De waarneming en waardering van landschappen

J.F. Coeterier

    Research output: Thesisexternal PhD, WU


    The Landscape
    'Landscape' is defined in many ways. However, all definitions have in common: (a) the interaction between organisms, including man, and inorganic nature; this is landscape as a process; (b) the unity of the landscape and the coherence of its parts; this is landscape as structure*; and often: (c) the influence of social and cultural processes in the formation of the landscape, the social determinism of the landscape. A landscape is conceived of as a system, characterized by the interaction of natural and cultural forces, possessing a definite organization. Depending on one's background and interest, a certain aspect is accentuated in the study of landscapes. Landscape architects mainly concentrate on structural aspects. Perception psychologists too are preoccupied with pattern variables, stemming from Gestalt psychology. Lay people are primarily interested in the social aspects of a landscape, especially in the Netherlands, where every landscape is man-made. For them, human action is the main force in landscape formation.

    In psychology, and in philosophy, perception is regarded as a cognitive activity. It comprises three levels or processes: physiological processes, sensation, and perception. No one-to-one-relation exists between these three processes.
    Polanyi (1969): No observation of physiology can make us apprehend the operations of the mind. Both the mechanisms and organismic processes of physiology, when observed as such, will ever be found to work insentiently.
    This distinguishes physiological processes from the other two processes.
    Ayer (1966): If observing something entails having a sensation, then having a sensation cannot itself be a form of observation: for if it were we should be involved in an infinite regress. More over the sort of things that can be said about observation, or perception, cannot significantly be said about sensation.
    This distinguishes sensation from perception.
    The properties of perception are: structuring, meaning attribution, and action-foundation.

    A landscape is perceived as ordered: things are seen in context and in relation to each other**. The dominance of the whole- character in perception has been sufficiently demonstrated by Gestalt psychology. The perceptual processes of discrimination and pattern recognition, or the differentiation and integration of information, show that consciousness operates on at least two levels. For Gestalt psychology, integration comes first. This corresponds to the way landscapes or faces are seen: first, one has an impression of the face as a whole. This impression also determines the appreciation. Only afterwards are details noted and how they contribute to the whole. Wholes are seen on different levels, each whole functioning as an element on the level immediately above (Koestler's Holon). These levels show a hierarchical ordering (Simon), the next-higher level determining the meaning of an element.
    * In the following, the terms structure, pattern, order, whole, organization, composition, are used interchangeably. Differentiation is deemed unnecessary for the purpose they are used here.
    ** See also Bertrand Russell, Philosophical Essays (Unwin, 1976, blz. 157). Our results were obtained via in-depth interviews and structured questionnaires and with the help of photographs.

    Meaning Attribution
    The world is meaningful for a person. An inherent property of perception is to confer meaning to objects, situations and happenings. Meanings act as filters in perception: they determine what is seen and how it is seen (e.g. Bruner & Goodman). Structuring and meaning attribution are closely interconnected: the structure in which a thing occurs also determines its meaning.

    Actions lie at the basis of the perception of both structure and meaning, whereby perceiving itself is also an activity. Actions of the perceiver lie at the basis of the formation of perceptual schemata (Bartlett, Schütz, 1932);, actions of other people determine the content of these schemata. In the perception of landscapes the action-foundation of perception works out in two ways: (a) noticing the way the landscape is organized for public use; and (b) noticing opportunities for private use by the perceiver. Public and private use determine the structure and the meaning of a landscape in perception.
    These three properties of perception correspond to Polanyi's three aspects of tacit knowing: phenomenal, semantic, and functional; whereby perception is itself also a form of tacit knowing. Because of these three properties of perception it can be said that a landscape is seen as a system. Of this system only a limited number of attributes is discerned.

    Landscape Appreciation
    Perception and appreciation are closely related. According to Dembo (1960), values can be seen as qualities, attributes by which things are distinguished. To appreciate something is to see its qualities. But perception is also the seeing of qualities. Dewey (1931): "Red is not a sensation; it is a quality which we perceive". Perception is directed to qualities, attributes of an environment whose importance a person has learned. In the following, these qualities are called the dominant perceptual attributes (or merely perceptual attributes), a term proposed by the Dutch National Physical Planning Agency (RPD). So, the appreciation of a landscape is determined by the dominant perceptual attributes: a person looks at a landscape with an appreciative eye. Then, these qualities are judged; i.e. weighed, depending on their importance or interest for the use the person wants to make of the landscape. Indeed, the interest one has in a landscape proves to be the main determinant of its appreciation. Interest stems from use. In general, three groups of users can be distinguished: farmers, residents (living in villages or in the countryside), and tourists (mostly townfolk). Of course, the appreciation of a landscape is determined by more than the dominant perceptual attributes alone. There are also social, symbolic, ethical, affective aspects, plus conditions for use such as distance, accessibility, safety. In the following, only the role of the dominant perceptual attributes in landscape appreciation is considered.
    The relationship between the amount of a perceptual attribute present in a situation and its appreciation shows an inverted U form. This means that too much and too little of an attribute is appreciated negatively. The point of highest appreciation lies somewhere in the middle, depending among other things on a person's adaptation level for that attribute in that type of landscape. (What is normal for one type of landscape, e.g. a certain openness, may be too much or too little for another type). Too much and too little are a matter of taste.

    The Dominant Perceptual Attributes
    In the Netherlands each region is occupied by people and fitted up for a certain kind of use. The use of a landscape determines its character and its boundaries: visually, a landscape ends where a new form of use begins, except for small units such as power transmission lines or a gas pumping unit which a landscape can contain without losing its character; in that case these units remain alien elements. First and foremost a landscape is seen as a functional unit: a system with society as its structuring principle and characterized by a limited number of system variables or attributes. These attributes are:
    1. The amount of unity or coherence of the system. This has two aspects: (a) the presence of all appropriate elements, i.e. elements that belong to that system (completeness); and (b) the absence of inappro priate elements. Absence of the first kind of elements is not neces sarily experienced as disturbing; the presence of the latter is.
    2. The type of system, the function it performs. Aspects are: kind of use, intensity of use, and opportunities for private use -
    material (provisions and facilities) and immaterial (rules and norms).
    3. The physical or abiotic component of the system, especially soil properties, water (courses and drainage) and surface relief.
    These properties determine the opportunities for public and private use such as productivity and accessibility.
    4. The biotic component of the system, its natural or organic aspect.
    5. The spatial organization or lay-out of the system. Aspects are: the size of the open space, the distribution of space and mass,
    the vertical differentiation between elements, and the composition or patterning of the elements.
    6. The development of the system in time, linearly and cyclically. The linear aspects contain recent changes in the landscape vis-
    à-vis its historical character. Cyclical changes are due to the succession of the seasons.
    7. The way the system is managed, especially its maintenance.
    8. Phenomenal aspects such as colours, light and shadow, sounds, smells, tactile qualities, etc.

    These attributes have several implications:
    - They also determine the appreciation of a landscape. People have a more or less clear picture of how these attributes manifest themselves in different types of landscapes. This mental image, or internal representation, is based on experience and knowledge. When describing landscapes, people often use phrases such as: "These things belong together", or: "This thing doesn't fit here". The terms 'belong' and 'fit' have both a cognitive and a normative connotation. The mental image provides the expectation of what ought to be there and in this way becomes normative for the appreciation.
    - The attributes are not simple, independent features of a landscape but complex and overlapping fields of meaning, "Quality Indices" in terms of Craik & Zube (1976). (However, contrary to their view that a landscape has to be considered as an aggregate, here a landscape is regarded as a system. On the difference see Angyal 1967). This means that the indices overlap and mutually influence each other. The amount of overlap depends on the type of landscape.
    - The last six attributes draw their meaning from the first two, unity and use. Unity and use are always noticed first. The order of importance of the other attributes may vary in different types of land scapes. Also, not all six attributes need be present in a landscape. In an urban environment the physical component does not play a role in the perception and appreciation.
    - Each landscape is viewed in terms of these attributes; i.e. they are generally valid. As determinants of perception and appreciation they act as abstract rules (in the sense of Hayek 1969) or schemata (in the sense of Bartlett 1932 or Sch6tz 1932). That is, the way they operate is fixed but their content is flexible. In each landscape one has to determine anew how they-manifest themselves.
    - Most attributes have been mentioned before in the literature, but never as a coherent set of system variables, influencing each other and with their meaning dependent on the character of the whole, whereby perception and appreciation of the whole comes first. Neither is the importance of the use of a landscape for the perception and appreciation sufficiently recognized. (Public use mainly influences perception, private use mainly influences the appreciation).
    - The perception of attributes like unity and the size of a space is indicative of an integrating activity of consciousness in perception; an activity, moreover, that takes place on different levels (Hochberg 1981): unconsciously in the perception of the size of a space, already more consciously in the perception of unity (i.e. judgment enters more into the perception of unity than in the perception of the size of a space).

    ad 1. Unity
    Landscapes consist of elements. Examples of the elements of an agricultural landscape are farms, ditches, fields. These elements themselves are also seen as wholes consisting of parts. The elements of a ditch are banks, vegetation, verges, artefacts like bridges, dams, sluices, and even adjacent roads. Also perceived are functional qualities like suitability for fishing, canoeing, skating, ease of maintenance, suitability for drainage. So a ditch too is seen as a system, performing certain functions and possessing a characteristic organization. In a landscape, several of these systems are present and may overlap: a road can belong to the 'ditch'system but a ditch can belong to the 'road'system. Perceived properties of a system become more general and "stereotyped" as the system becomes larger ("The Netherlands is flat").
    On the level of the landscape that can be overseen from a certain standpoint people distinguish the following types:
    - older agricultural landscapes, generally from before a reallotment;
    - modern agricultural landscapes;
    - natural landscapes, e.g. forests, heather, dunes;
    - polder landscapes;
    - water landscapes;
    - village landscapes;
    - urban landscapes;
    - horticultural landscapes;
    - technocratic landscapes, e.g. industry, electricity works, infrastructural works.
    Each type of landscape has its own character: it constitutes a separate unity. The form of the elements is of secondary importance. Each type can take many forms, i.e. the elements may vary but the character of the whole remains the same. So an agricultural landscape can consist of meadows or fields, can have ditches or fences, cows or sheep. Individual elements do not describe the character of the whole. People have a more or less clear image of what each type of landscape looks like, which elements belong to it; information is coded, there are fixed and regular combinations (Miller's "chunks"). This implies that an
    element that fits into one type of landscape does not fit into another type. In the image of town people, a modern bungalow as a farmhouse does not fit into an old agricultural landscape; neither do materials like black concrete, motor tyres, or coniferous trees. These elements belong to modern agricultural landscapes, horticultural landscapes or technocratic landscapes. When a landscape takes over elements from another type then both corruption and levelling occur. The fact that an individual element may be beautiful does not lessen this effect; the character of the whole is more important for the appreciation than the character
    of individual elements. Each type of landscape may be appreciated positively or negatively, depending on the completeness of the image and the presence of inappropriate elements.

    ad 2. Use
    Landuse determines the design of the landscape system; it is the force that gives a landscape its dynamics and its form. Apart from public use and opportunities for private use, intensity of use is noticed. Users may be people or animals. Intensity of use is seen as busy/quiet, full/empty, intensive/extensive, and spatially as front/rear (fields and villages also have a front and a rear). Expectations about intensity of use depend on the kind of users present in the landscape and the type of landscape. In a polder landscape one expects to find cows but no picknickers. A polder landscape full of cows may be experienced as quiet, while with only a few tourists it is experienced as busy. Except for the kind of user (with their attributes such as machines, motor-cars, boats, tents), the presence of provisions or facilities for use also are an indication for the intensity of use. A ditch
    with a quay is experienced as more intensily used for fishing than the same ditch with a grass verge.
    In the course of time, expectations about forms and intensity of use may change. Formerly, at certain times of the year, many people were at work together in an agricultural landscape. Now this work is done by hired labourers with machines; man has disappeared from the picture. (This has both visual and social consequences; not only the involvement of people in the landscape changes but also the involvement in each other). A high intensity of use by people is often appreciated negatively.
    It is associated with noise, bustle, mischief, vandalism and unsafeness. A high intensity of use by strangers is appreciated more negatively than a high intensity of use by people of the same community. Many local residents stay at home in the weekend when tourists visit the forests or the beach. A low intensity of use may evoke fear of losing one's way or to being alone. (This goes for a forest as well as for a town centre). It may also be appreciated negatively.

    ad 3. The physical component: soil and water
    The soil is the carrier of the landscape system, the basic condition for all activities going on in the landscape. People notice the kind of soil (sand, clay, peat) and the degree of wetness, the main condition for use. But the physical component is also perceived indirectly, in the form of occupation, the kind of trees, the way villages are built (in a ribbon development or around a nucleus). Many people know the soil and drainage conditions in their area: whether it is calciferous, the ratio between clay and peat, variation in water levels between polders, local differences in density of ditches. Soil conditions are appreciated according to the activities of the perceiver. There is also a connection in the appreciation with other attributes, because it affects them, e.g. naturalness (growth conditions).

    ad 4. The biotic component: naturalness
    Naturalness has wide implications in common parlance. The most important criterion for naturalness is not the presence of vegetation but whether the impression is of an environment that has grown more or less spontaneously (if it forms an organic whole). This is noticed by the way the elements are shaped and how they fit in their environment. So old farms, grass-grown dikes, sandy paths and even old town centres can give an impression of naturalness. A second criterion, derived from this growth criterion, is the design of an environment. Natural is: not rigid, no square blocks with rows of uniform elements. Growth does not proceed along straight lines or continuously. The use of natural materials like wood and bricks also belongs to this criterion. As a third criterion the flora and fauna determine the impression of naturalness; whereby cows, rosebeds and maize fields are considered natural too. Naturalness overlaps with other attributes; e.g. with unity, because of the importance of the appropriateness of an element in its environment, and with historical character because of the contrast with the modern sterile large-scale style of building. Then the way an environment is managed has also implications for its perceived naturalness. Too much maintenance looks artificial; a too well- groomed forest looks like a park. This is appreciated negatively because it looks stiff and artificial and also because a park is part of an urban environment: it does not belong in a natural or an agricultural landscape. A park and a forest ought to look different because they belong to different types of landscapes. (Although in a park too one can experience nature exquisitely). With too little maintenance a forest looks like a wilderness. This is too much naturalness and is appreciated negatively too.

    ad 5. The spatial arrangement: spatiality
    Aspects are: the size and form of space, differences in height of elements (vertical differentiation) and the composition or patterning of the elements (horizontal differentiation). The perception of spatiality is effected by the integration of information on these three aspects. The perception of an aspect is effected by the integration of information on different cues for that aspect. For instance, cues for the perception of the size of a space are: the open surface of an area, the texture of the soil and the soil ' covering, the height and texture of the walls, the presence of isolated objects in space like trees or cattle, colour, lighting, microrelief. Information on these cues is integrated unconsciously, but people do have a mental picture of the spatial properties of the different types of landscapes. The appreciation of the size of a space depends on the type of landscape and on how other attributes occur, especially naturalness. In an agricultural landscape in the North of the Netherlands a large open space is appreciated positively because one has overview; it is a positive quality. In the South of the Netherlands (with other soil conditions) a large open space in an agricultural landscape is mostly appreciated negatively, because it means that vegetation has been removed; it denotes the absence of a quality (naturalness); it is emptiness, something is missing. In the appreciation of height differences and patterning it is important which elements give rise to the differences, especially their ordering. A collection of elements, e.g. a ditch, a meadow, a maize field, a farm, and trees can have a good arrangement (i.e. in order of size) or a bad arrangement (tall elements in the foreground). People have outspoken ideas about what is a right or a wrong arrangement, although these can differ between individuals.

    ad 6. Development: the behaviour of the landscape system in time
    (a) Historical character
    This is the linear development of the system. It is mainly manifested in cultural elements, although old trees also contribute to this attribute. Often it is called the historical character of a landscape, but in fact it comprises its whole development; its growth, not in space (that is naturalness) but in time. It is the continuity of culture reflected in the landscape. The presence of isolated historical objects (relics) is the least important of its aspects, for, just because they are isolated, detached from the stream of culture and disconnected from their environment, they are in fact ahistorical. If an element is still taken up in the stream of culture is mainly determined by its use. In fact, three things are important in the appreciation of a historical element in a landscape: does it still fit in its environment; does it still exert its function (or: a function); and how is it managed? The appreciation of a historical element is significantly greater if it still forms a part of a historical environment (not necessarily of the same age) and if it still exerts its function. If the element has acquired a new function adaptations may be criticized (e.g. rebuilding with very large windows, putting a new facade on an old shop, putting up advertising hoardings). Good maintenance of historical elements is very important. Old and dilapidated is appreciated negatively; old and well-maintained, positively. It is not that old is always good and modern ugly: many other criteria play a role.
    (b) Seasonal aspects
    This is the cyclical development of the system. The seasons not only find expression in phenomenal qualities such as the changing of colour of trees. The seasons are in the first place connected with different but ever-recurring activities in the landscape. In former days this connection was much stronger than it is now, as is apparent from the old practice of naming the months after typical agricultural activities, and it is not so long ago that in villages children's holidays were set according to these activities. Nowadays, the seaons determine the flow of daily activities less and less; they mainly influence recreational activities. This makes the pictorial qualities of the seasons more important.
    The appreciation of seasonal aspects also depends on accompanying changes in other attributes, such as use (skating is fun), naturalness, spatiality (in winter, space is experienced both as larger and smaller: larger because of the finer grain and greater uniformity of the soil covering (snow) and smaller because the outlines of the background are sharper), and phenomenal aspects (in rural and natural areas each season has its typical colours, sounds, smells).

    ad 7. Management
    Aspects are: providing facilities for use, e.g. quays for fishing; the regulation of use via rules; maintenance; and control on the observance of the rules. Good management also has to adapt to the exigencies of time; it is not only caring for a landscape so that it is fit for use, but also caring that a landscape is up-to-date. That is why fallow land and dilapidated buildings are appreciated negatively. Although maintenance is always appreciated positively, the expected amount of maintenance depends on the type of landscape: a modern agricultural landscape can tolerate less neglect and carelessness than an old agricultural landscape in the view of people. (There are also national differences in standards for maintenance). In maintenance, too, too much and too little are appreciated negatively. Too much is artificial, sterile: one cannot do anything anymore. Too little looks shabby: one won't do anything anymore. Further, this is a cumulative process: a shabby environment is treated with less respect than a neat one.

    ad 8. Phenomenal aspects
    These are the sensuous impressions a perceiver may experience in a landscape without them being analysed for meaning, without regard for their information content, apart from their message. Examples are sounds, smells, inanimate movement, colours, taste and tactile impres sions, lightfall, light-shadow, temperature, humidity, wind, the feeling of loose sand or pine-needles under one's feet, the rustling of trees. Colours are especially important. People often have a clear notion which
    colours objects in the landscape such as power lines, silos, farmstead roofs, ought to have, although these notions may differ markedly among individuals.
    Although many sensuous impressions are only temporary, or even momentary, they strongly influence appreciation.

    Some Applications of the Dominant Perceptual Attributes in Planning.
    The dominant perceptual attributes are abstract variables. Recommendations for their application in planning procedures can therefore only be abstract too. Environmental psychologists work inductively; they abstract general rules from individual cases. Planners and designers work deductively; they translate general rules into concrete measures. (In a number of studies, psychologists have found that people like complexity. Now a designer has to produce complexity in a concrete building or landscape). However, a designer/planner and a psychologist may meet at the abstract level of planning principles. Here are some examples.

    Van Rijn (1976) makes a link between alienation and properties of the environment. According to him, people have three needs concerning the environment: for structure, orientation and overview. (The latter two needs are both aspects of structure: orientation is based on the position of an element in its context, and to have overview refers to the possibility of forming an internal representation of the environment. Both are based an the seeing of relationships). If these needs are not satisfied, alienation occurs. This notion can now be extended and made operational. Extended: Perception is three-fold; the aspects
    being structuring, meaning attribution and action-foundation. Lack of any of these three can cause alienation, not only structure.
    Operationalization: the dominant perceptual attributes can be profitably used to describe a landscape system. In-depth interviews can be used to obtain information from residents and other users regarding shortcoming on these attributes. For instance, the legal procedure for making Environmental Impact Assessments is sorely in need of this kind of variables, the only measure (for social impact) now being an aesthetic one. Further, in planning circles the concept of disharmonious areas has been introduced. Disharmony and alienation are closely connected. In the eyes of the inhabitants of an area, disharmony could occur:
    - when the structure or the coherence of a landscape is impaired, e.g. by the introduction of too many inappropriate elements;
    - when the attribution of meaning is thwarted, e.g. by obscurity of functions, by disaccordance between form and function, or by too much centralization of decisions so that residents don't know the why, when and how of changes in their environment;
    - when opportunities for personal use are severely restricted, e.g. by strong curtailment of the environment, or by strong regulation or reduction of activities.
    This can take place on different levels: inside a landscape system and between systems, e.g. when in a system divergent forms of use are introduced with elements that cannot be combined; or when in an area different
    systems are located that cannot be combined, such as a highway through a residential area.

    In writings on planning or design, depreciation is sometimes expressed for a supposed resistance to change in people (also called conservatism, nostalgia, or the fear for the new landscape; e.g. Lörzing 1982). However, the wish to preserve the old must not be interpreted as a resistance to change or a wish to fix the past. Each force evokes a counterforce; each action a reaction. Technology has developed at such a rate in the last twenty years that the counterforce, the so-called nostalgia, has also become stronger. Technical developments are considered as progress. Nostalgia, however, must not be considered as
    a wish for retrogression, a return to the past. It is a wish for the preservation not of concrete situations but of qualities in the
    environment, not in the form of the conservation of historical elements but as guarantees that new environments have qualities too. These qualities are not necessarily tied up with the past; new landscapes can have qualities too. So the solution is not to suppress the antithesis (nostalgia) by denying it, but to dissipate it by reaching a balance or a synthesis. However, Waterbolk (1984) is pessimistic about the possibility of reaching a balance:
    New balances cannot arise anymore. In the landscape new structures do not combine with old ones anymore, as happened in the past. On the contrary, they dominate the old structures so much that these are no longer recognizable and the identity of the landscape is lost.
    The balance people desire is not a static one but dynamic. This means, among other things, that development and preservation are not considered as two independent and spatially separated processes, each with its own place in the landscape. According to the residents of an area a balance is not reached by dividing an area geographically into a historical part and a modern part. For them, it is important that an integration of the old and the new is attained. A landscape has to form one system, not two or three; then man is himself split up and cannot function as an integrated whole.
    Here, too, the dominant perceptual attributes offer a method to describe the impact of changes in the landscape as experienced by people. However, there is one bottleneck: they first have to be made operational. That will be the next step in research.

    Original languageDutch
    QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
    Awarding Institution
    • Defares, P.B., Promotor, External person
    • Vroom, M.J., Co-promotor, External person
    Award date23 Oct 1987
    Place of PublicationS.l.
    Publication statusPublished - 1987


    • environment
    • ideology
    • landscape
    • perception
    • valuation

    Cite this

    Coeterier, J. F. (1987). De waarneming en waardering van landschappen. S.l.: Coeterier.