The Appreciation of Intentionally Aesthetic, Designed Landscapes, by Rudi Van Etteger

Aesthetically intentional, designed landscapes are only recently emerging as a topic of philosophical reflection (Carlson, 2007). In the historical context of environmental aestheticians’ struggle to differentiate their field from arts aesthetics, some went to great lengths to exclude any human influence, wanting to evaluate nature as nature (Budd, 2003). This move caused certain landscapes to get lost in the cracks between the aesthetics of human art and that of natural environments. Most landscapes we are surrounded by in our everyday life are natural in material and partly in process, but humane in origin and goal. What then can be said about these landscapes other than gardens and parks that have been the object of design in some stage or another. This paper focuses on Western European landscapes, many of which have been the object of design in the last century.

First of all it is important to state that the primary focus of evaluation is on intentionally aesthetic, designed landscapes. As these landscapes were designed with the expressed purpose of being experienced as aesthetically appealing, there is a need to test whether this intention is realized or not. Unlike in the aesthetics of art, where there is a problem in knowing about the intentions of the designer, in landscape design these are given in the plan drawings and descriptions produced beforehand.

Secondly it must be pointed out that designed landscapes are transformed rather than created objects. Particularly in the case of an intentionally aesthetic, designed landscape, appreciation may require seeing it as a transformation of some earlier natural or vernacular landscape (or in the future, of some earlier designed landscape). This role of the previous landscape is often conceptually presented using the term Genius Loci, although this term is sometimes used more to mystify than to explain.

I argue that Genius Loci should not be understood as something fixed, but rather as something hermeneutically reconstructed by the landscape architect from what was already there, when confronted with what is supposed to be (the commission). Landscape architecture, in stepping beyond the boundaries of the garden and the park into the landscape, has to work with smart transformation of what is there, rather than with pure creation. This is complicated by the growth of the plan area and responsibilities to communities rather than single owners. Transformation thus makes sense in terms of economy of effort, ecological continuity and cultural continuity. This practice is illustrated by Latz und partners’ Landschaftspark Duisburg Nord. Here things that ordinarily would be considered ugly are transformed into beautiful things, but not in a pretty, pretty scenic landscape sense of clean, slick and shiny designed beauty, but rather something interesting and rooted in the place.

The conclusion must be that in our appreciation of designed landscapes, we have an obligation to evaluate them, taking into account the preceding landscape as well as the smartness of the transformation both in terms of plan and execution.

Rudi van Etteger, Wageningen University, NL

Harvard Citation Guide: van Etteger, R. (2012) The Appreciation of Intentionally Aesthetic, Designed Landscapes, International Society for the Philosophy of Architecture, [blog] 20 May 2012, Available at: [Accessed: 01 June 2012].

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