Landscape Architecture Program


The Concept of Scale in Visual Landscape Assessment

Document Type Article


Twenty-one studies from 1968 to 2006 dealing with the visual assessment of landscapes were reviewed and compared using three aspects of scale -- dimensions, kinds, and components listed by Wu and Li (2006). The review objectives were to: 1) describe the concepts of scale in visual landscapes; 2) use scale to examine a link between physical landscape and human responses, 3) recommend practices to better integrate scale in visual landscape theory and assessments. The review recommends that 1) visual landscape studies must be explicit about absolute and relative scale, 2) grain and extent become visible and visual properties of the landscape, 3) grain in visual landscape studies must focus on space not mass, 4) the observer determines what boundaries are important, 5) human visual perception is hierarchical and multi-scalar, 6) visual studies should eschew the substitution of distance solely for extent, 7) scale be determined by an interacting hierarchy of grain and extent, 8) correlating visual and physical metrics or indices means correlating two different logical types and is problematic, 9) landscape configuration and landscape content be treated as complementarities. Visual landscape studies are both ecological and psychological, because humans are embedded in and respond to landscape structure, function, and change.