Rediscovering the wide and rich cultural meaning of the term. ‘woodland’

The role, value and perception of woodlands has altered throughout the many periods in the history of landscape architecture, from being an essential part and an extension of the more formal approaches, such as the baroque gardens, to being related to more informal periods, such as the picturesque and the English Landscape style, and, more recently, to the naturalistic style (Kendle and Forbes 1997). However, through much of the twentieth century when modernism (functionalism) dominated, woodland design, particularly in urban areas, was almost thrown out as something where a visionary approach was not possible. The modernist approach was to see woodlands as structural elements in landscape, giving form and shape to outdoor spaces or ‘rooms’. In the visions of modernism, the interior room or environment of the woodland became almost non­existent. Rather, the ‘room’ was reduced to belonging just to the open grass or water landscape (Gustavsson 1981). Today, if we consider that period as an interruption which is past, there are now good reasons to talk about the need for discoveries of brand new concepts as well as a need for rediscoveries of old values as part of a fruitful search for an innovative, articulated and diverse woodland design for the future.

In contrast to the views that predominate about urban woodlands, a virtually opposite viewpoint

Rediscovering the wide and rich cultural meaning of the term. ‘woodland’


A woodland design that focuses on the edges of the wood as well as the quality of the interior.

determines the creation and management of woodlands in the countryside that have forestry, recreation or nature-conservation objectives. Here it seems that woodlands exist mostly of inner parts, whilst the outer parts are forgotten. These rural design traditions, with a few exceptions, have seldom had design issues at the top of the agenda, and have therefore rarely developed articulated woodland design concepts for aesthetics or multiple use. Consequently, there is great scope for innovative visions and concepts in relation to woodland design. Design in this instance can act as an important bridge between landscape architecture and other related knowledge fields, such as ‘silviculture’, forest and landscape ecology, landscape art, landscape history and knowledge areas related to mixed or mosaic land-uses.

Today, among practising experts as well as among many of the general public, the meaning of the terms ‘woodland’ and ‘forest’ is quite vague. It would be very fruitful to move away from the current narrow view of woodlands and forest landscapes as being composed of large-scale and monotonous dense masses of trees, and move towards the more original meanings of the terms as diverse, mosaic landscapes, integrating open spaces, open woodlands, half-open and closed woodlands, tree – and shrub-rich types and water bodies, all mentally forgotten as visions. Furthermore, what happens in-between the stands of trees might be of equal importance to what happens within the stands. Research into how people experience forests stresses the importance of not only considering the individual stands, and their quality, one by one as isolated elements, but also in what order the stands are placed on a ‘local forest area level’.

Experiencing a woodland might, for a few, mean to use your arms to climb up a tree and see it from the top-down but, for others, the quality will very much be concentrated on the understorey of a stand and the qualities around their eyes, ears, nose and feet; thinking about the interior rooms, the views, the changes in light, the small birds, the butterflies, the perennial woodland herbs and grasses, the autumn-coloured leaf carpets, but also about the paths, the walks, etc., which will mean as much as the trees themselves. Consequently, greater notice should be taken of the woodland as a whole unit. In addition, much more importance has to be given to the fringes of the woodland, the woodland edges, the entrances, the open parts inside the woodland areas, the streams and the small waters. Figure 7.2 illustrates an alternative focus, in which the design efforts focus on the edges, which also includes glades and special woodland stand types that are in direct contact with the woodland edge, and takes into consideration the orientation and aspect, with a special emphasis on the southward and the westward directions.