Landscape Aesthetics: in relation to nature and culture, by Marie Ulber

While people nowadays mostly live in built environments we may ask ourselves: How do we perceive natural landscapes? The starting point of this discussion is that our environment and our way of life in the western world have changed rapidly over the last decades. First, our perception has become used to new sources of imagery such as television, internet and cameras, secondly our everyday mobility has increased very much, and thirdly, what we perceive also has changed through new ways of using, designing or building our environment. In this talk I discuss the potential of the concept of ‘atmospheres’, that originated with the German philosopher Gernot Böhme, to investigate various types of landscapes in relation to how we perceive and what we feel in these surroundings.

Böhme’s new aesthetics “is concerned with the relation between environmental qualities and human states. This ‘and’, this in‐between, by means of which environmental qualities and states are related, is atmosphere.” (Böhme 1993, p 114) The main idea of the new aesthetics is that everything, the built and the natural things, the objects and subjects, tune their environments and, in this way, create spatial moods called atmospheres that we can perceive as embodied feelings. This means that form and design of the environment affect us one way or another by impacting our emotional states.

Gernot Böhme argues that the “primary ‘object’ of perception is atmospheres” (Böhme 1993, p 125). For example, when we enter a room we feel the existing spatial mood, before we make out any details. The fact is, whether we become aware of the atmosphere or not, because we are concentrating on things and signs, it will influence our feelings. Here, I claim that our everyday life and environment shape our perception in particular ways, and that our surroundings have a deep impact on our capacity to feel and to be are aware of atmospheres.

While the concept of atmospheres has already been thought through in a variety of ways, especially how it has been brought into play in the theater and in shops, it has not been considered yet in relation to landscape aesthetics. Based on what we already know about atmospheres, I discuss the physical conditions involved in the experience of atmospheres in particular landscapes. Moreover, I will take into account the natural, anthropogenic and social foundations of atmospheres in the analysis of the relationship between different, humanly influenced landscapes and how we feel in these. I will also include the spatial orientations that characterise the surroundings, their particular moods, and the typical ways of moving within those spaces and the types of action that they facilitate for the perceiver.

My objective in applying the concept of atmospheres to landscape aesthetics is, among other things, to highlight the value of natural landscapes for us today and to show that such natural places deserve protection not just as animal or plant biospheres but also because of their significance for humans.

(Böhme 1993) Böhme Gernot: Atmosphere as the Fundamental Concept of a New Aesthetics, In: Thesis Eleven 36 p. 113‐126

Marie Ulber, University of Weimar, DE

Harvard Citation Guide: Ulber, M. (2012) Landscape Aesthetics: in relation to nature and culture, International Society for the Philosophy of Architecture, [blog] 20 May 2012, Available at: [Accessed: 01 June 2012].

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