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Decoding, interpreting, understanding and explaining landscapes Essay

According to author D. W Meinig, it is possible for ten people standing at the same observation point to describe the same scene differently regarding what they consider as the landscape, thus resulting in some level of difficulties in developing a constant definition (Meinig, 1979).

According to the author, in his article, The beholding eye, although people may identify the same exact features existing in a specific area such as buildings and plant life, their interpretation and understanding of what constitutes a landscape is what creates a difference in opinions when answering the question.

Meinig provides some of the interpretations that people use including the logic behind them, one of which is an interpretation of landscape as nature. In his explanation, Meinig (1979) posits that people who view landscape as nature often identify naturally occurring features such as mountains, oceans, and valleys as some of the features that form their points of focus.

For instance, in applying the concept to the Al Majaz Waterfront case study, one of the features that would stand out to the observer is the Khalid Lagoon and the interesting shape of the land around which the waterfront stands. The author explains the logic behind such an interpretation as a presumption of beauty and power in nature’s elements that man has not altered. The pristine condition in which such features occur makes them stand out to such an observer (Meinig, 1979).

However, Meinig notes the existence of a second concept with a contrary opinion to the one above, which focuses on landscapes as artifacts. This concept operates on the premise that one cannot find a pristine piece of nature as man’s mark is often visible everywhere (Meinig, 1979). This concept bears some truth, especially in consideration of the view that man occupies the majority of the earth’s habitable surface area irrespective of the existent conditions.

The logic behind this concept, as Meinig (1979) explains, is that the beauty in an area often depends on the type of intervention people in the area exercise on naturally occurring features. Examples of such interventions include the application of fertilizers to improve soil fertility, cutting down some plants to improve the health of others, and draining water to create features that are more appealing to the eye.

The Al Majaz waterfront qualifies as an example of man’s intervention to improve the appearance of the natural surroundings in Sharjah, due to the existence of structures such as ‘The Eye’, which was built to improve the beauty of the area around the lagoon while providing a spectacular vantage point for residents and visitors of the city.

One of the observable characteristics of these concepts is the existence of human beings in the interpretations of landscapes and the need to understand their role in the creation of the status of features forming the landscapes, irrespective of the concept applicable. The importance of human beings and their subsequent activities leading to the appearance of such features are dependent on the perception of the observer.

For instance, a geographer applying the first concept would view nature as more important than humanity in his or her interpretation of a landscape while a geographer applying the latter concept would consider human existence as vital. Another notable feature is that in both cases, human existence is only notable if it occurs in harmony with nature.

Although the first example does not necessarily consider human beings as part of the landscape, the reality of their existence is hard to ignore. In this case, harmony with nature comprises human activities that do not alter the natural form of the earth’s physical features. The Al Majaz Waterfront complies with this element in both concepts as human activities around the natural features serve to compliment rather than alter the natural attractions of the area, thus enhancing the beauty of the scene.

Meinig (1979) also posits three other concepts that primarily operate on the presumption of relationships among objects forming the landscape and human beings involved in the development of the objects. The three concepts are the interpretation of landscape as wealth, landscape as history, and landscape as aesthetic. The author explains the interpretation of landscape as wealth to mean that observers applying this concept often consider the monetary value of the features and structures visible in the area as the basis of their understanding (Meinig, 1979).

For instance, the Al Majaz Waterfront features eight buildings, all of which host international hotels that generate handsome revenue to the economy of the area. Meinig (1979) explains the consideration of landscapes as history and as aesthetic to mean that, the observers’ points of focus fall on the history and beauty of features in the area in question, respectively. In all three cases, the relationship between man and the objects of focus is clear as the history, wealth, and aesthetic value of the objects rely heavily on human involvement.

The Al Majaza Waterfront, as the feature of focus, qualifies in all three concepts as part of the area’s landscape. The feature has been in existence for more than twenty years, thus resulting in its history as the main point where people in the city of Sharjah meet to interact.

The environment has been family friendly, thus providing evidence of the importance of family ties as part of the cultural history of the people of Sharjah. The improved version of the waterfront that became operational in December 2011 is a great improvement in the aesthetic value of the feature, with evidence of artistic influences in areas such as the design of the buildings, musical cybernetic fountain, and lighting that has come to serve as a spectacle to visitors and residents, especially at night.

The perception of the region’s wealth that has been evident throughout the history of the region is also visible in the state of the art features of the waterfront that operate on international standards. The waterfront has operated in harmony with surrounding natural features such as the Khalid Lagoon for the past twenty years and it continues to do so.

Denis Cosgrove, the author of the article, Geography is everywhere, presents a theory with similar elements as that of Meinig. The main variation between the two authors is that unlike Meinig, Cosgrove outlines three essential elements that constitute the guidelines for the interpretation of landscapes as opposed to listing possible versions to which different individuals subscribe. The first component when interpreting landscapes according to Cosgrove (1089) is focusing on visible forms, their composition, and structure.

He does not categorically separate natural visible forms from the synthetic ones as Meinig does in most of his explanations of different interpretations. Cosgrove’s explanation operates on the presumption that all visible forms in question regarding landscapes occur naturally. The second component in his explanation constitutes the element of coherence and rational order in the environment in question, while the last component denotes the element of human intervention (Cosgrove, 1989).

Essentially, Cosgrove (1989) insists on a link between physical and human geography as aspects that work in tandem and worthy of consideration when developing ideas on features that constitute landscapes. He mentions culture as one of the main methods of explaining the type of human intervention visible in a landscape scenario and classifies such culture into different categories (Cosgrove, 1989).

The first classification, viz. dominant culture, denotes the culture of the most dominant social group in an area, which often wields some level of power over others (Cosgrove, 1989). For instance, in the case study, Islam forms the dominant culture in Sharjah and it extends to the area where the waterfront stands.

As a result, certain features such as separate areas for men and women and secure playing grounds for children with safe games feature significantly in the design of the park. Subordinate cultures form the second main classification, which entails cultures belonging to social groups with less power such as minority ethnic groups and visitors to the region (Cosgrove, 1989). The waterfront’s international design is one of the main indications of subordinate cultures that feature prominently in the design of the Al Majaz Waterfront.

The waterfront also presents evidence of some relict culture, which Cosgrove (1989) explains as a culture that presents little of the original meaning of the feature, through the incorporation of structures such as the giant wheel that forms a vantage point for visitors and residents alike to enjoy the view of the city. The original culture behind the creation of the park was the creation of a family-friendly relaxation area with recreational activities like playgrounds, mostly for children.

However, the park has transformed into a recreational hub with little of its original culture left. Finally, the park possesses evidence of some emergent and imaginative cultures, which challenge the dominant culture and feature imaginative and artistic elements, respectively. Cosgrove (1989) notes that emergent cultures such as the lighting features of the park sometimes lack permanence and thus they evolve through time, with their main purpose being to challenge dominant cultures.


Cosgrove, D. (1989). Geography is everywhere: culture and symbolism in human

landscapes. In D. Gregory & R. Walford (Eds.), Horizons in Human Geography, (pp. 119-134). Ottawa, NJ: Barnes and Noble Books

Meinig, D. W. (1979). The Beholding Eye: Ten Versions of the Same Scene. In D.W.

Meining (Ed.) The Interpretation of Ordinary Landscapes: Geographical essays (pp.33-47). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

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"Decoding, interpreting, understanding and explaining landscapes." IvyPanda, 7 Feb. 2019, ivypanda.com/essays/decoding-interpreting-understanding-and-explaining-landscapes/.

1. IvyPanda. "Decoding, interpreting, understanding and explaining landscapes." February 7, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/decoding-interpreting-understanding-and-explaining-landscapes/.


IvyPanda. "Decoding, interpreting, understanding and explaining landscapes." February 7, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/decoding-interpreting-understanding-and-explaining-landscapes/.


IvyPanda. 2019. "Decoding, interpreting, understanding and explaining landscapes." February 7, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/decoding-interpreting-understanding-and-explaining-landscapes/.


IvyPanda. (2019) 'Decoding, interpreting, understanding and explaining landscapes'. 7 February.

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