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Importance of Utilizing Qualities Making for Unity

It follows that a real landscape generally lacks certain mechanical aids which strengthen the quality of unity in many works of art.  It cannot be handled or moved about as a unit, physically distinct from everything else.  The parts of its enclosing frame or border (be they foliage or architecture or hills or whatever) may belong even more intimately to other landscapes than to itself.  Therefore, since without unity there is no beauty but only distraction, it becomes peculiarly important to note other inherent qualities making for unity in landscapes. 

One of these is unity of geological form.  A valley, recognizably carved by the action of water out of a once greater land-mass, has a conspicuous unity of form.  Any one can recognize that it has an upper end from which it slopes downward towards its outlet; that it has a right side and a left side, both descending toward the stream-thread.  A piece of a valley, recognized as such, suggests at once the other parts which go to make up the whole valley.  And if a piece of land obviously extends beyond the limits of one valley into another, the mind tends to disunite its two parts and associate each part with the valley in which it falls.  And so with every distinctive physiographic form that has visible unity of structure or origin, such as different types of valleys and valley parts, of enclosed basins, of plains and of self-detaching eminences.  They offer a fascinating study in connection with the esthetic qualities of landscape, but space does not permit even an enumeration. 

It is to be noted, however, that valleys and other physiographic units of concave form present their several parts most readily and completely to the vision and most often exclude vision of what lies beyond their margins, and thus have a more obvious unity than any except the most conspicuously detached of eminences or most sharply defined of plains.  Even when of vast dimensions and surrounding the beholder on every side, these concave land forms tend to "compose" into unity after the manner of a completely enclosed and self-contained "interior" in architecture, as is also the case with other spaces or "voids" more or less surrounded by masses, such as open spaces in the midst of trees or bushes, or even mere depressions in any mass of materials, provided only the eye can look into them.  On the other hand a convex or upstanding mass surrounded by voids and unassociated with any appreciable outer enclosing frame of other masses, is difficult or impossible to appreciate and enjoy as a unit unless it falls within a narrow angle of vision, as is the case with a piece of sculpture or an architectural "exterior" or an isolated mountain, when seen from a sufficient distance; or indeed with a mass so enormous as the moon seen at a correspondingly vast distance and surrounded by a void proportionately great.  To one too near its surface neither moon nor mountain could any more be appreciated as a visual unit than can the globe of the earth; but a valley vaster than any mountain can be thus seen by a child with its head barely above the grass.  It is for this reason that the dominant compositions, or principal units, in real landscapes are almost always "interior" compositions, the interest centering within a concavity of some kind, constrained thereto by surrounding higher masses. 

Unity of natural character of another sort may be derived from vegetation.  A given condition of soil, climate, and other controlling factors often gives rise to kinds of vegetation which produce, when growing together, a unified and harmonious effect in the landscape irrespective of the ground forms; a unity which is destroyed or weakened by the introduction of vegetation of a markedly different type.  This is partly a matter of accidental personal association.  A Californian long accustomed to seeing the important eucalyptus growing in association with the live oak might, from very habit, feel in that combination a certain kind of unity which would not exist for the man from South Carolina.  But there are many natural combinations of foliage which have a strong and beautiful unity of character instantly felt by a sensitive eye that has never seen them before.  This is especially true of the simple foliage texture of temperate, northern, and alpine climates, like the wide-stretched almost monotonous pine woods, or like the gray-green miles of sage brush of arid regions; and is less often the case in the moist tropics, where leaves of all sizes and shapes are often mixed in confusion, beautiful in detail but lacking in impressive unity of broad effect except where seen from a great distance. 

Another set of qualities, making for unity, or the lack of it, in landscapes as in all works of art, must be mentioned here even though it cannot be adequately discussed.  Unity in the quality of emotional impressions made by any landscape upon the beholder is of fundamental importance.  Different kinds of emotional impression are vaguely suggested by such adjectives as "peaceful," "gay," "solemn," "domestic," and "wild," but the differences are so subtle and infinite in variety as to make any list of such qualities ridiculous by its artificiality and incompleteness.  But no matter how elusive, such differences are very real.  They can be felt even where they cannot be expressed in words.  Sensitiveness to them increases one's enjoyment of fine landscape and lack of sensitiveness leads to much waste of opportunity in actually dealing with landscapes.  One of the peculiar difficulties of dealing with the emotional impressions of landscapes is that they depend only in part on inherent qualities of the landscapes and on universal human traits, turning quite as often on the associations which an individual or a group of individuals may happen to have attached to certain landscape qualities and elements.  The Kansas farmer has a different set of associations from the Virginia country doctor, and such differences must be reckoned with in landscape architecture no less than his audience must be reckoned with by a playwright. 

Closely connected with the emotional impressions of landscape is the matter of "styles" in landscape architecture.  Even here classification must be somewhat arbitrary and is apt to be misleading, but it must be attempted. 

Broadly speaking there are two contrasting modes of expression in landscape architecture which may be called "humanized" and "naturalistic."

— Frederick Law Olmsted  


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