When most people think of landscape architecture, they think about gardens, perhaps even projects like Superkilen or the Highline. 

But landscape architecture is more. It is the shaping of our environment, and it’s something people have been doing ever since they settled down.

Not only do people influence the landscape, but the landscape influences people and how they think, feel and act. It. Hard defines landscape as the subjective perception of an area as an aesthetic whole. This article examines how landscape and society evolved together in Europe.


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Highline@A Comparison of the 3 Phases of the High Line Part 13 – Phase Three As-built – Greenroofs.com

From foragers to Growers

Early humans begin as foragers and runners.

Continental drift and climate changes led to large open grasslands. There, the precursors of humans found their ecological niche by learning to walk upright and thus have a good overview of these open landscapes. The landscape is open but structured with sunny and shady places and watering holes. The temperature is balanced.  

Once the Homo sapiens learned how to use tools, he became a hunter and gatherer. From this stage on he was able to spread out to unknown places. He followed herds of wild animals, such as reindeer, mammoths, and horses. As a nomad, he had a minimal impact on his environment. 

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open landscape@Savanne – Unser-Planet-Erde.de (unser-planet-erde.de)

Agriculture spread from Asia to Europe. Site-specific huts replaced the flexible Nomad tents. The settlement was accompanied by an increased influence on the landscape. This development was preceded by a biological evolution of millions of years, followed by a cultural evolution of several millennia. This evolution of physical and mental imprints influences our perception of the environment until today. 

Controlling the Nature

Human interaction with the landscape can be divided into four different basic principles: Group survival, resource use, stratagems and religion, and responding to bottlenecks. These lead to adaptation, modification, and recolonization of landscapes. Particularly good conditions for settling were found along large rivers. Food conditions were optimal here. Understanding the natural cycle and irrigation techniques promoted overproduction and required the development of government structures.

When landscapes adapted and changed in the past, it often led to cultural evolution. This is because it gave people more free time. This often led to the control and restructuring of society and land use. Social Hierarchies like the feudal system, a differentiation of land use by specifications for cultivation and commons are to be mentioned here. Besides, there was a specialization of crafts, warfare, and religions. 

For the first time, the city detaches itself from the countryside but remains connected to it. Before 3500 years the first large cities were formed, which built up as feudal systems on the agricultural production of constrained farmers. Divided, orthogonal, densely structured land plots face the open landscape and are separated by a city wall. Systematic planning, surveying, mapping, and naming of the space becomes necessary. 

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About the Greeks and the Romans

Around 1000 BC, the feudal system was replaced by early forms of democracy. This was triggered by natural disasters, Babar invasions, the development of maritime trade, the money economy, and the principle of colonization.

Thus, a growing urban community led to the founding of new cities. These were inserted into the landscape in a grid pattern and divided into functions. The agora was the cultural center of these cities. It is here that the public space that characterizes European cities emerges. The surrounding landscape is differentiated into the inhabited land with fields etc. and the wilderness.

Parallel to the Greek system, in the 7th century B.C., the republican state was established in Rome. This capital is the center from which large parts are conquered. In the conquered areas military camps are built according to a strict orthogonal grid with a central axial cross. This also extends into the countryside, where it is an extension of the urban axes. The military camps gave rise to many city foundations in northern Italy, southern France, and Tunisia.

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greek Pois and 5_ roman city@Folie 1 (weebly.com)
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greek Pois and 5_ roman city@Folie 1 (weebly.com)

Belief and power

However, some of the structures disintegrated and from the 12th century onwards many new towns were founded. These towns are located at castles or crossroads and rivers with good traffic connections. The center of these towns was a church and a town hall. The urban layout is crowded within the city walls. The land is characterized by a superposition of climate, soil, topography, and laws. This creates a patchy cultural landscape.

In many places, land use influences lead to overuse and degradation. Thus, nutrient-poor cultural biotopes are formed. These are characterized by a high diversity of species and continue to shape the landscape aesthetics of society today.

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midle ages@Almanach “sampt prognostico” – Johannes Kepler – Wiener Zeitung Online

Lines of sight and delimitation

During the Renaissance, a completely different understanding of the aesthetics of the landscape developed. It was idealized and became a scenery. This understanding was first lived out by rich churches- and businessmen, such as the Medici in Italy. Villas were built in harmony with gardens with symmetrical staircases, parterres, terraces, fountains, and vantage points that create different perspectives. 

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Villa Medici@Cafaggiolo utens – Villa Medici von Cafaggiolo – Wikipedia

This staging influences the Baroque. The city and the countryside are oriented towards the center of the dominion, the castle, according to the principle of the hunting star. The axes of the city streets, park paths, canals, and visual axes are extended into the cultural landscape. With the help of optical tricks, it looks as if they are rising into the sky. Versaille is considered the aesthetic model of the Baroque. 

On the other hand, cities are under constant military threat. They are transformed into fortresses, whose defensive installations took up more space than the city itself. That interrupted equally the spatial expansion by caesurae, such as walls, bastions, ramparts, and perimeter ditches.

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Versaille@Versailles | Histoire et analyse d’images et oeuvres (histoire-image.org)

The garden as a model

From the modern period onwards, near-natural habitats such as floodplains and moors were cultivated. Agriculture, forestry, and water management were rationalized and mechanized. The Garden art follows the natural images of the cultivated landscape. The English garden is a symbol of freedom and enlightenment. The fragmented areas of the agrarian landscape are to be upgraded and transformed into a great work of art. 

The garden was considered a model for landscape and urban expansion. Socially, the feudal structures of the nobility are restored and adapted to progress and the Enlightenment. Agrarian reforms such as the peasant liberation are to be mentioned here. 

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landscape aestetikUNESCO-Welterbe Gartenreich Dessau-Wörlitz (dessau-rosslau.de)

Give the people air, light, and sun

With the industrial revolution, a profound change of the cities occurred. The massive influx of people, poverty, and pollution made life in the cities unbearable. While the planning of cities and their surroundings was previously an aesthetic task, from now on it is taken over by engineers. The city is developed as a potentially endlessly growing system based on basic building blocks and structures such as blocks, streets… 

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industrialised city@Das virtuelle Geschichtsmuseum: Image (wordpress.com)

Criticism of the conditions in post-industrial cities gave rise to various utopian urban models, such as the Garden City, which continue to influence urban growth to this day.

After the 2nd World War, LeCorbusier published the Charter of Athens. This calls for the large cities to be reorganized into separate districts with individual functions. Thus, more light, air, and sun should flow in. These ideas were influenced by radical modernism and the belief in progress.

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Charta of Athens@Charta von Athen (jeder-qm-du.de)

In the course of the Enlightenment, the first beginnings of environmental awareness, natural romanticism, and criticism of civilization emerged. In this context, the above-mentioned cultural biotopes were often considered as nature worth protecting. During industrialization and the world wars, this attitude was largely lost, and the economic miracle in many Western countries also pushed the idea of sustainability into the background. This in turn led to some environmental and nature conservation movements, such as uprisings and political disputes. 

Today, the strategy is based on multifunctionality, combining several functions and services. A problem of the management is often that the impact is not immediate. Continuous change in the environment is not recognized and thus, is often taken for granted. 


Hansjörg Küster, Geschichte der Landschaft in Mitteleuropa: Von der Eiszeit bis zur Gegenwart 

Reichholf, Josef H.: Das Rätsel der Menschwerdung

Küster, Hansjörg: Geschichte der Landschaft in Mitteleuropa

Yuval Harari, Eine kurze Geschichte der Menschheit