Landscape design - rural

Provided by Simon Bell: Senior Research Fellow, OPENspace Research Centre


What, Why, When, How, Extras


What is it?

Rural landscape

The rural landscape has many traditional features of the way buildings fit in, with trees and hedges providing structure, local styles and materials still characteristic and much potential for sustainable development.

Landscape design in rural settings generally involves working in places where buildings may be seen as intrusions. Rural landscapes can vary from those close to towns where an urban influence is present or where the residents tend to have urban values (commuter areas for example) through to national parks and other quite “natural” areas where buildings are sparse and usually of vernacular origin in terms fo the design and use of materials. The scale of the landscape may also vary, from small and intimate to large and open so that buildings can easily look out of place if not anchored into the landscape. Under the European Landscape Convention signatory governments undertake to manage and conserve cultural landscapes, often by guiding built development or infrastructure according to the character of the landscape. Documents such as landscape character assessments which are inventories of landscapes may provide ideas for locating buildings, fitting them into the landscape and using elements such as trees, hedges and walls to unify them into the scene.


Why use it?

Rural landscapes are often highly valued and can be very attractive places for people to live. People are frequently much more sensitive to changes taking place in these valued landscapes and “NIMBYism” can be a major issue. Buildings therefore need to respect the character of the landscape while not being mere pastiches of traditional vernacular examples. Siting is especially important but use of materials, colours and forms, use of elements such as landform, trees and hedges can help to ensure that new or modified buildings can be positive elements. Large buildings such as farm storage sheds, power plants or other industrial may need to be treated by screening using earthworks and planting or by integrating them into the landscape with the help of colour treatments, landform and use of simple uncluttered forms.


When to use it?

Whenever built development is proposed for a rural site the use of landscape elements to help to integrate the construction into the scene should be considered. Because of the openness of many rural landscapes buildings can be seen over significant distances and may stand out as separate elements unless integrated. Bigger structures may appear to dominate the scene or else all may be dwarfed in large scale landscapes. If there is any risk of the building competing with a highly valued rural landscape then good design to integrate it should be considered. Also, because landscape in the rural setting often includes land not in the ownership of the developer, the effect of off-site trees, buildings and other elements may need to be considered in the landscape composition. It is also recommended to consult a landscape architect since architects seldom know anything about living materials and the design of outdoor spaces in rural locations.


How to use it?

Key points:


  • The scale of the landscape in relation to the building(s) and the need for reducing the apparent bulk or for avoiding the building appearing to float.
  • The materials, colours, textures and vegetation found in the landscape to be used as guidance for the design of both building and landscape elements.
  • The guidance given by any landscape character assessments available for the area.
  • The presence of landscape elements on and off site that could be used to integrate the development into the landscape.
  • The condition of landscape elements such as trees, hedges, walls, which may change or need to be enhanced for long term effectiveness.
  • The species and varieties of plants found in the area and which should be considered when planning and designing landscape works.
  • The forms of the land and terrain as sources of shapes when considering the use of earthworks as part of the design (including disposal of excavated material and its incorporation into the landscape).


Design procedure:


  • Step 1: Following on from site planning, consider the local landscape character, concentrating on the forms and patterns of landscape elements which could be used as inspiration on integrating the development into the landscape. Collect samples of materials, colours and other aspects which may help to identify ways in which the development could be integrated.
  • Step 2: Survey the existing landscape elements, obtaining professional guidance on the condition and health of living elements such as trees, hedges, waterbodies, meadows and other semi-natural areas. Develop a list of potential vegetation to be used in the design. Identify the features which can be used in the design and where these may need strengthening or rejuvenating.
  • Step 3: Using the building footprint, consider the layout of access roads, tracks and paths and the routing of services in ways that facilitate efficient function, respect the local conditions and avoid unnecessary removal or disturbance of valuable vegetation or waterbodies. Try to use forms derived from the landscape, such as curving lanes, the shape of hedges or field boundaries or the sweep of a slope as means of unifying the bulding(s) into the landscape. If the building is to perform a function (such as a farm building) ensure that this does not override aesthetic requirements.
  • Step 4: Prepare a design showing the building(s) together with landscape elements such as roads, paths, existing and proposed trees, water features, earthwork contours, walls and hedges etc. Construct perspectives showing how these elements contribute to the setting and composition of the building(s) from several key views.
  • Step 5: Prepare a set of layout plans with specifications for the excavation, earthworks, drainage and surfacing, and for the planting and management of the vegetation.
  • Step 6: Landscapes develop from the day the contract to create them is completed and become mature many decades later so that management plans guiding the development of the design over time are crucial.


Related strategies

Materials Construction Flood-risk: Building placement


Take this further

  • Agnoletti, M. (Ed.), 2006, The conservation of cultural landscapes, CABI Publishing.
  • Bell, S. 1999, Landscape: pattern, perception and process, E&FN Spon, London.
  • Benson, J. F. & M.H. Roe (Ed.), 2000, Landscape and sustainability, Taylor & Francis Group, London.
  • Bradshaw, A.D., A.A. Goode & E. Thorp, 1986, Ecology and design in landscape, Blackwell, Oxford.
  • Grenville, J. (Ed.), 1999, Managing the historic rural landscape, Routledge, London.
  • Jennifer, J. (Ed.), 2000, Remaking the landscape, Profile Books, London

Case studies

There are no related case studies yet.