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Landscape Character Assessment for Heritage Management

In 200 words or less describe why landscape characterisation has over the past decade provided a significant new dimension to heritage management practice
Landscape Characterisation has been described by English Heritage as ‘a powerful tool that provides a framework for broadening our understanding of the whole landscape and contributes to decisions affecting tomorrow’s landscape.’[1] Landscape characterisation enables archaeologists, landscape specialists, and conservationists to work together to manage change within landscapes, using a common source that compiles often disparate research into the character of landscapes into a unified and accessible ‘map’ of the area. For heritage management this development is particularly useful because it allows for a more comprehensive study of the area under management – such as the identifying, mapping and assessing of habitats. This allows for more careful consideration of development planning – especially in semi-rural areas where land is sought for residential use. To better understand the character of a landscape is to learn how to best protect it – and this offers the potential for a better ‘case’ for preserving important and/ or historic features of landscapes. The process is unique as it helps to facilitate the compilation of data from a great variety of specific historical, archaeological, and paleontological sites onto internationally accessible databases – this information is then used to help professionals manage change within landscapes on a national scale. This information can be put to good use in heritage management, particularly in terms of resources for education and visitor information. Landscape characterisation also helps the cohesion and implementation of management action plans and facilitates the strategic conservation of heritage. It does this by providing a historical context for already existing descriptions and research on landscapes, thus developing the understanding of how to manage landscapes – especially on a local and regional level. Issues that interact through the process of landscape characterisation include local development and its control, environmental issues, and government proposals. Its use has also widened the scope for heritage management practice as it provides valuable data for existing heritage programmes and assists in future proposals involving historic field systems.
Using at least three examples describe the benefits and uses of characterisation for managing landscape change. Your examples can be either urban (eg. from the EUS and UAD programmes), rural (eg. HLC) or thematic, or a combination.
Historic Landscape Characterization was first developed in Cornwall in 1994 and now runs as a well-established and major programme that has redefined work with spatial historic analyses (Clark et al, 2004). It has altered perceptions of how the historic environment should be managed and encourages professionals to take into consideration the greater historical timeframe of the landscape where development has been slow, rather than more recent changes which have tended to be more rapid and unsustainable. The approach does not attempt to set precedents – rather it aims to open up discussion of land-use and make accessible information that could influence contemporary decisions. The rural impact of landscape characterization work has much to do with methods of maintaining, conserving, and managing heritage – both geological, archaeological, and architectural heritage. As expressed by Clark et al in their publication for English Heritage:
“The drawing of ‘red lines’ around parts of the historic landscape was seen to risk devaluing the areas outside of the line; most importantly, it was not clear what would be achieved other than a flagging up of interest, an objective that can be reached more directly and clearly by other methods.”[2]
In both Hampshire and Lancashire the programme is reshaping the approach towards heritage management by producing interactive GIS-based descriptions of the ‘historic dimension – the ‘time-depth’ – that characterises [the] rural landscape.’[3] It benefits from being approved by and working in accordance with the European Landscape Convention; this shows that the approach is not only applicable to projects outside the UK but has been welcomed by foreign professionals and its value recognised. As much as the UK, Europe is experiencing the squeeze of development, especially in its rural areas, and HLC is useful as it specifically focuses on how to protect and manage these changing rural landscapes. It distinguishes itself from other methods as it has been identified as being more direct and clear than other methods.[4] Perhaps one of the greatest potential selling points of the programme is that it addresses a loophole in the system, whereby common rural land can become overlooked – falling in a ‘gap’ between the safety of having visible buildings of obvious archaeological importance and being of special scientific importance or exceptional natural beauty. In many cases the historical importance gets overlooked. English Heritage prides itself on the useful amalgamation of ‘Historic Landscape Characterisation (HLC), run in partnership with County Council Sites and Monuments Records.’[5]
Landscape characterisation is developing into one of the most useful and valuable resources in a society that promotes development and change, and which does so in response to the increasing demands being placed upon Britain’s landscape by the country’s economy and burgeoning population. As noted by Ucko and Layton[6] landscape character research is primarily driven by research objectives that require more in depth and comprehensive information about the landscape. For example, English Heritage need conservation-oriented information, while the planning system needs guidance, and land management decisions can rely upon the mapping of information to create landscapes of the future. A good example of how HLC is being used in the rural landscape can be seen in Suffolk, where a local Heritage Initiative has been overseeing a survey of the landscape that incorporates landscape mapping and photography. The objective of the initiative is to follow up a similar survey that was conducted in 1999, and involves a partnership between the Women’s Institute federations of East and West Suffolk, the local planning authorities in Suffolk and the Suffolk Coasts and Heaths Project Partnership.[7] This is a good example of what the process of landscape characterisation can bring to a community; it can promote the integration of otherwise separate governing bodies and social groups, and thus facilitates a more comprehensive understanding of the area. Different local Women’s Institute groups throughout Suffolk (about 75% of the total) surveyed the landscape and received training through events, a handbook, a leaflet and a video. The results of the study have been used to identify, rate, and type sources changes in the landscape between 1999 and 2004. The results were said to be assessed and analysed to ‘test the effectiveness of planning policies in protecting and enhancing landscape character.’[8] To aid community cohesion and promote the findings an exhibition of the WI groups’ findings was created, as well as local exhibitions within each community that took part. At Creswell Crags near the Peak District a Management Action Plan has made use of landscape characterisation work within an ecological potentiality study that:
Identifies, maps and assesses the management of existing areas of high quality habitat characteristic of the Heritage Area
Identifies, maps and assesses the potential for linking and extending these areas of high quality habitat
Identifies landscape characterisation work and its relationship to identification of potential for wildlife corridor links or extensions to major biodiversity nodes.[9]
Again, this example shows the potential for working on an interdisciplinary basis where landscape character can help professionals from different academic backgrounds to work together in better understanding of the forces which shape and change our historic landscapes. English Heritage has also been researching extensively into historic fields and settlements in their project titled ‘Turning the Plough’ that culminated in a publication documenting the dramatic loss of mediaeval fields systems in the east Midlands. Using landscape character research the project results established that ‘the loss of these ridge and furrow landscapes is extreme’[10] and that English Heritage, DEFRA and other agencies have the ’urgent’ task of sustaining a future for what remains. These examples qualify the study of landscape character as a crucial development in the archaeology profession – but also one that links archaeology to a number of other important areas, such as planning, community work, heritage management, and geology. It is important to recognise that landscape change occurs as a result of many different influences – that the activities of mankind within the landscape reflect, embody, and destroy formations which owe their existence to much older geological processes. It is our choice whether we choose to preserve the record of human endeavour – as shown by the mediaeval field system project ‘Turning the Plough’ – and the extent to which we maintain and preserve the heritage of rural landscapes depends on the availability of funds, resources, and the efforts of professionals. Perhaps of more apparent concern is whether we do actually have a choice, or whether landscape change is accelerating beyond our control. These are some of the issues that projects involving landscape characterisation seek to address.
Bibliography Clark, J, Darlington, J, and Fairclough, G, ‘Using Historic Land Characterization.’ (2002), English Heritage [online]. Available from:
Countryside Agency, 2006 [online]. Available from: [Accessed 24/08/08]
English Heritage, ‘Landscape Character.’ [online]. Available from: [Accessed 23/08/08]
English Heritage. ‘Cresswell Crags Limestone Heritage Area’ [online]. Available from: [Accessed 24/08/08]
Hall, D. (2001), Turning the Plough. Northamptonshire County Council [online]. Available from: Full version available from: [Accessed 24/08/08]
Ucko, P.J, and Layton, R. (1999) The Archaeology and Anthropology of Landscape: Shaping Your Landscape. London: Routledge 1
[1] English Heritage, ‘Landscape Character.’ [online]. Available from:[Accessed 23/08/08]
[2] Clark, J, Darlington, J, and Fairclough, G, ‘Using Historic Land Characterization.’ (2002), English Heritage, p.4.
[3] English Heritage [online]:
[4] Clark et al, 2002: 2.
[5] English Heritage [online]:
[6] Ucko, P.J, and Layton, R. (1999) The Archaeology and Anthropology of Landscape: Shaping Your Landscape. London: Routledge.
[7] Countryside Agency, 2006 [online]. Available from:[Accessed 24/08/08]
[8] Ibid.
[9] ‘Cresswell Crags Limestone Heritage Area’ [online]. Available from:[Accessed 24/08/08]
[10] Hall, D. (2001), Turning the Plough. Northamptonshire County Council [online]. Available from: Full version available from: [Accessed 24/08/08]

Sustainable Architecture and Design

Sustainable, eco-friendly architecture can often be seen as the radical hippy of neo-liberal architectural discourse, with its practical application in the 21st century limited and problematic. Is there space for the synergy of idea in this regard, producing usable and practical or whimsical and gracious buildings that also adhere to the classical ideas of beauty and proportion?
Sustainable[1] and eco-friendly architectures[2] were the subject of much left of centre discourse throughout the 1960’s and 1970’s against the backdrop of late Modernism and the initiation of constructed, clean post–Modernity. They were in opposition to the shock of the ‘new’ the marvels of concrete and structural steel and the innovations that supported closed environments such as elevators and air-conditioning. The seemingly ‘hippy’ applications of buildings that suited the environment, responded to them, and trod lightly in their space appeared irreconcilable in the context of the masculine, rational and spare elements of Modernity. The fear that beauty[3] could not exist in a mixed relationship, that a building could be both environmentally friendly and be visually appealing was not always an option in the hegemony of late modernism. However, this paper discusses the synergies that arose from these apparently oppositional ideas.
The modernist era of tower blocks and buildings that fitted in with the ‘form follows function’ premise, ignored the possibilities of working with the environment and also being informed by it. The post-War building boom was expeditious, masculine and prolific, with the modular systems of the International Style informing all of the above. The shock of the new, invention and innovation left little space for the architectures engaging with the environment or the vernacular textures. Issues of sustainability were very much part of a neo-liberal brief, and disregarded by the world order of the time who had not yet woken up to the issues regarding the depleted ozone layer and greenhouse gas emissions.
However, occasionally, there was minor dissent, particularly in the British colonies, where the imposed architecture of the colonist had been, to some extent environmentally adapted by the settlers using vernacular materials and adapting some elements of the indigenous building systems that they found there. Throughout this, though, the prevailing post-War building idiom of the mother country was largely retained, adaptability being one of the successes of Modernism.
Those careful and socially conscious architects that contested the climatically and culturally inappropriate imposition of modernism strove to combine old and new materials and old and new technologies to create regionally appropriate buildings that were a vernacular in their own right and yet a new architecture that combined all the radical notions popular in the hippy culture of the late 1960’s.
Norman Eaton, a South African, was cognizant of environment and reduction of the air-conditioning loads when he designed his Netherlands Bank Building (1965) in Durban, South Africa, a five level building where the building stands on a white marble podium and forms a pavilion in the centre of the high-rise urban fabric. The external curtain wall is replaced by a brise-soliel of green ceramic hollow clay blocks forming a massive sunscreen and significantly reducing the air conditioning loads in a hot, humid climate.
‘The unbroken expanses of ceramic screening were the result of Eaton’s approach to the challenge of Durban’s heat and were not employed for aesthetic effect alone. The open and yet cool aspect of the interior and the considerably reduced load on the building’s air conditioning system testify to the screens functional success. Behind the screen and invisible from the outside a second curtain wall, this time of glass, also covers the building, so that all internal levels are well lit but at the same time well protected against the glare and heat of direct sunlight.’ (Haropp-Allin; 1975: 107)
Visually, although the building is a regionalist adaptation of what was a prevailing modernist format, the building and its incorporated garden spaces provides cool relief and a refuge in a hard edged landscape.[4]
Almost two decades later, the Australian John Andrews in his Eugowra Farmhouse, New South Wales, (1979) maximized the orientation of the building such that he combined the use of prevailing winds for cooling in the Australian outback together with a central fireplace for heating. A prominent rainwater tower in the centre of the roof is both a strong vertical element, creating ‘architecture’ and at the same time harvesting water which is a critical necessity in the arid environment. This element is also able to spray water onto the roof for cooling in extreme weather. This was all combined using modern materials in a vernacular idiom combined with a classical symmetry, producing a gracious neo-outback veranda house.
With these examples quoted above, a strong sense of regionalism is implicit in the sustainability and the environmental generators that form the ‘natural’ brief. For a building to be modern, beautiful and environmentally sustainable, it follows that the structure should be in a regionalist ‘idiom’ using modern materials housing modern facilities, with the incorporation of some of the vernacular, as the meaning of the site and the climate is by definition a regionalist issue.
It was not only in the antipodean regions that this critical discourse was occurring. From the beginning of the 1960s, a number of papers and publications supporting the architecture of the vernacular and its many manifestations, connecting this to environment, culture and landscape, spawned the radical publications such as ‘Shelter’ (1973) which explored the notions of building using traditional materials, textures and forms, and adding to this sustainable methods of drainage, rainwater capture, foundation formation and environmentally friendly methods of heating and cooling. This treatise however was aimed at people pursuing more of an alternative lifestyle, using the landscape and other culture’s building methods to house them in an ecologically sustainable fashion. More conventional publications such as the work of Fitch in 1960, and the works of Rudofsky (1965) and Rapaport (1969) explored the connections between climate, landscape and culture. They investigated the traditional means by which building were constructed to address all the social and climatic constraints that produce sustainable buildings that tread lightly on the landscape and do not need large amounts of extra resources such as heating, cooling, and electricity consumption. These publications were still way left of the conservative centre, and not embraced by the rapidly mechanized northern countries. Few architects in the formal sector were prepared to stick their necks out in this regard, leaving the alternative housing solutions to those that pursued alternative lifestyles. A marked example does, however, stand out- Paolo Solieri, a student of Frank Lloyd Wright conceived of his Arcosanti Project in 1970, where some 70 miles north of Phoenix, Arizona, a compact complex hoping to eventually house some 5000 people is designed in a way such that the outside arable land is maximized, the living areas are condensed providing ready access to open desert for all dwellers, and a number of large greenhouses provide food for the inhabitants. These structures also act as solar collectors for winter heat. Solieri’s aim was to design an urban environment that would function in a manner providing the maximum social, economic and health benefits, as well as treading lightly on the landscape on which it sits minimizing the effects on the earth. His principle of ‘arcology which married the ideas of ecology and architecture is described below.
In nature, as an organism evolves it increases in complexity and it also becomes a more compact or miniaturized system. Similarly a city should function as a living system. It must follow the same process of process of complexification and miniaturisation to become a more lively container for the social, cultural and spiritual evolution of humankind. The central concept around which these developments revolve is that of arcology- architecture and ecology as one integral process. Arcology is capable, at least theoretically, of demonstrating positive response to the many problems of urban civilization, population, pollution, energy and natural resource depletion, food scarcity and quality of life. Arcology is the methodology that recognizes the necessity of the radical reorganization of the sprawling urban landscape into dense, integrated, three- dimensional cities in order to support the complex activities that sustain human culture. The city is the necessary instrument for the evolution of humankind.” – Paolo Soleri (Arcosanti Workshops 2000 pamphlet)
The Cosanti-Arcosanti pamphlet notes that Newsweek commented that ‘As urban architecture, Arcosanti is probably the most important urban experiment undertaken in our lifetime’ (Cosanti-Arcosanti pamphlet; 2000) However, despite this accolade by the popular, ‘thinking’ press, the project, nearly four decades later, struggles along still in the construction process, and is more of a site for those people that pursue the alternative than people living mainstream, corporate lifestyles. As a site it is a museum, a school, a point of pilgrimage. For very few people, it is a lifestyle. Bringing these combined issues of ecological, social and economic sustainability, to the forefront, making them trendy and implicit, has been the largest challenge to the production of sustainable architectures. The realisation that the construction industry and the operation of the buildings that it makes, as Hyatt quotes (himself and) Edwards (Hyett in Abley