Landscape and identity

The human being is, in general, an indifferent perceiver of the landscape. That is to say, an involuntary receptor of the multiple and varied stimuli coming from the place that inhabits.

However, it is precisely what penetrates the spirit without going through reason, touching the most sensitive fibers of the senses, which can achieve this apparently inexplicable link between the individual and his vital space; what we call identity. The identity of the natural landscape itself, lies in the coherence of its elements wisely interwoven by nature.


The identity of the cultural landscape is more com- plex, as it is constructed not only with the relation- ship of elements to each other, but primarily with the way in which the effects of human action overlap or intertwine with the original environment.

The concept of landscape is related to the social and cultural dynamics of the everyday environment, where the present moment is a complex mixture of natural, cultural and social relationships, influenced by the population explosion, urbanization without limits, the extinction of natural resources and the rise of a massive ecological consciousness. In this context of globalization and cultural homogeneity of the current world, the importance of the landscape (both natural and anthropogenic) must be highlighted as a fundamental part in the process of establishing a particular identity for each part of the world and the people who inhabit it.

To the extent of the subconscious valuation that it gives them, the human being establishes variable degrees of rapport with his natural and cultural environment; As a consequence, the identity with the landscape it inhabits will be close or not, will be lasting and firm or will be easily perishable.

Cenote Oxman
Fotografía: Andrea Schaffer, (CC BY 2.0) vía Flickr

In this time, where physical contacts are replaced by virtual contacts, communication tends to lose its original value, which is contact at a deep level with the other person(s) and with the world around them. In short, we live in an environment of mobility and dematerialization, where recovering and maintaining the identity and character of places is increasingly essential.

The identity of people is generated by the physical, climatic, ecological and geographical qualities of a given space that, through its natural or anthropogenic configuration, make the individual aware of the place where they live, giving them a sense of belonging. Currently, the notion of landscape has become ambiguous and complicated by the overlap between different structures, images and diverse features that are often opposed from the point of view of typology.

Hence, the resulting landscape is characterized by multiplicity, variety, and structural and spa- tial discontinuity. There is an urgent need for meaningful images, to achieve a spatial identity that can become representative of society. The existing landscape, sometimes intervened in an incoherent way and without planningor regulation, needs to recover its identity by reinventing itself.

Spatial integrity and coherence is an essential condition for building a local character and identity in the context of the present digital era, thus it is important to create a distinctive seal, a kind of “brand” or international concept that is recognizable for one’s own and strangers. This is where the concept of landscape emerges as the main protagonist, by offering significant elements that are and have been assimilated by the community, making individuals identify with them and that they are also recognized and distinguished from other places.

Campos de Agave
Fotografía: Mikhail – Pexels

The perpetual dialogue between the landscape and the being that inhabits it is reciprocal. It is in this discourse where identity is acquired and assimilated as part of the culture of each individual and of each community, which is why its correct understanding, respect and conservation is essential.

Landscapers have the difficult task of rescuing, restoring and preserving the best qualities of spaces (whether natural or urban) through interventions that highlight and enhance the most important attributes and particularities of landscapes, so that the identity that they confer on the community or are trivialized for tourist purposes or manipulated by economic interests.

Urban landscape

In urban interventions developed in the last two decades, heritage turned out to be the main motivation of investors and the starting point of designers, through the identification and emphasis on the regional or local character of the building, either through of a process of restoration or revitalization of heritage (for example, Emscher Park, Duisburg), or building iconic constructions in areas or spaces without identity (for example, Bilbao, Valencia, Lyon).

In all cases, the objective was the restoration and urbanization of spaces with coherence, the construction of a “mosaic city”, characterized by the succession of places with certain meanings, linked in a perceptible network at the level of urban space, forming through the specificity the identity of the city. In this context, one could sketch the idea that urban identity in the information age depends on the reshaping of the urban landscape after the restructuring of the city.

We must remember that architecture is a cultural fact that reflects at all times the conditions and circumstances under which it has been conceived and built; Hence, buildings are, individually or as a group, static emitters that transmit the particular message of the ideas with which they were projected. Thus, the new identity must be related to urban history, to the value and character of places, and also to the elements of specificity that gave it birth until the establishment of human settlements.

Natural landscape

In the case of natural landscapes, the trend invites the conservation and/or creation of protected areas, as well as the restoration of landscapes that were neglected or detrimentally modified, either by natural causes or by human intervention. The great natural protagonists are in themselves milestones of identity: wonderful characters that are present and permeate and determine the lives of their inhabitants. The Sierra Tarahumara, the Mayan cenotes, waterfalls, rivers and natural formations of any kind. Therefore, we can affirm that the landscape, whether natural or urban, is the primary factor of cultural identity. The natural structure, the spirit of the place, the coherent space, the existing heritage and the architectural objects are the elements that when joined together make up the context of this creation of identity.

The natural or urban image, sustained by the phenomenon of the hoarding of living space by society, must become a seal, a local “brand”, where spatial continuity is an essential quality of landscaping.In these circumstances, the need to pay attention and assign efforts to the care of the landscape is increasingly clear and urgent, which implies a process through actions such as knowledge, understanding, assessment, conservation, preservation, planning, design, maintenance, backup or restoration. All of the above in order to keep the landscape in a state in which the innumerable elements that compose it remain balanced and harmoniously related, but, very especially, so that the interventions are supported by the natural place and harmonize to the point of blending in with it.

The perception, appreciation, analysis and knowledge of the nature of places play fundamental roles in the realization of an identity, since it is necessary to know and understand the environment itself in order to appropriate and identify with it. Designing for the quality of the landscape is equivalent to contributing a grain of sand to culture, through the improvement of the collective environment, to contributing to the reinforcement of identity through the exploration and rescue of still untapped potentialities. Otherwise, we will be condemned to lose our essence and particularity, that which makes us unique, different and recognizable to the rest of the world.

“The perception, appreciation, analysis and knowledge of the nature of places, play fundamental roles in the realization of an identity.”   

Guggenheim, Bilbao
Fotografía: txlopez, vía Pixabay