doi 10.4067/S0718-83582013000200001


The landscape and the residential habitat approach


Mario Torres Jofré


More than seven years ago, the Housing Institute of the Faculty of Housing and Urban Planning at the University of Chile conceived, prepared and developed the Master’s program in Residential Habitat. Unlike other programs, this course of study is not a response to a disciplinary derivative as it aims to highlight the need to face the quality of life challenge and the sustainability of human settlements from a multidisciplinary and, for some people, transdisciplinary perspective. In this sense, the Housing Institute understands the concept of residential habitat as:

... the result of a process that constantly creates places at different territorial scales, the latter being distinguished by particular appropriation methods defined by a daily link with unique experiences that encourage relationships of identity and belonging to intervene and configure landscapes...

Instead of using the generic designation of each discipline and in order to ensure a permanent tension and investigative spirit regarding residential habitat, the names of the different explanatory dimensions (socio-cultural, political-economic and physical-spatial) included in our curriculum were planned to reflect wider concepts. While such an objective was partly achieved, the key subjects of this program that were actually given the intended name demonstrated the importance of multidisciplinarity. The idea was to face scientific research and applied investigation with an eye to improving the quality of life and sustainability of human settlements.

In this sense, the physical-spatial dimension was reflected in one out of three subjects under the name of "Constructed and Natural Landscape". This course was designed as an introduction to such a residential habitat dimension by using the same notion of landscape described by the European Landscape Convention (2000) as: any portion of the territory as perceived by people, whose character is the result of the action and interaction of natural and/or human factors. In this way, the relationship between the socio-cultural and political-economic dimensions remained on hold and adopted a multidisciplinary approach.

Furthermore, the perception of an individual or a group of residents have of reality (if it actually exists) is the product of personal physiological characteristics, cultural constructions, social and economic relationships and the connection offered by physical or geographic spaces, among others. All these variables, when processed through different sensorial and instinctive filters, give room to positive or negative valuations regarding the habitat they are located in. Such perceptions are related to a primary descriptor: pleasure and displeasure.

There is a series of meanings for the words pleasure and displeasure:

pleasure.n 1. an agreeable or enjoyable sensation or emotion 2. something that gives or affords enjoyment or delight 3. amusement, recreation, or enjoyment 4. (euphemistic) sexual gratification or enjoyment 5. a person’s preference or choice v 6. when intr, often foll by in to give pleasure to or take pleasure (in)1

displeasure. n 1. the condition of being displeased 2. (archaic) a. pain b. an act or cause of offence van archaic word for displease2.

These two definitions refer mostly to the sensorial perception of an element in relation to objective and concrete facts that may be positively or negatively valued.

Therefore, the idea of landscape simultaneously refers to objective facts and realities closely related to the personal characteristics of an individual. Thus, it is possible to suggest that perception is taught, learnt and mythologized by different communication or transmission methods. Within a residential habitat context, natural and constructed landscapes meet the other dimensions in which men and women participate. The emphasis is then the territory, where quality of life and sustainability materialize.

Analyzing the natural and developed landscape from a residential habitat perspective entails getting rid of the restrictive value contained within the concept of landscape and focusing on those aspects that determine the quality of the environment of a large number of residents in urban and rural areas around the world. Since the natural and constructed landscape may relate to new restrictions of productive activities as part of the residential habitat it runs the risk of facing political and economic constraints. However, a proper land planning and management utilizing this approach may become assents when facing the global and particular policies of sustainable development.

In connection to this, and according to Romani

Whatever the landscape may be, it is a manifestation ofa complex and extraordinary series of interrelated elements, including trees, rocks, fields, water, economies, men, culture, actions, causes and effects, relationships, events and historical processes; however, we realize that these elements cannot be restored in a simple and imaginative manner since their nature and essence is like those of the elements of which the universe is made of, thus becoming even more dynamic and enveloping.3

Those elements associated to the natural and developed landscape have conditioned the human activities which, in turn, define the characterization of a territory that becomes the image or identity of a given place. Likewise, the group of objective or subjective elements comprising the natural and developed landscape form a unique and inseparable unit. In this sense, the constant evolution and the fact of manifesting themselves as a harmonious and balanced group are the factors that distinguish these elements from independently valued constituents.

The residential habitat approach can be found in the physical-spatial dimension of human-induced landscapes and is the result of the interrelation between individuals and urban-territorial structures, the latter being able to create individual and communal landscapes. Such a feature depends on how people value this constructed space; in this sense, the quality of space is essential as far as the generation of pleasure and significance is concerned. This type of landscape is also regarded as a resource and, given its condition of social construction or a mental image that can be collectively recognized, forms part of the heritage of individuals and societies at different levels. On the one hand, it reflects the image of reality; on the other hand, it represents reality itself. These two complementary domains of the natural and constructed landscape addressed in this approach.

This natural and constructed landscape do not only reflect economic growth and development, it is also the visual framework of an administrative criteria having a bearing on territorial management and planning, with a focus on urban land. This translates into public policy, management and design criteria, in which each project has an effect on the creation or destruction of places that involves a physical change of perception regarding the image of reality or the reality itself.

There is no doubt that administrations are not ready to cope with the fast cultural, economic, social and technological transformations of the twenty-first century. As far as local populations are concerned, these changes have exceeded the learning ability in the management of natural and constructed landscapes and their respective elements, thus allowing the loss of visual and genetic valuation conforming the spaces where life evolves.

Today, the public and daily life of people is governed by activities that are not properly measured by local governments. These activities tend to go hand in hand with the social and cultural development of a given place; however, they have evolved to such a point that space is forced to act in a dynamic and diligent manner to suitably address them. A large number of these proposals aimed at creating and promoting "active", "safe" y "sustainable" spaces are the result of pressure, needs, interests and activities that modify the demands and lifestyle of people.

In many cases, people use these spaces just because they have to, regardless the quality of the natural and constructed landscape. However, it is at this point that the residential habitat approach redirects each of the aspects affecting the composition of places; in this reorientation, the quality and the sense of belonging are transformed into a key life and death factor in urban and rural areas. In this sense, landscape is analyzed from a building perspective that synthesizes the visual-artistic approach and its social use at residential habitat level.

However, the question regarding the design-management relationship, both at public and private level, arises. Everyone can discuss landscapes and, as the community becomes more informed, the participation of people in this debate will increase. The current approach to the natural and constructed landscape implies the design of space as an aesthetic unit and as an environmental configuration; in other words, it refers to the construction of public space.

The dynamics of human beings brings together physical, social and cultural characteristics; these very features may be reflected in a space-human being relationship defined by either the proper use and acceptance or the disuse and rejection of a given place. In this way, the design of space ensures the construction of places which, according to the sensation of pleasure they produce on people, may turn into landscapes. Such a transition is possible because landscapes are social and cultural constructions, visual realities or mental images that recognize a series of basic principles within the configuration of a natural and constructed environment.

Landscape is an area that has been modified by humans. In fact, the semantic definition of this word refers to gardens, and thus to the artificial architectural harmony obtained from natural materials and elements. Landscape is, then, a dynamic and unitary whole of the world, since this biotic and antibiotic, natural and humanized planet is composed of a series of elements expressing diversity and differentiation. It is worth noting that these last two concepts show a considerable organizational level.

In spite of being intended to offer open subjects, the backbone of this issue of Revista INVI, explicitly or implicitly, refers to natural and constructed landscapes.

The first paper, "Transdisciplinary Analysis of Everyday Landscapes, towards a Heritage Valuation. Approximation Method", written by Juan Francisco Ojeda, is the result of a series of research studies on landscape in Sierra Morena, Andalusia, and offers a methodology for the analysis of any landscape reality. The author implicitly demonstrates that the original method to represent the physical-spatial approach to residential habitat was right:

“Given that landscapes bring together natural elements, historical events, and different perceptions, representations and symbolizations, this analysis makes a transition from multidisciplinarity to interdisciplinarity before concluding with a transdisciplinary approach”

“... this hermeneutical analysis of landscape is based on the accumulation of previous knowledge and its subsequent translation into informative language. The objective is to elaborate an account of landscapes...”

“ This methodology is particularly applicable to the fields of teaching and the planning of guidelines for future landscape projects.”

Such a methodology could be also used to understand residential habitat and the construction of places aimed at offering better quality of life and sustainability conditions.

The second paper is a piece prepared by Angélica Patricia Camargo Sierra and Adriana Hurtado Tarazona entitled "Informal Land Development in Bogotá: Agents and Production Philosophies of Urban Space". There is no doubt that the informal land development (a phenomenon that can be observed not only in Bogotá, but in many cities around the world) is a unique landscape generated by a particular form of construction of urban and periurban space. In this regard, while this article aims at:

"... solving three questions: how much (and where) has the informal land development grown over the last century in Bogotá? How do the informal land and housing factors (supply, demand, State intervention) act in relation to the informal land and housing markets? and What kind of urban space has been and is being produced by the informal land development?"

The effects of this phenomenon on the city growth and the use of agricultural lands, as well as on informal markets, public policies and developed spaces imply changes in both the morphology of land and the economic relationships involved in it. However, apart from offering quantitative explanations, such as that an informal development modifies the characteristics of a territory. It is a change in the natural and developed landscape that is implicitly evidenced after a multidisciplinary expert analysis.

This issue of Revista INVI continues with "City and Informal Habitat: Illegal Occupation of Land and Self-help Construction in the Ravines of Valparaíso", co-authored by Andrea Pino Vásquez and Lautaro Ojeda Ledesma. As part of a doctoral thesis, the authors of this contribution emphasize the accounts of life over the richness of its content in order to corroborate the proposed hypothesis:

1- The informal habitat in the Valparaíso ravines is the result of the illegal occupation of land carried out by individuals or small families in search of family mobility.

2-Successive earthquakes triggered the occupation of ravines.

These hypotheses are the main causes of occupation which, over the course of time, generated the Family Residential Complexes (FRC) of Valparaíso ravines.

Earthquakes and the geomorphology resulting from thousands of years of evolution are more than logical reasons to explain the changes undergone by landscape, especially when these very elements are conducive to a particular form of land appropriation and occupation. The authors of this paper realize that the informal habitat found in the Valparaíso ravines is no other than residential habitat, the latter being a social construction resulting from a cultural projection over a given space appropriated by needs and possibilities and materialized at urban, neighborhood and family scale.

The fourth contribution offered in this issue, entitled "Social Construction of Public Space in Popular Neighborhoods of Bogotá" and written by Jaime Hernández García, accounts for part of the doctoral thesis conducted by this author. This paper does not explicitly refer to landscape, but it focuses on the construction of places; in this sense, it is worth pointing out that this contribution remains faithful to the aforementioned approach of explaining the concept of landscape from a residential habitat perspective. This is possible thanks to a reorientation of each of the aspects that have an effect on the composition of places, in which the quality these elements and the sense of belonging that may be created with and within the community below:

"... the social construction of public space in popular neighborhoods in terms of interaction. In this line, the activities carried out by people allow identifying the use of such a public environment, which is transformed by those who want to satisfy their needs. In popular settlements, these activities are defined by social and cultural practices carried out in public spaces and are mostly related to socialization, communal events, traditional manifestations and religious and political expressions."

This issue of Revista INVI features papers from three different countries: Spain, Colombia and Chile. As for the Chilean contribution, entitled "The Regulatory Framework within the Context of the Business Administration and the Commodification of Urban Development in Greater Santiago, Chile", Magdalena Vicuña del Río focuses on Santiago and discusses the issue of administration, specifically the State administration and the regulatory frameworks used to implement policy. In this case, attention is given to those regulatory frameworks related to construction urban development and derivatives. According to the author:

“...this paper is an analysis of two processes: (1) the path through which the neoliberal agenda has been applied in the regulated and operational land development of Santiago de Chile; and (2) the way this path has evolved as the consequence of political and economic changes in the country and their effect on the regulatory framework of the city. It is widely known that urban regulation -along other factors such as localization and external developments- determines the value and profitability of land. In this sense, the institutional framework plays a key role within the capitalist city given the close relationship between urban regulation (or alternatively deregulation) and the housing sector.”

The instruments analyzed by the author have substantially modified the characteristics of space and, in the case of Santiago, transformed the urban and rural landscape. Though not mentioned in this contribution, the previous statement ensures the understanding of the relationship between the political-economic and physical-spatial dimensions of the residential habitat approach.

This residential habitat approach allows integrating the multidimensionality and multiscalability factors common to the place construction process, thus ensuring a better quality of life and sustainability of human settlements. Such an approximation allows analyzing the territory from a variety of perspectives (regional-neighborhood, public policies-municipal regulations, macroeconomics-microeconomics, among others.) In this line, Raquel Pérez del Hoyo and María Elia Gutiérrez Mozo, in their paper entitled "First Housing Policies in Spain and Their Influence on the Evolution of Residential Typology: The Case of Benalúa (1883-1956)", discuss how a public policy, coming under a weak administration, was able to define a morphological expression. The authors of this contribution state that Benalúa de Alicante is:

"... a good example of a private initiative that became a national role model thanks to the combination of business and cooperative models. Basing its suitability on the working-class housing discourse as well as on the normative gap and the lack of an official expansion plan, Benalúa (led by the Society of the Ten Friends[STF]), emerged as a private alternative to the then ineffective municipal management. In this way, the role of the local Municipality was limited to declare the exemption from construction charges...”

Obviously, the evolution of a residential typology entails the modification of the natural and constructed landscape, since the origins of such a landscape took place outside the urban core and lacked any kind of planning.

Finally, this issue of Revista INVI closes with the opinion "Effects of Domestic Wood Combustion on the Indoor Quality of Air. Temuco as a Case Study" prepared by Alejandra Cortés and Ian Ridley. The question that might arise between this paper and the axis generated around the concept of landscape precisely relates to this relationship and relevance:

"... through computer simulation, this research analyzes the indoor quality of air resulting from the particulate matter generated by a firewood kitchen. To do so, different permeability scenarios and air renewal rates are considered to predict the exposure of residents and the subsequent health risks."

The landscape is the result of the perception of people to the environment where they live the environment they live in. This process, influenced by the internal pollution in housing (and resulting from the quality of it), is likely to create a negative mental image of the natural and developed environment and consequently, an unfavorable image of the landscape of Temuco.

To conclude this introduction to the contents offered in this issue of Revista INVI, it is worth remembering the words of Lewis Mumford in The Condition of Man:

“... and ritual, art, poetry, drama, music, dance, philosophy, science, myth and religion are all as essential to man as his daily bread: man’s true life consists not alone in the work activities that directly sustain him, but in the symbolic activities which give significance both to the processes of work and their ultimate products and consummations.” 4

All these elements comprise the natural and developed landscape which, from a residential habitat approach, ensures the construction of places offering quality of life and sustainability.



1 Real Academia Española, 2001, p. 1776.
2 Ibíd, p.799.
3 Romani, 1994, p.9.
4 Mumford, 1944.



MUMFORD, Lewis. La condición humana. En: El mito de la máquina. Técnica y evolución humana. La Rioja, España, Editorial Pepitas de Calabaza. 2010.

Real Academia Española. Diccionario de la lengua española. 22ª ed. Madrid, España, Espasa Calpe. 2001.

ROMANI, Valerio. Il paesaggio. Teoria e pianificazione. Milano, Italia, Franco Angeli Editore. 1994.