Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Master of Landscape Architecture (MLA)


Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning


Craig W. Johnson


The purpose of this research was to examine the relationship of two approaches to visual assessment of landscape--the qualitative descriptive inventory and the theoretically-based empirical perceptual preference approach. Three levels of landscape visual units based on bio-physical similarities (landscape units, setting units, and waterscape units) were identified in a marsh (CUtler Reservoir, Cache County , Utah), and its tributary streams. Color slide photographs were taken from five of the visual units. These slides were rated on a 5- point scale by panels of judges for the expression of four perceptual variables--coherence, complexity, mystery, and legibility. The same slides were rated on a 5-point scale by 98 respondents according to their preference for each slide. The relationship of the visual units, perceptual variables, and preference was evaluated by analytical and statistical procedures.

Results showed significant differences in the expression of the four perceptual variables between rivers and marshes and between setting units~ Both rivers and marshes were considered coherent when there were similarities in vegetation within the respective types; however, the strong horizontal organization of the marsh scenes necessary for coherence contrasted with the edge definition and orderliness considered necessary in rivers. Mystery was also related to similar factors in rivers and marshes (such as obscuring vegetation, particularly in the marsh) but the presence of riverbanks and bends in the river corridor had a distinct effect on mystery ratings in the river scenes . Complexity in both rivers and marshes was primarily dependent on diversity of vegetation and visual depth , but the number of different visual elements in river scenes also influenced complexity. Legibility was related to straight, enclosed and simple corridors in river images and to simple spaces with regular vegetation in marsh images. Fine textures and clear spatial definition enhanced legibility.

Preference ratings were significantly different between rivers and marshes, but not between river setting units or waterscape units. River scenes received higher preference ratings than marsh scenes. Mystery , complexity, and visual depth were especially important to preference. Demographic variables of age, sex, academic major, and home state did not significantly affect preference. Statistical analysis indicated each perceptual variable was an independent predictor, and that compared to visual units, perceptual variables were more strongly related to preference.