Design in the Landscape. London, E & FN Spon.

[4] P. Lukez (2007) Suburban Transformations. Princeton Architectural Press

[5] T. de Jong (2006) Context Analysis. Delft University of Technology

[6] I.S. Zonneveld (1995) Land Ecology. An Introduction to Landscape Ecology as a base for Land Evaluation, Land Management and Conservation. SPB Academic Publishers, Amsterdam

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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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