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Landscape Design & Language of Nature
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  Landscape Design and the Language of Nature STEPHEN PERRY, ROB REEVES AND JE NNIE SIM Recognition that we need to live in a more ecologically sustainable way and that the physical forms of designed landscapes are an expression of the social values and cultural drivers of the time has underpinned the call by some landscape design professionals for a new design aesthetic -one that reflects modern ecological concerns. However, for an ecological aesthetic to be accepted, it must be capable of generating landscape forms that are pleasurable to the general public, as t is the general public who will be responsible for delivering ecological sustainability in the long term. The growth in understanding of the mathematical properties of natural systems and processes has led some authors to suggest that fractal geometry, called the language of nature, could playa role in developing such an aesthetic. This is supported by recent research that suggests human perceptual systems have evolved to process fractal patterning and that we have a visual preference for images with certain fractal qualities. However, how fractal geometry can be used, and what form an aesthetic based on this geometry might take, remains elusive and undefined. To develop an aesthetic based on fractal geometry it is necessary to understand why fractal geometry should be considered as a potential tool and whether the application of fractal analysis can differentiate between the types oflandscape forms encountered every day INTRODUCTION ecognition that western attitudes towards the non-human environment were cause for concern was articulated in Aldo Leopold s powerful and beautiful book A Sand Country Almanac, first published in 1949 (Leopold, 1989), and in his call for a land ethic. Lynn White (White, 1967) mirrored Leopold s concerns that Judeo-Christian attitudes towards the environment were the root cause of its damage. However, our current conceptions of ecological sustainability primarily emerged from the environmental philosophies of the 1960s and 1970s based on popular books such as Silent Spring by Rachel Carson (Carson, 1962), and GAIA: A New Look at Life on Earth by James Lovelock (Lovelock, 1979). Similarly, in terms of landscape design, the powerful influence ofIan McHarg s seminal work Design with Nature (McHarg, 1969) still resonates within landscape design today. Around the same period, discourse within the art and design professions on the aesthetics of nature, ecology and the environment began to grow, from Smith s concept of the aesthetosphere (Smith, 1970; Smith, 1973; Bartuska and Young, 1975) to Nassauer s idea of wrapping messy ecosystems within orderly frames (Nassauer, 2002).1 LANDSCAPE REVIEW 12(2) PAGES 3-18 This article is based on Stephen Perry s PhD research. Dr Rob Reeves amd Dr feannie Sim supervised the research. Stephen Perry is a landscape architect based in Queensland, Australia. 6 Eagle Beach Parade, Dundowran Beach, Queensland 4655 Tel: 61-7-4128-8333 Email: spld@bigpond.com Website: http://www.spld.com.au Dr Rob Reeves is a lecturer in statistics School of Mathematical Sciences, Queensland University of Technology Brisbane, Queensland 4001 Tel: 61-7-3138-2827 Email: r.reeves@qut.edu.au Dr feannie Sim is a senior lecturer in landscape architecture School of Design, Queensland University of Technology Brisbane, Queensland 4001 Tel: 61-3138-1577 Email: j.sim@qut.edu.au KEY WORDS Landscape Design Fractal Geometry Landscape Aesthetics RESEARCH 3  4 The power of aesthetics to influence how we perceive the world around us has been recognised both by designers and psychologists (Nassauer, 2002; Richards, 2001; T uan, 1974). Similarly, over the last few years, an awareness of the importance of aesthetics to ecologically sustainable designed landscapes has been growing. This has been reflected in the call by some landscape design academics and practitioners for a move towards a new design aesthetic for our ecological age (Howett, 1987; Bull, 1996; Koh, 1988; Nassauer, 2002; Spirn, 1988). NATURE, AESTHETICS AND LANDSCAPE DESIGN Aesthetics is not about superficial embellishment, but is a very powerful way of knowing and can have a profound effect on our relationship to the non-human environment (Nassauer, 2002; Richards, 2001; Carlson, 2001; Leopold, 1989). Therefore, it is important to understand the roots of these ideas, especially as they relate to nature and western landscape design traditions. Susan Feagin (Feagin, 1999) has defined aesthetics as the branch of philosophy that examines the nature of art and the character of our experience of art and of the natural environment. Art, aesthetics and beauty are concepts that have been the subject of philosophical discourse since Plato (427-347 BCE) and Aristotle (384-322 BCE) and quite probably before that. Our current conceptions of these terms are thought to stem from the ideas developed during the eighteenth century by philosophers such as Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), whose third Critique the Critique of Judgement was the first philosophical system to include aesthetic theory and is still considered important and influential today (Crawford, 2001). However, it was a little-known German philosopher, Alexander Baumgarten (1714-1762), who introduced the term aesthetics in the eighteenth century, to describe the study of what he termed sensory cognition (Goldman, 2001; Seeley, 2005), or how sensory information is turned into a conscious experience linked to the generation of emotion. Baumgarten considered aesthetics, as a way of knowing -very different from the knowledge gained from the study of abstract ideas and the rational logic that was derived from the early Greek philosophers. Baumgarten was also responsible for trying to define the aesthetic concepts of the sublime and beauty . He related the sublime to the physical sensations of pain and the emotions of fear and awe that can be felt when confronted by large-scale landscape forms that exhibit the immense physical power of natural systems -forms such as volcanoes, rugged mountains, canyons and ancient forests. These sublime forms possessed properties that were considered to be dark and brooding and exhibited dramatic changes in structural quality. He related the concept of beauty to pleasure and to smaller-scale landscape forms that displayed a sense of lightness, both in the quality of light and in their sense of mass. Beauty, then, was linked to forms that displayed softness, structural smoothness and where lines were sinuous rather than straight and rigid. t was Uvedale Price 1747 -1829) in An Essay on the Picturesque who defined the enduring concept of a picturesque landscape as a third aesthetic sitting midway LANDSCAPE REVIEW 12(2)  between that of the sublime and the beautiful (Hunt and Willis, 1988). The picturesque aesthetic -derived from the artistic compositions of landscape paintings by artists such as Claude Lorrain (1600-1682), Nicholas Poussin (1573-1665), and Salvator Rosa (1615-1673) - took advantage of the visual beauty of the natural environment when coupled with the emotive power of ancient ruined buildings. This combination was considered a powerful design form expressive of the landscape owner s social standing, knowledge and cultural sensitivities. t went beyond Baumgarten s initial definition to include far more knowledge and understanding of the information content in the landscape. However, the concept of the picturesque gradually evolved to include any landscape where attention could be given to its scenic and picture-like qualities, based on a detailed foreground, a middle ground and an indistinct background. As art, in its own right, grew to become more influential during the later part of the nineteenth century and the early twentieth century, the perceived aesthetic value of nature and the landscape diminished. At this point the philosophy of aesthetics and the philosophy of art merged. Carlson points out that this position continued until around 1966, with the publication of a paper entitled Contemporary Aesthetics and the Neglect of Natural Beauty by Hepburn (Carlson, 2001, p 426). Since then there have been a number of approaches to understanding environmental aesthetics, ranging from the sociobiological approaches of Appleton and Bourassa (Appleton, 1996; Bourassa, 1991), to the environmental psychological approaches of Kaplan and Kaplan (Kaplan and Kaplan, 1989). More recently, Carlson has argued, on the basis of Hepburn s deductions, that the aesthetic appreciation of nature will range from the trivial to the serious. The trivial aesthetic response is based on the formalistic 2 qualities of an environment and its emotional impact, while the serious response requires a cognitive and much deeper knowledge and understanding of the underlying properties and workings of the natural world or the environment under consideration. However our current concepts of the natural world are derived from many sources and are therefore layered with multiple meanings. Thayer identified the core problem: today s complex, multi:-valent mental image of the natural world has thus far outstripped the semiotic limits of typical landscape architecture to describe it (Thayer, 1989, p 104). Phillips supports Thayer by asking the question: Does sustainability have a visual validity that can be expressed as an aesthetic? (Phillips, 2003, p 174 . In other words, what does an ecologically sustainable environment look like? The form of ecologically healthy landscapes can range from the relatively homogeneous, with few distinguishing features, to landscapes of incredible complexity. Nassauer s concept of care within modern western culture has highlighted the problem that many of these landscapes would not be considered aesthetically pleasing (Nassauer, 2002). Another problem is that the majority of the natural processes that are responsible for creating these healthy landscapes are normally hidden from human perception and cognition. Thayer makes it clear that design principles traditionally used to create form - such as contrast, emphasis, STEPHEN PERRY, ROB REEVES AND JEANNIE SIM  6 balance, unity, movement and rhythm - cannot be easily adapted to designs that signify ecological health. Jusack Koh examined this problem and proposed three new principles based on the traditional design principles of unity, balance and contrast, but incorporating a more holistic approach to the design of human-environment systems (Koh, 1988). However, Koh also recognises that: An ecological theory of environmental design must be based on ordering principles in nature and on human perception and cognition (Koh, 1988, p 180). Treib supports this when he states that it is the form and space of an environment that triggers our perceptions and that sensory perception, coupled with cognition, is the primary vehicle for understanding (Treib, 2002). FRACTAL GEOMETRY -THE LANGUAGE OF NATURE The complexity of aesthetic theory and its associated philosophy makes it clear why a practical realisation of an ecological aesthetic has shown itself to be elusive. To address this, some authors have suggested various theoretical frameworks for the development of an ecological aesthetic. 3 Within these frameworks there is a related underlying theme - the potential for the patterns and processes of natural systems to form the basis for a new aesthetic for landscape design. Natural forms, s inspiration for design, are evident in art, architecture and landscape throughout history. However, until recently, it was not understood that many natural forms and processes possess a common ordering characteristic -a characteristic described by the mathematics of fractal geometry (Gisiger, 2001; Mandelbrot, 1977). Although Baird (2002), and Spirn (1988), have suggested that fractal geometry could form the basis of a new aesthetic, no indication is given about how this might occur. Thayer identified this problem and implied that a new visual and spatial language needs to be developed for landscape design to be able to articulate the complexity of nature (Thayer, 1989). Benoit Mandelbrot was the first to articulate and name the reality of fractal geometry (Mandelbrot, 1977), although many people had studied mathematical precursors to this through their work in the field of Chaos Theory (Gleick, 1998). What is now understood is that many natural systems, entities and processes have an underlying order that displays a property known s scale in variance or self-similarity. In its simplest terms, scale invariance can be identified where features within a pattern are repeated across different scales of magnification. The mathematical Cantor set, an abstract construction created by the nineteenth century mathematician Georg Cantor, that is shown in Figure 1 on the next page, demonstrates this concept. The Cantor set is created by repeatedly deleting the middle third of a set of line segments. Here, the dashed borderline in the figure indicates the next level of magnification. t can be seen that s you zoom into the pattern, the features are reproduced exactly. f expanded to the same size, they would be geometrically identical. LANDSCAPE REVIEW 12(2)   igure 1: The antor Set These scale invariant patterns can be generated in various ways either by nature Mandelbrot, 1977; Briggs, 1992; Gleick, 1998; Jurgens, et aI 1990; Pentland, 1984; Ruderman and Bialek, 1994; Spehar, et aI 2003; Li 2000), or through mathematical processes Mandelbrot, 1977; Briggs, 1992; Gleick, 1998), or by human endeavour Benguigui, 2000; Bovill, 1996; Briggs, 2005; Crompton, 2001; Lorenz, 2003; Ostwald, 2001; Taylor, et aI 1999). Mathematical fractals can be considered as ideal fractals in that they exhibit scale invariance at all scales. This means that as you magnify a mathematical fractal it will still exhibit a degree of similarity, no matter what the scale of magnification. Human-produced fractals can be either statistically self-similar such as those produced by Jackson Pollock in his drip paintings Taylor, et aI 1999», or involve the repartition of a single form at different scales as in some architectural forms Ostwald, 2001) and art forms Briggs, 2005». Natural fractals however, typically exhibit scale invariance over a limited range of scales. 4 They are classified as having statistical self-similarity, which means that the patterns will not be geometrically identical, but statistically similar. This property can be seen when looking at cloud formations, the flames in a fire and the structure of plants. The patterns always seem similar, but always slightly different. f these entities are examined over a defined range of scales, the same fundamental patterns are encountered. The scale invariance of a fractal pattern is described by a characteristic number known as the fractal dimension D , which quantifies the visual complexity of a pattern by measuring the ratio of the number of features at one scale to the number of features at another. Unlike the three integer dimensions normally represented by Euclidean geometry,5 the fractal dimension can be considered as a measure of the extent to which a structure exceeds its base dimension to fill the next dimension Hagerhall, et aI 2004). Thus, for a fractal line, D will have a value greater than one and less than two. Similarly, for a fractal surface, D will have a value between two and three. The statistical self-similarity of natural patterns can be identified in the four photographs shown in Figure 2. These are photographs of a section of Eucalyptus tessellaris bark, where the pale section in the centre of each image represents the area of the following image as the camera zooms in. These images display a natural fractal patterning produced by processes that act over space and time. This STEPHEN PERRY, ROB REEVES AND JEANNIE SIM 7
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