Ephemeral landscapes

Authored by: Mick Atha

The Routledge Companion to Landscape Studies

Print publication date:  August  2018
Online publication date:  September  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138720312
eBook ISBN: 9781315195063
Adobe ISBN:


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Landscape is widely acknowledged to be an emergent phenomenon, something continually in the making and undergoing change; therefore, at any given time, it embodies a degree of transience or ephemerality. Despite such recognition, though, ephemeral landscapes and temporary places, and the social and cultural meanings and significance they can embody, have remained under-studied and consequently have seen relatively little coverage in the landscape literature. However, as discussed below, some research has occurred, which focused on aspects of rural ephemerality (e.g., Brassley 1998; Stobbelaar et al. 2004; Boyd and Gardiner 2005; Tveit et al. 2006) and urban ephemerality (e.g., Qviström and Saltzman 2006; Mikadze 2015), or even the phenomenon of ephemeral cities (Mehrotra and Vera 2016; Mehrotra et al. 2017). But the notion that temporary features and transient places, and the ephemeral landscapes they constitute, can have enduring significance as important forms of cultural heritage is evidently not yet widely accepted either in theory and method or, perhaps more importantly, in practice. In contrast, local or regional landscapes – whether rural or urban – with distinctive, more permanent features resulting from the interaction of specific patterns of human agency and given physical environments, have dominated landscape research and writing. As characteristic material reflections of human socio-economic, political and religious endeavour, such ‘cultural landscapes’ have since their incorporation within the World Heritage Convention in 1992 been formally valued as important expressions of human creativity and as a key form of cultural heritage, while the idea that such landscapes embody both tangible and intangible heritage is now accepted in most parts of the world (e.g., see Fowler 2004; Rössler 2006; Aplin 2007). Three categories of cultural landscapes were identified for consideration (UNESCO 2011a: 88); namely: ‘clearly defined landscape designed and created intentionally’, such as aesthetically determined forms of parks and gardens; ‘organically evolved landscape’, as seen in the many examples resulting from past or ongoing interactions between human communities and their environments, typically during agro-pastoral economic activity; and ‘associative cultural landscapes’, which might be essentially unaltered by human activity. Having said that, even the ‘associative’ category of landscapes, which acknowledges that people attach intangible cultural values and meanings to ostensibly ‘natural’ topographic features, still clearly retains the idea that there must be something physical and permanent towards which, or in relation to which, human activities and attention are focused.

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