Landscape Event: Report by Tim Renders

What is a landscape? For our second event we chose three guest speakers to deal with this broad topic. But first we acknowledged that the landscape is a natural phenomenon but heavily influenced by culture and thus mankind. So how do we deal with landscapes and how do we make sure that the balance between nature and culture, if there ever was one, remains?


Philosopher Maarten Doorman from the University of Amsterdam discussed the relationship between humans and landscapes from a romantic perspective. He argued that the semantics of nature have changed during the Romantic period and that this new perception of the landscape has persisted ever since. The semantics changed from nature relating to essence, Physics and being the opposite of the divine towards nature in the sense of being opposed to culture, spiritual, organic and holistic. As a result of this we can no longer see mankind as separate from nature. This transformation of the semantics of nature can be seen in Romantic poetry and landscape paintings, where the landscape no longer represents the trees behind the house but starts to represent more than just physical nature, the sublime.

Dr. Bas Pedroli from Wageningen University offered a different perspective on landscape. As a specialist on land usage, he raised the question whether landscapes serve as a gadget for the privileged or rather as an unsustainable mismatch between effective usage of land and the landscape we wish for our surroundings. He argued that people often prefer a certain landscape for its beautiful view or for recreational purposes while this might not be a sustainable solution. Maintaining an agricultural landscape is not viable when it is no longer being used as such. By making people more aware of the costs of certain preferred landscapes and by acting up to what is necessary we could make a change from consuming the landscapes that we prefer to producing in such a way that these landscapes become more sustainable.

Professor Gert-Jan Burgers from the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam offered the last perspective on landscape of the event. With his background in Heritage studies he gave three different insights on the integration of historical landscapes in the living environment. The first option he offered is by means of a landscape biography; how the landscape influences peoples lives and vice versa. A certain historical landscape like the Forum Romanum can for instance be interpreted differently during different time periods. It could be considered a perfect ruin during the Romantic period but also serve certain politics during the fascist period. Landscape heritage can however differ from civil heritage, which may be on a much smaller scale. Therefore it is interesting to let inhabitants write their landscape biography and to integrate this in the decisions up hand. Another approach to integrating historical landscapes into the living environment would be through citizen co-creation. For this approach considers the living environment as an eco-museum in which the inhabitants actively participate and engage with the historical heritage. And finally there is also the Spatial Digital Tooling approach, which requires digital mapping of the environment filled with digital data. Through workshops that bring together professionals and locals new plans can be made for a sustainable living environment that includes the historical landscape.

The event was a success and not only because of the three guest speakers and their very informative lectures but also because of the interaction with the audience. The input from visitors with different academic backgrounds ensured a lively discussion after every lecture. We hope to see you (again) next time!

Tim Renders is board member of the Environmental Humanities Center and first-year Research Master student in Visual Arts, Media and Architecture at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. He graduated from his Bachelor Media, Art, Design and Architecture last year and wrote his thesis on artworks that relate to environmental issues and sustainability. He is especially interested in the relationship between art, sustainability and environmental activism.

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