When we start enjoying the outdoors, our senses spring alive. And they do so sequentially. At first, from a distance, it’s seeing: we espy the roses and, as we approach, we appreciate the beauty of their blooms. Closer on, we hear the breeze whistling through the bushes’ compound leaves. Closing in, we not only have the time but the nose—even the need—to smell the roses. Finally up close our touch and taste engage. Touching reveals the coolness and the velvety smoothness and gentle rounding of the petals. Tasting comes selectively after we get close enough to touch the rose.
In this constantly repeated sequence, our favorite outdoor places for strolling or staying meet our functional needs while engaging all our senses—from the sight of purple mountains majesty and soothing sounds to soft surfaces, aromatic fragrances and the flavor of a freshly picked apple—favorably and sequentially.
Walking and watching, we experience life cinematically
“ Locomotion, either in achievement or in imagination, is an essential ingredient of participation in the experience of landscape.”
— Jay Appleton, The Experience of Landscape.
Standing conveys a view; movement conveys space. Paths, as conveyors of movement, create a cinematic experience of space.
Walkers’ cinematic experience is varied. It includes the form of the path itself—its size, scale, and curves, their rhythm and coordination in three dimensions. It also involves the way the path settles aesthetically into the sculpture of the landscape—sliding up and over hills, crossing rivers, piercing cliffs.
The visual cavalcade approaches and passes features to the left and right and confronts events—a gateway, a window through a tall border, a cross path. The walking experience relates a tree to a building, a rock to a garden—which will be first, which closer, which seen straight-on—as determined by the path. In other words, walk paths order the landscape for the walker.
Since arranging relationships among outdoor things is what paths do and since arranging relationships among outdoor things constitutes the essence of landscape design, path design is at the heart of landscape design.
Viewsheds are isovists
The extent of a walker’s views from any point creates a map of its viewshed, and that map is sometimes called an isovist. One way to understand a walker’s ever shifting encounter with surroundings is to see it as a sequence of isovists along the path taken. The limits of a path’s isovists are its visual borders revealing a vista here, a keyhole view there, and enclosed views along a short stretch. Direction and extent of views are important for understanding reactions to paths, as we saw when considering people’s sense of safety while walking.
In the early 1960s, Donald Appleyard, Kevin Lynch, and John Myer undertook to develop CADD’s predecessor—a two-dimensional graphic language for expressing the landscape around an observer in motion. They used motorists as the observers in motion and published their results as The View from the Road.
They worked in plan and elevation to include the dynamic elements of the changing viewpoint; the changing of edges, shapes, and views outward; the variable rhythm of passing objects and variable enclosures, their sequences, and the way objects approach and grow to become landmarks, then fall back into parts of ensembles or to invisibility.
Later in The Experience of Landscape, Jay Appleton overlaid on their notations an additional interpretation of landscape features as potential refuges and prospects. These kinds of 2-D notations are still useful despite today’s advanced 3-D virtual reality technology because those notations allow us to isolate and examine factors that affect our reactions to paths and landscapes separate from the whole undifferentiated experience.
Still, the depth and visual fluidity of a 3-D movie better expresses the walker’s world than any catalog of its parts so virtual reality laboratories have their place in research, too. Visualization labs combined with object-based computer-aided design (CADD) programs can approximate the ideal of seeing a fully dimensioned landscape while designing in it. As a result, virtual worlds are being used to test hypotheses about pedestrian movement in research settings that are easier to construct and monitor than the real world, thus making their contribution to more science-based design.