The Science of Scenery

History of landscape studies Click here
The scientific method Click here

Emergence of landscape quality as an area of inquiry Click here
Overview of landscape quality studies Click here
Framework for landscape quality research Click here
Methods of landscape quality research Click here
Theory of landscape quality Click here
Typologies of landscape quality research Click here
Landscape resources Click here
References on landscape quality Click here


Landscape quality, and understanding human preferences for scenery, may be analyzed scientifically. It may seem surprising, even sacrilegious, to apply science to scenery but the scientific approach can be applied to this area as to any other area of human inquiry.

In laying the foundation for future development of studies of scenic quality, a scientific approach is essential – what might be termed the science of scenery. The purpose of pursuing the science of scenery is to place the measurement and prediction of scenic quality on a sound scientific foundation, thus providing understanding of what generates scenic quality, contributing to an explanatory theory of human landscape preferences, and allowing for the prediction of scenic quality for a given set of characteristics.

The scientific method involves the collection and analysis of data, the testing of hypotheses with this data, and the reformulation or further development of explainable hypotheses and theories. The scientific method aims to explain what generated the results that were gained. Understanding leads to application. If we know what generates scenic quality then we can better manage and protect it from despoliation. We can also know and avoid the likely effects of change and development on scenic quality. What’s more, we can actually enhance scenic quality through applying what we know about the components that produce attractive landscapes.

  1. Having an explanatory theory which can be tested;
  2. Testing this through undertaking studies which provide observational data of physical landscapes and which measure their scenic quality;
  3. Analyzing these data to understand the relationships that are present between the measures of scenic quality and the characteristics of the landscape;
  4. Deriving quantified models that enable the prediction of scenic quality for given characteristics;
  5. Comparing the results of the studies, analysis and models with the predictions of the theory to verify, modify, or refute it.

Figure 1 identifies the key components to the science of scenery. Guided by a theory of human landscape preferences, landscapes are assessed to provide data which can be analyzed, predictive models developed, and the results used to validate and refine the theory as well as a range of other applications. The model comprises the following five stages:

  1. Having an explanatory theory which can be tested;
  2. Testing this through undertaking studies which provide observational data of physical landscapes and which measure their scenic quality;
  3. Analyzing these data to understand the relationships that are present between the measures of scenic quality and the characteristics of the landscape;
  4. Deriving quantified models that enable the prediction of scenic quality for given characteristics;
  5. Comparing the results of the studies, analysis and models with the predictions of the theory to verify, modify, or refute it.

Over time, with theory validation and the accumulated knowledge gained through many studies, a sound standard methodology can be applied to determine the scenic quality of any given landscape, the likely visual impacts of change and development, and actions which would enhance scenic quality.

A key to developing the science of scenery is the adoption of a standard methodology for measuring landscape quality to better enable comparability and transferability between studies and to build a solid body of knowledge. Such a methodology will, through the knowledge accumulated by many studies, provide a sound basis for theory testing and validation as well as for application. Practically it will determine the scenic quality of a given area as well as the visual impacts of change and development. The Community Preferences Model is described here.

This part of the Scenic Solutions website discusses the various components and aspects of the science of scenery. It examines the prevailing theories of landscape quality which attempt to explain why we like what we like. It reviews studies of landscape quality, both in Australia and internationally, covering their methods and their findings. References to the studies on landscape quality are grouped together.


During the last few decades of the 20th century and into the new millennium, extensive research of landscape quality has been conducted. This entirely new field of research scarcely existed before 1970. Inklings of it emerged with the early attempts to map landscape quality by Fines and Linton in 1968 and by Shafer et al in 1969. An early reference was a paper by David Lowenthal in 1962, titled Not every prospect pleases: criterion for scenic beauty.

JB Jackson

John “Brinck” Jackson

The other pre-1970 event was the launch, by John “Brinck” Jackson (1901 – 1996), of the journal Landscape in 1951, which presented landscapes as a serious issue for academics and the public. The older I grow and the longer I look at landscapes and seek to understand them, the more convinced I am that their beauty is not simply an aspect but their very essence and that that beauty derives from the human presence (Jackson, 1999). He obviously viewed beauty as being inherent, “their very essence,” in the landscape but requiring human presence or perception.

New era

By the late 1970s, landscape was becoming a serious issue of inquiry by academics with several hundred papers published. This upsurge probably occurred because of a convergence of various factors; psychologists were investigating influences, positive and negative, on the human psyche and the landscape presented itself as a likely candidate; many of the researchers were of the post-war baby boomer generation who were more appreciative of their environment than previous generations; the researchers often lived and worked amidst attractive landscapes and wanted to understand them more; many of the researchers were young, at the beginning of their academic careers and landscape quality offered a new and exciting field that corresponded closely with their world view and environmental sensitivity; and finally the development of statistical tools together with the availability of computers and, later, the Internet, facilitated research. For a host of reasons, an explosion of research commenced in the mid-1970s and has scarcely abated.


Scope of landscape quality references Click here
Growth of landscape studies Click here
Country of origin of studies Click here
Fields of study Click here
Publication journals Click here

Principal researchers Click here
Theoretical basis of studies Click here

Scope of landscape quality research

The definition of what counts as landscape quality research is somewhat ambiguous. In the context of this website, at its core is the quantitative measurement and mapping of landscape quality. However, the knowledge required covers a wide field including:

  • theoretical constructs of what generates preferences for landscape quality;
  • techniques for measuring landscape quality preferences;
  • human and landscape factors involved in influencing these preferences;
  • the mode of presentation of the landscape (e.g. field assessment vs photos vs computer visualizations);
  • change in landscapes and the visual impact of developments on the landscape;
  • landscape management and policies affecting landscapes;
  • pricing the view of landscapes;
  • restorative qualities of landscapes for human health and well-being.

The compilation here concentrates on studies that measure preferences, and exclude cultural landscape studies. The edges of the field though are somewhat fuzzy, for example, among the studies of the restorative qualities of landscape have been the effect of landscape posters in offices (which are included) and the restorative qualities of home gardens and lawns (excluded).

A comprehensive search of relevant literature was carried out, building on those compiled in the author’s PhD thesis, updated and supplemented through searching issues of relevant journals and using Google Scholar to help identify likely references. The references were of two main types, those in journals, and those that comprised reports, theses, books and conference compilations. The latter, in particular, is unlikely to be complete.

A total of 1106 journal references and 288 references from books, theses, etc. were identified, overall a total of 1388 references. However, this is unlikely to be a complete set of relevant references, for example, there are likely to be many local studies of landscapes, which have gone unreported. Some such references from Australia have been included.

Growth of landscape quality studies

Over the 53 years, 1962 – 2014, studies of landscape quality have increased on average by nearly 26 annually, but this has increased over the past decade to over 50 per year (Figure 2). Much of this upsurge in recent decades has been studies of the health and restorative benefits of nature and landscape. The growth has been remarkably even across the five and half decades (Figure 3).

Fig 1 Papers per year
Trend line y = 0.86x – 1687, R² = 0.67. Peak in 1979 due to National Landscape Conference (Elsner & Smardon, 1979).
Figure 2 Papers per year, 1965 – 2014
Fig 2 Cumulative growth ls studies
Trend line: y = 27.7x – 54557, R² = 0.96
Figure 3 Cumulative growth of landscape studies, 1962 – 2014

Country of origin of studies

Table 1 and Figure 4 indicate the country of origin of the authors of the 1388 papers and reports. The majority of them were from the United States (645 studies, 43% of total), while other significant sources were the UK (201, 13.4%), Scandinavia (156, 10.4%), Australia and New Zealand (153, 10.2%), and other European countries (207, 13.8%). Spain, The Netherlands and Switzerland accounted for 110 studies (7.3%). An emerging field is China with nearly 30 studies, most of which have occurred since 2000.

Table 1 Country of origin of authors of landscape studies, 1962 – 2014

Table 12
Note: Records number of countries of origin of authors involved in papers. A paper may have multiple authors from several countries, each of which is recorded.
Fig 3 Country of origin
Figure 4 Country of origin of authors of landscape studies, 1962 – 2014

Some countries have surprisingly few studies, for example, Austria, with its outstanding landscapes produced only one, however, there are likely to be studies in languages other than English, the language in which the search was conducted.

Two trends are evident in the studies, firstly, many studies now involve authors from several countries collaborating in studies, and, secondly, the number of countries involved in landscape studies is growing.

Figure 5 shows the growth in the number of studies involving authors from more than one country. Over the period, 104 studies involved authors from several countries. While in the early 1960s, there were only two such studies, both involving authors from the United States and England, in the 1990s, the numbers took off and now up to ten countries are involved each year. The growth parallels the availability of the Internet and email communications which have greatly facilitated cross-country interaction.

Fig 4 Multiple authors

Figure 5 Studies with authors from multiple countries

Table 2 Main countries cooperating in landscape studies

Table 2

Table 2 shows the main countries that cooperate with other countries in preparing landscape studies, Sweden being the outstanding country for working with other nations in undertaking studies.

Figure 6 shows the number of countries per annum in which landscape studies have been contributed for publication. Whereas until the mid-1980s, studies were largely confined to a handful of countries, in the 1990s, this expanded with the availability of Internet communications and now papers are contributed from authors in between 25 – 30 countries annually.

Fig 5 Countries
Trend line: y = 0.47x – 931, R² = 0.83
Figure 6 Number of countries per year with landscape studies, 1962 – 2014

Fields of Study

  Table 3 Frequency of fields of landscape study

The areas of landscape study were discussed at the beginning of this paper and the number of landscape papers in each of the categories is summarized by Table 3. Papers on theory including testing totaled a sizeable 175 studies (12.7%). The core fields of measurement techniques and the influence of observer and landscape factors on preferences totaled 557 papers or 40.5% of the total. Actual surveys of regional landscapes accounted for only 13.3% but comprised a reasonable 183 projects. The positive effect of natural landscapes on human health and restoration is an emerging field and was the subject of 94 papers. Studies of landscape change and visual impact totaled 120 (8.7%).

The overall trend in studies has been to move from the general to the specific, from the theory to the practical, from conceptual development to application. The early years was marked by searching – for the right method for assessing landscape quality, for underlying theoretical constructs, and for understanding the concepts involved in landscape quality assessment. The titles of early papers reflect this.

  • Not Every Prospect Pleases: What is our Criterion for Scenic Beauty? (Lowenthal, 1962);
  • Aesthetic appreciation of nature (Hepburn, 1963);
  • Ideas and Attitudes – A Scenery Classification System (Sargent, 1966);
  • How to rate & rank landscape (Hart & Graham, 1967);
  • An attempt at assessing preferences for natural landscapes (Calvin et al, 1972);
  • Landscape evaluation: the theoretical vacuum (Appleton, 1975);
  • On the possibility of quantifying scenic beauty (Carlson, 1977);
  • Landscape Assessment … where logic and feelings meet. (Jones, 1978).

Theories gradually emerged, concepts were clarified, techniques were developed, tested, refined and applied, and specializations emerged.

Table 4 and Figure 7 illustrate the emergence and development of six areas of landscape research since the 1960s:

  • Theory – theory including the constructs by Appleton, Kaplan, Ulrich and Orians;
  • Measurement techniques – the issues involved in measuring landscape aesthetics;
  • Human factors which may influence preferences including culture, age, gender and education;
  • Landscape components which may influence preferences including trees, water, land forms and naturalness;
  • Restoration and health – research of the positive effect that exposure to natural landscapes has on human health and restoration from stress;
  • Pricing – studies of the positive effect that a view of landscapes has on property prices.

Table 4 Frequency of studies by decade

Table 4
Note: +3 of unknown year
Fig 6 Study frequency
Figure 7 Frequency of studies by decade

While studies of measurement techniques and the human and landscape factors have been ongoing over the past five and a half decades, and theory strengthened in the 2000s, studies of the health and restorative effects of landscape, and the effect of landscape views on property prices only really took off in the 1990s. Health and restoration studies have become the most rapidly growing area over the past decade.

Publication Journals

Table 5 summarizes the main journals responsible for over two-thirds of the journal papers. Landscape and Urban Planning accounted for nearly a quarter of all papers.

Table 5 Main journals publishing landscape papers

Principal Researchers

The earliest landscape studies were conducted in the late 1960s with only a handful of researchers in the US and UK. Contrast this with today with multiple researchers in many countries. While some researchers have spent part of their careers carrying out landscape research and then moved on to other fields, a considerable number of researchers have maintained their involvement and produced studies year after year.

Table 6 lists 37 of the foremost researchers in terms of the number of papers and books they have published on landscape studies. These account for about 50% of the total number of studies.

Table 6 Principal landscape researchers

Table 6

The majority of the researchers, 89%, are in universities (Table 7).

Table 7 Location of principal researchers

Table 7

*Arthur Stamps, Institute of Environmental Quality, San Francisco

Figure 8 illustrates the number of papers and books that each of the principal researchers has published. While some researchers are just at the beginning of their careers, others are well established, and some have retired or passed away. The number of their papers reflects these factors.

Fig 7 Number of studies
Figure 8 Number of papers by main authors

Figure 9 illustrates the period of landscape research covered by each of the researchers, arranged from the late 1960s and going through to the 2010s. An impression from Figure 8 is that most of the researchers have focussed on landscape related research for much of their careers. Among the most consistent and productive have been Terry Hartig – 48 papers over 21 years, Ian Bishop – 48 papers over 27 years, Ervin Zube – 39 papers over 25 years, Terry Daniel – 38 papers over 38 years, Stephen and Rachel Kaplan – 45 papers over 40 years, Roger Ulrich – 30 papers over 34 years, and Gregory Buhyoff – 29 papers over 25 years.

Fig 8 Period of landscape papers
Figure 9 Period of landscape papers by main authors, 1969 – 2014

Producing figures on the number of papers per year for each researcher is somewhat problematic as the list of papers is not necessarily complete and many researchers have moved on to other areas of research. However, a good average is one paper per year. A few researchers, such as Terry Hartig, have produced over two a year. Twelve of the researchers published over one landscape paper a year.

Theoretical Basis of Studies

Porteous’ pithy observation (1982) that landscape preference studies are “rampantly empirical” is borne out by an analysis of the theoretical basis of surveys. Of 1377 papers and reports surveyed, only 175 (12.7%) were considered to deal with theory. The remainder were classed as empirical. Table 8 indicates the theoretical base of these papers. Chapter 17 described these theories.

Table 8 Theoretical basis of papers

Table 8

 Framework for landscape quality research

A sample of Australian studies was examined to identify their landscape descriptors. The terminology used varied widely, some using unique descriptors of the landscape while others used more common terms. Typically the descriptors combine a noun and an adjective: e.g. scenic quality or landscape value (Table 9).

Table 9 Descriptors of landscape


Figure 10 Frequency of landscape terminology combinations

The combinations of the noun and adjective are illustrated by Figure 10, indicating their frequency of use. The most common phrases were those using the nouns, landscape or scenic together with the adjective quality. Scenic quality was used in 19 studies while landscape quality was used in 10 studies (five by this author). The term aesthetic value was used by 13 studies, associated almost entirely with the Commonwealth’s Regional Forest Agreement process and reflecting the terminology used under the National Estate Register. Other descriptors used by studies are summarized by Table 10.


Table 10 Minor descriptors used by landscape studies

Minor descriptors

This brief analysis of terminology indicates the diversity of terms that are used, and reinforces the need to settle on common terminology to reduce and avoid confusion. The science of scenic quality will be retarded by the lack of a common terminology.

I propose that the terms: scenic quality or landscape quality be adopted as alternative and equivalent terms. While purists might want to qualify this as perceived scenic quality, this is assumed and on the basis that simpler terms are best, this is unnecessary. Similarly further adjectives such as amenity or aesthetics need not be included.

It is recognized that the Australian lists, including the National Heritage Register, use aesthetic values as their basis. As this concept encompasses aspects of aesthetics beyond the visual, it remains appropriate that visual aesthetics be covered by the above terms.

Visibility of the area to view

Several studies, including the Visual Management Systems have assumed that the visibility of a scene to people is an essential part in measuring scenic quality. Seen areas, sensitivity levels and observer travel routes were components which measured the exposure of the area to view.

Preston 2
Preston, 2001
Figure 11 Criteria for assessing the significance of scenery

Preston (2001) argued that scenic amenity involved not only measuring people’s landscape preferences but also the extent to which places in the landscape were seen. This is illustrated by his diagram combining scenic preferences with visual exposure, scenic amenity being the product of both (Figure 11).

He stated that this approach takes a “democratic approach to assessing the importance of scenery.” However this implies that through access improvements, an area originally rated 6 may increase to 8 even though its actual scenic quality is unchanged.

The concept of visual exposure in the study assumes that scenic quality is a relative quality, relative to the visibility of the area under study. However the accessibility of an area changes over time which changes its visibility. Roads change and new routes are developed, opening up to view new areas.

Additionally, there is a wide range of means of viewing landscapes apart from the car: mountain bikes, four wheel touring, cycling, orienteering, bushwalking, wilderness travel, hang gliding. The coast, rivers and lakes may be viewed from motorboats, jetskis, yachts, cruise ships and canoes as well as from the air. There is a tendency to consider only the obvious means, which confines the discussion to cars and access roads. There are many other forms of travel which do not require roads.

By considering the area’s visibility, the study’s results are determined by when they were derived and the accessibility then available which may differ in the future.  The results do not stand the test of time but rather need to consider the accessibility then available. To take another environmental resource, that of biodiversity, this exists regardless of whether or not it is viewed by the public. Its worth is not contingent on its accessibility or view. It is contended that, like biodiversity, the potential to perceive scenic quality exists regardless of its visibility, in other words it is an absolute, not relative quality. Its value is not a function of its visibility but rather is independent of this.

This is contrary to the opinion, often expressed that because an area is not visible it does not matter if its visual amenity is marred by a wind farm, powerlines or quarry. Arguments before appeal courts sometimes take the position that the visibility of the site and the number of people viewing it are important considerations, it being implied that the less visible and the less the number of viewers then its scenic quality is not significant.  However, taking this to its logical conclusion could result in the widespread loss of scenic quality in the vast tracts of Australia not regularly visited.

In this context, Brown and Itami (1982) commented: “…while areas of the landscape that are seen by the most people may be more valuable to society than visually inaccessible landscapes, this is a measure of visual accessibility and not scenic resource value.”

Therefore in the standard methodology, considerations of visibility are irrelevant. The scenic quality ratings derived will provide an absolute, not a relative, measure of the significance of the area.