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Nohl Sustainable Landscape Use and Aesthetic Perception

Nohl Sustainable Landscape Use and Aesthetic Perception

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Sustainable landscape use and aesthetic perception±preliminary re¯ections on future landscape aesthetics
Werner Nohl
Werkstatt fuÈ r Landschafts- und Freiraumentwicklung, StockaÈ ckerring 17, D-85551 Kirchheim nr, MuÈ nchen, Germany
Received 23 October 1999; received in revised form 18 April 2000; accepted 21 June 2000
In this paper, a conceptual framework is described for a better understanding of future landscapes as aesthetical objects. Thepaper is divided in four parts. In the ®rst part, the poor aesthetic reality of today's landscapes is described and theconsequences for aesthetic perception are explained. In the second part, a more sustainable use of landscape is discussed asdevelopmental necessity for the next decades, and some aesthetic aspects of such a development are examined. In the thirdpart, human aesthetic perception is described as a basic cognition process, differentiating between four major levels of knowledge or of sense (perception, expression, symptomatic information, and symbolic meaning). In the last part, all aspectsof the ®rst three parts are used to determine basic aesthetic categories of future landscapes. As the most relevant aestheticcategories are identi®ed: the beautiful, the (new) sublime, the interesting, and the plain. Finally an attempt is made to derivefrom these categories the most important aesthetic prototypes of tomorrow's landscape.
2001 Elsevier Science B.V. Allrights reserved.
Landscape; Landscape aesthetics; Aesthetic perception; Sustainability; Beauty
1. Introduction
In the following, an attempt is made to determinesome key elements of a conceptual framework for abetter understanding of future landscapes as aesthe-tical objects. Such a concept may help to developlandscape aesthetically in a more plausible and argu-able way. With this intention in mind the paper dealswiththe following aspects.Firstly,the aesthetic realityof today's landscapes is described and the conse-quences for aesthetic perception are explained. Sec-ondly,amoresustainableuseoflandscapeisdiscussedas a potential reality for the next decades, whichcomplements, or better, modi®es the landscape realityof today. Thirdly, the process of human aestheticperception is described as a basic cognition process,which explains how aesthetic joy comes into being,differentiating between four major knowledge orsense levels on which aesthetic information may begained. Fourthly, all aspects of the ®rst three sectionsare used to determine some basic aesthetic categoriesfor future landscapes. Finally an attempt is made toderive from these categories the most important aes-thetic prototypes of tomorrow`s landscape.
2. The aesthetic situation of today's landscape
In the ®rst part of this (Section 2.1), the majorchanges in the aesthetically effective landscape whichhave occurred since the late 19th century will be
Landscape and Urban Planning 54 (2001) 223±237
49-89-9038346; fax:
E-mail address
: nohl@landschaftswerkstatt.de (W. Nohl).0169-2046/01/$20.00
2001 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.PII: S0169-2046(01)00138-4
summarized. In the second part (Section 2.2), themeaning of these changes to the aesthetic landscapeperceptionofthebeholderwillbediscussed,andinthethird part (Section 2.3), it will be shown that withregard to the appearance of most of our today's land-scapes the viewer runs the risk of an entire aestheticalinsensitivity.
2.1. The loss of aesthetically effective landscapequalities
Especially in the last 50 years, the landscape in theFederal Republic of Germany has changed dramati-cally. Based on economic and technical rationalitiesthe modern age has completely altered the traditionalculturallandscape, which hasexistedthat way more orless, since the classical period in the 18th century, andwhich was characterized poetically as ``Ge®lde'' in afamous poem by Schiller, 1800 (undated, Vol. 2), i.e.the landscape of small ®elds. It was a landscapewith agreat richness of elements which were small, naturalorembeddedinnature.Theywereperceivedbypeopleas a comprehensive whole. If one compares theappearance of today's landscape with that of premo-dern and early modern time, one recognizes that thelandscape did not only lose its wealth of elements butalso its sense of unity which gave form to that variety.In the traditional cultural landscape (rural landscapeup to the middle of the 20th century with naturalelements,suchas®elds,meadows,ponds,treesaswellas man-made elements, such as farmsteads, smallroads, barns, churches), all single elements were partof this unitary and comprehensive context, joinedtogether by the rhythmically organized way of lifeof rural and rustic people. Visually, the traditionalcultural landscape presents itself as a structuredwholeness, as a unity, which is experienced aestheti-cally as a harmonic and pleasing entirety, even today.Aesthetically,thedissolutionofthislandscapeunitycan be experienced as several alterations. On the onehand, many elements, structures, and qualities of landscape have disappeared without any substitute,so that the original landscape has been reduced indiversity and simpli®ed. On the other hand, comple-tely new elements were introduced in many placesbecauseofnewsocietalneedsandtheexistenceofnewtechnologies. These elements are there to meet amultiplicityofnewlandscapefunctions,which coexistin today's landscape in a more or less unrelatedmanner. Thus, we have, for example, agriculturallandscapes, wind energy landscapes, traf®c land-scapes, recreation landscapes. This separation of func-tions ensured that the original comprehensivecharacter of landscape was lost. For better under-standing,the most important changes in the perceptual®eld of landscape can be summarized.
2.1.1. Loss of variety
It is quite obvious that the number of aestheticallyeffective elements in the cultural landscape has beenreduced drastically in almost every landscape type.Since modern changes to the landscape are often veryintensive and cover huge areas, many forms, forexample, water elements, vegetation structures, typesof cultivation, and settlement structures disappeared.Thus, in almost every landscape the informationalcontent has been diminished, landscapes are not ableto tell their stories any longer, or to deliver stimulatingorientation patterns.
2.1.2. Loss of naturalness
While the number of elements has been lessened,the chance of experiencing naturalness in the land-scapehasalsobeenreduced enormously.Thisisduetothe systematic removal of natural or semi-naturalstructures in the landscape, for example, unmanagedareas, various natural water features, paths and ®eldbanks, trees and tree clumps in ®elds and meadows.On the other hand, there has also been the massintroduction of large scale engineering elements andstructures, such as buildings, streets, power lines,large-scale power plants, or sewage treatment plants.These have blurred the formerly sharp visual contrastbetween urban and rural landscape, thus, creating anewlandscapetypelyingsomewherebetweentheruraland the urban realm with reduced opportunity fornaturalness (because of the many arti®cial structures).
2.1.3. Loss of `rural' structuring
Many landscape elements that provided visuallystructuring and orientating effects were eliminatedor have become ineffective. For example, manychurch steeples have lost their signi®cance as visuallypatterning landmarks, because they are now sur-rounded by other high buildings. Tree rows alongminor paths and roads in the agricultural landscape
W. Nohl/Landscape and Urban Planning 54 (2001) 223±237 
have been cut down, because they were deemed astroublesome or inconvenient to the ¯ow of traf®c orthe cultivation of ®elds. By contrast, many newvisually dominating, large-scale technical elementswith patterning and orienting effects have been intro-duced in the last decades (e.g. motorways, electricalpower lines, radio and television masts); it has turnedout since, that people do not accept them aestheticallyat all, because of their oversized scale and their`urban' character.
2.1.4. Loss of regional identity
Many spatial arrangements have disappeared,which moulded the speci®c character of the formerlandscape, and which gave it a unique and individualappearance. Since an element will be perceived andmentally accepted as a typical one, only if it has beenexperienced as part of the familiar landscape forsome time, the many newly introduced elements of today, such as motorway bridges or wind powerplants cannot serve as typical ones Ð at least, notyet. The (aesthetic) sense of place presupposes somehistory. Onthe otherhand, we experience elements astypical, if they commonly occur in a certain region.The new technical elements, however, are very oftenstandardized and made from (mass produced) pre-fabricated elements, and occur nationwide, so thatthey do not possess, as opposed to old churchesor vernacular architecture, for example, any region-ally or locally motivated characteristic traits andpeculiarities.
2.1.5. Loss of vista quality
Vistas, prospects, or distant clear views occur morerarely today, due to ubiquitous air pollution. It is alsotrue that today, the rapid urban development in thecountry has resulted in many buildings blocking theview. Furthermore, unre¯ected ecological thinkingoften brings about uncontrolled vegetation growth.One of the most disastrous examples are our motor-ways and highways, which often do not allow distantviews out from them because of high noise barriersalong both sides, or because they are deeply cut intothe earth. Of course, this is done to screen roads in thelandscape and to reduce their impact on the rest of thelandscape. But by this ``the view from the road''(Appleyardetal.,1964)intothelandscapehasbecomea myth, to a great extent.
2.2. Consequences for the aesthetic landscape perception
This is not the place for lamenting over the ``dele-tion of the cultural±historical heritage'' (Ewald, 1996)as the unique and only possible realization of land-scape aesthetics, although a strong correspondencebetween the perceptual needs of people (e.g. forvariety, naturalness) and the offer of perceptuallyeffective elements and structures is quite obvious inthe traditional cultural landscape. However, this isde®nitely the place for pointing at some aestheticconsequences which are tied to the wide-spread weak-ening of the perceptual conditions in today's landscape(see above). The fact is that today a beholders ®eld of vision (perceptual ®eld) is simpli®ed, disturbed, andnarrowed down in many of our landscapes. The effectsof these visual de®cits on the aesthetic perception maybe described by the following four inadequacies of thehuman perceptual ®eld: coarsening, impoverishment,destabilization, and alienation (Nohl, 1998).
2.2.1. Coarsening of the perceptual ®eld 
The losses of landscape quality described above arethe results of modern land management, whichrequires huge, uniform landscape areas to be econom-icallysuccessful.Thetendencyhasbeenforallunevenspots to be removed, cut or ®lled, smoothed, andchanged into large homogeneous areas for agricultureandforotherlarge-scalefunctions.Therefore,the®eldof vision in such landscapes consists of only a few butlarge scaled areas whose informational contents willsoon be revealed to the viewer. A ``sense of mystery''(Kaplan and Kaplan, 1989) cannot occur. In place of arichly patterned view, which corresponds to the curi-osity of man, the beholder is confronted with singleperceptsof vast anddisconnected landscape areas, andhis needs for information remain quite unsatis®ed.
2.2.2. Impoverishment of the perceptual ®eld 
Furthermore, these few large scale landscape unitsare not only greatly expanded, at the same time theyare perceptually very monotonous. The multiplicity of different elements and structures, such as terraces,trees, tree groups, small hedges, ponds have beenremoved or replaced by a few large, yet simple andrepetitive vegetation structures which do not interferewith the processes of modern land use, especially of 
W. Nohl/Landscape and Urban Planning 54 (2001) 223±23

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