Landscape Measurements and Democracy


Circular Irrigation Trace. 14 x 20″  James Corner

Measurements are the means by which people see their surroundings, henceforth their landscape.  Measurements are inherently quantifiable through traditional definition but is also qualitative as in determining what is “good,” “just,” or “proper” (Corner, xvii).  Therefore, the posed question becomes what is the appropriate means to measuring the landscape today?  And what are the consequences?

As we have discussed in class, measure has become almost solely reliant on the precise, material calculations of commodity.  For instance, nature itself has become determined through the measure of biodiversity.  Or the definition of forest is now based on the percentage of canopy cover, a woodland is 60-80% canopy cover and a Savannah is 20% canopy cover, so on so forth.  Hitherto, measurement is now inextricably intertwined with utilization.  If this is the case, then one may boldly conclude that measurement is the embodiment of power.  If measurement is the primary means of controlling designation it must therefore determine borders, societies, cities, mapping, and ultimately the worldly landscape humanity and nature inhabit.

“For ancient societies, the numerical and proportional measure of things revealed the harmonious order of the natural world and thereby provided evidence of a divine and unified cosmos.  Music, art and science were all structured around mathematical harmonies… embracing the full metaphorical range of measure” (Corner xvii).  Metaphor within measure prescribed an emphasis upon the construction of the imaginative striving for a more unified and free society.  Today, however, technological instrumentality is more widely used for the methods of control opposed to revealing significant cultural forms of order (Corner xviii).  This is not say that these measures provide incalculable riveting life experiences on a daily basis, but they are neglecting the abstract which ultimately conjoins culture with the landscape.  Corner expounds that “quantum and instrument are bound together; measure enables the making of instrument that allows for measure appear and become available… In this sense, measure, as both and quantum and instrument, affects how actions are taken in the world” (Corner xviii).  Consequently, measure is the driving force behind societies underlying ethical codes.

Because measure is conjoined with cultural values, it is harmful, if not dangerous, to consciously dismiss the ethical dimension of measure.  For instance, “the way a particular landscape looks is considered inseparable from, and integral to, the day-to-day activities and values of its values” (Corner xviii).

In the end, practitioner’s must comprehend that “land can either precipitate, or preclude the possibility for more wholesome and harmonious modes of dwelling… to continue to relate to the land as either an exploitable resource or as merely a scenic phenomenon is to fail to recognize the dynamic and interactive connectedness between human life and the natural phenomenon” (Corner xix).  Landscape Architecture has historically been one of the largest inhibitors of this succession, partially due to failed messages, and partially due to tradition and popular demand for the Picturesque.  Not only will this shift in philosophy change the course of the profession, but the world.

Finally, incorporating ethical measure into the common paradigm “may also be the only realizable way to avoid single minded tyranny on the hand and meaninglessness on the other; they may also be the bases upon which imaginative forms of measures taking might enrich the modern cultural world and precipitate new, creative possibilities for the human dwelling on the earth– measures of beginnings that harbor indefinite ends” (Corner xix).

A new beginning calls professionals forth to a new epoch in measure.


Corner, James, and Alex S. MacLean. “Introduction.” Taking Measures across the American Landscape. New Haven: Yale UP, 1996. N. pag. Print.

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