Guidelines for the Treatment of Cultural Landscapes

Factors to Consider When Selecting An Appropriate Treatment


Preservation Planning

Factors to Consider

Special Requirements

Using the Standards + Guidelines

Organization of the Guidelines




The Standards are neither technical nor prescriptive, but are intended to promote responsible preservation practices that help protect our Nation’s irreplaceable cultural resources. They cannot be used to make essential decisions about which contributing features of a cultural landscape should be retained and which can be changed. But once a specific treatment is selected, the Standards can provide the necessary philosophical framework for a consistent and holistic approach for a cultural landscape project.

A treatment is a physical intervention carried out to achieve a historic preservation goal—it cannot be considered in a vacuum. There are many practical and philosophical variables that influence the selection of a treatment for a landscape . These include, but are not limited to, the extent of historic documentation, existing physical conditions, historic value, proposed use, long and short term objectives, operational and code requirements (e.g. accessibility, fire, security) and anticipated capital improvement, staffing and maintenance costs. The impact of the treatment on any significant archeological and natural resources should also be considered in this decision making process. Therefore, it is necessary to consider a broad array of dynamic and interrelated variables in selecting a treatment for a cultural landscape preservation project.

For some cultural landscapes, especially those that are best considered ethnographic or heritage landscapes, these Guidelines may not apply. However, if people working with these properties decide that community coherence may be affected by physical place and space—or if there is potential for loss of landscape character whose significance is rooted in the community’s activities and processes (or other aspects of its history)—this guide may be of service.


Change and Continuity.
There is a balance between change and continuity in all cultural resources. Change is inherent in cultural landscapes; it results from both natural processes and human activities. Sometimes that change is subtle, barely perceptible as with the geomorphological effects on landform. At other times, it is strikingly obvious, as with vegetation, either in the cyclical changes of growth and reproduction or the progressive changes of plant competition and succession. This dynamic quality of all cultural landscapes is balanced by the continuity of distinctive characteristics retained over time. For, in spite of a landscape’s constant change (or perhaps because of it), a property can still exhibit continuity of form, order, use, features, or materials. Preservation and rehabilitation treatments seek to secure and emphasize continuity while acknowledging change.

Relative Significance in History.
A cultural landscape may be a significant resource as a rare survivor or the work of an important landscape architect, horticulturist or designer. It may be the site of an important event or activity, reflect cultural traditions, or other patterns of settlement or land use. This significance may be derived from local, regional, or national importance. Cultural landscapes may be listed in the National Register of Historic Places individually or as contributing features in a historic district. In some instances, cultural landscapes may be designated National Historic Landmarks by the Secretary of the Interior for their exceptional significance in American history.

Geographical Context.
The surroundings of a cultural landscape, whether an urban neighborhood or rural farming area [see center top left and right], may contribute to its significance and its historic character and should be considered prior to treatment. The setting may contain component landscapes or features which fall within the property’s historic boundaries. It also may be comprised of separate properties beyond the landscape’s boundaries, and perhaps those of the National Register listing. The landscape context can include the overall pattern of the circulation networks, views and vistas into and out of the landscape, land use, natural features, clusters of structures, and division of properties.

Historic, current, and proposed use of the cultural landscape must be considered prior to treatment selection. Historic use is directly linked to its significance [bottom left], while current and proposed use(s) can affect integrity and existing conditions. Parameters may vary from one landscape to another. For example, in one agricultural landscape, continuation of the historic use can lead to changes in the physical form of a farm to accommodate new crops and equipment. In another agricultural property, new uses may be adapted within the landscape’s existing form, order and features.

Archeological Resources.
Prehistoric and historic archeological resources may be found in cultural landscapes above and below the ground [below] and even under water. Examples of prehistoric archeological resources include prehistoric mounds built by Native-Americans. Examples of historic archeological resources include remnants of buildings, cliff dwellings, and villages; or, features of a sunken garden, mining camp, or battlefield. These resources not only have historical value, but can also reveal significant information about a cultural landscape. The appropriate treatment of a cultural landscape includes the identification and preservation of significant archeological resources. Many landscape preservation projects include a site archeologist.


Natural Systems.
Cultural landscapes often derive their character from a human response to natural features and systems. The significance of these natural resources may be based on their cultural associations and from their inherent ecological values. Natural resources form natural systems that are interdependent on one another and which may extend well beyond the boundary of the historic property. For example, these systems can include geology, hydrology, plant and animal habitats, and climate. Some of these natural resources are particularly susceptible to disturbances caused by changes in landscape management. Many natural resources such as wetlands or rare species fall under local, state, and federal regulations which must be considered. Since natural resource protection is a specialized field distinct from cultural landscape preservation, a preservation planning team may want to include an expert in this area to address specific issues or resources found within a cultural landscape. Natural systems are an integral part of the cultural landscape and must be considered when selecting an appropriate treatment.

Management and Maintenance.
Management strategies are long-term and comprehensive. They can be one of the means for implementing a landscape preservation plan. Maintenance tasks can be day-to-day, seasonal, or cyclical, as determined by management strategies. Although routine horticultural activities, such as mowing and weeding, or general grounds maintenance, such as re-laying pavement or curbs, may appear routine, such activities can cumulatively alter the character of a landscape. In contrast, well-conceived management and maintenance activities can sustain character and integrity over an extended period. Therefore, both the management and maintenance of cultural landscapes should be considered when selecting a treatment.

Interpretation can help in understanding and “reading” the landscape. The tools and techniques of interpretation can include guided walks, self-guided brochures, computer-aided tours, exhibits, and wayside stations. Interpretive goals should compliment treatment selection, reflecting the landscape’s significance and historic character. A cultural landscape may possess varying levels of integrity or even differing periods of significance, both of which can result in a multi-faceted approach to interpretation. In some cases, interpretation and a sound interpretive strategy can inform decisions about how to treat a landscape.


Before a treatment was selected for the Piper Farm at Antietam Battlefield, it was important to understand that the farm complex had a high level of integrity for its turn-of-the-century development. In fact, if the landscape was “restored” to the period of the battle, it would have resulted in the removal of this farm complex and subsequent loss of significant history. (NPS,1994)