We are living in intellectually troubled times for landscape architecture. Part of the reason for the awkwardness in the present debate is not only due to imminent environmental degradation, but also to the rapid degeneration of our own symbolic understanding of nature. We are the receptacles of models of thinking inherited from our forefathers, and when it comes to nature, these models seriously hamper our actual perception of things. What we find out there has little to do with much of the idealized landscape preconceptions we carry. Older landscape models work effectively, only as ideals, with a deeply warped reception and conception of nature, which in turn, has measurable repercussions on the way we act upon the world. It is my belief that we should start to investigate possible options for a renewed relationship with nature that could also foster a new kind of landscape architecture, defending stronger cultural values of beauty and harmony.
Landscape comes into English language geography primarily from the German landschaft. Much has been written about the fact that the German word means area, without any particularly aesthetic or artistic, or even visual connotations.
The word landscape finds its roots in the Old Dutch word landskip, which designates a stretch of cultivated land. The word paysage in French stems from the Latin word pagus, which simply means an extent of land made by the peasant. In other words, landscape is the belabored making of the peasant, and has nothing to do with the ideal of untouched wilderness.
Christophe Girot, Immanent Landscape (2012)
Historically, landscape has had a range of meanings, some quite unrelated to art. One such meaning applies to civic classification of territory. It has been argued that the German Landshaft or Lantshaft was not originally a view of nature but rather a geographic ares defined by political boundaries. In the late fifteenth century, the land around a town was referred to as its landscape, a meaning that still survives in some places, as in the Swiss canton of Basel Landschaft.
This distinction can be traced back to the Old English term landskip, which at first refered not to land but to a picture of it, as in the later, selectively framed representations of seventeent-century Dutch landschap paintings. Soon after the appearance of this genre of painting the scenic concept was applied to the land itself in the form of large-scale rural vistas, designed estates, and ornamental garden art. Indeed, the development of landscape architecture as a modern profession derives, in large measure, from an impulse to reshape large areas of land according to prior imagining.
Landscape is a familiar term that is rich and evocative, but also complex and at times confusing.