Modernist Reinventions of the Rural Landscape

MODSCAPES deals with new rural landscapes produced by large-scale agricultural development and colonization schemes (ADCS) implemented in the 20th century throughout Europe and beyond. Conceived in different political and ideological contexts, the underlying agricultural development and colonization policies (ADCP) were pivotal to Nation-building and State-building, and to the modernization of the countryside. Such policies and schemes provided a testing ground for the ideas and tools of agronomists, environmental and social scientists, architects, engineers, planners, landscape architects and artists, which converged around a shared challenge. Their implementation produced modernist rural landscapes (MRL) which have seldom been considered as a transnational research topic.

ADCP and ADCS had, and still have an impact on peoples’ lives as individuals and communities, but are largely ignored by mainstream scholarship and policies in the field. As time passes, buildings and landscapes deteriorate, and the people who lived in them as they developed die out, so that MRL become more increasingly difficult to understand as unique forms of cultural heritage.


MODSCAPES aims to raise awareness of this largely underestimated shared cultural heritage which stands today as a tangible evidence of recent European history. Emphasizing the crucial connection between ADCP, ADCS, and MRL, MODSCAPES builds upon the growing but fragmented interest for the topic to lay the basis for transnational and transdisciplinary strand of research.


To this end, MODSCAPES develops a comparative approach which combines research-driven and bottom-up participatory activities based on the collection, processing, elaboration, and critical discussion of visual data and multiple narratives concerning 13 case studies located in 7 EU- and 4 non-EU neighbouring countries.

MODSCAPES looks at MRL as the physical embodiment of policies, borrowing methods to design-oriented disc iplines, tested against three humanities-driven concepts:

    • The introduction of modernism – as the cultural and artistic expression of core modern values – in the countryside blurred conventional understanding of modernity. In modernist rural landscapes, “high modernism” – the visual order imposed by planners to make modern societies “legible” – had a crucial role.
    • Modern nation-states mediated the contradictions brought by the modernisation of large-scale societies using “imagination” and “creativity” to build new communities and identities. Focusing on reinvention is about identifying the different “styles” of such “national imaginings”, and about how change was “creatively” managed or steered.
    • A unifying paradigm for a trans-disciplinary approach to the topic’s tangible and intangible legacies, landscape is used to bridge arts and humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences, and to integrate research, policy, and practice effectively. Being the world “as perceived by people”, landscape is a means of approaching history with an action-oriented objective.


Each individual research team carries an individual project which includes one or more case studies:

Italy (1922-1943): Fascist integral reclamation of the Pontine Marshes & Apulian tableland;

Spain (1930s-1975): Francoist reclamation and internal colonization in the Ebro and Tagus Valleys;

Portugal (1920s-1950s): Salazar’s failed internal colonization of the common lands;

Germany (1945-1989): State-driven collectivization in former GDR (Mecklenburg-Vorpommern and Brandenburg)

Estonia and Latvia (1944/5-1991): Forced collectivization under Soviet occupation

British Palestine / Israel (1920s-1973): Zionist agricultural colonization

Libya (1922-1947): Italian agricultural colonies in Tripolitania and Cyrenaica

Morocco (1920s-1970s): French reclamation and rural development schemes of the Gharb Valley

Greece (1922-1968): Settlements in the Axios and Strymon Valleys for refugees from Asia Minor

Ukraine (1944/5 – 1991): Rural planning in Soviet Ukraine

Explore the case studies


Agricultural new settlements in Cyrenaica, Italian Lybia


Zionist agricultural colonisation in
British Palestine and Israel


Greek-Turkish refugee settlements


 Forced collectivisation of
Estonia and Latvia


Transformation of the countryside in the German Democratic Republic (GDR) in Mecklenburg-Vorpommen and Brandenburg


Francoist colonisation of the
Ebro and Tagus valleys


Salazar’s colonisation
of Portuguese common lands
(1920s-mid 1950s)


Rural development schemes
in French Morocco


Fascist land reforms and reclamations in the Pontine-Marshes


Fascist land reforms and reclamations in the Apulian tableland


Agricultural new settlements in Tripolitania, Italian Libya


Each individual project feeds five core thematic research-driven Work Packages (WP) articulated along a question-driven rationale:

  • What was debated and planned? >> WP1: Documenting adcp/adcs
  • What was realized and what remains? >> WP2: Physical legacies of adcp/adcs
  • What were adcp/adcs/mrl’s broader impacts? >> WP3: Sociocultural impacts of adcp/adcs
  • How do people see adcp/adcs/mrl today? >> WP4: Memories and reception of adcp/adcs/mrl
  • What do we do about it? >> WP5: Change and challenges in mrl


MODSCAPES’ multi-fold objectives can be prioritized in relation to the different perspectives they shed on the topic, as well as to their potential value for different user communities:

  1. Acknowledging MRL as cultural heritage, MODSCAPES aims to raise the awareness and understanding of local communities’ daily environments, to help them identify the challenges such environments face, and to empower them to participate in their enhancement and sustainable evolution.
  2. Considering MRL as a transnational shared cultural heritage across Europe and beyond, modscapes:
    • questions local communities’ self-perceived “exceptionalism”, sounding out their availability to share a common European history and identity;
    • enhances the wider public perception of MRL’s touristic potential, benefitting local communities.
  3. Developing a reflective approach to ADCP, ADCS and MRL (III), MODSCAPES addresses a broader range of end-user communities. Understanding the making, transformation, and present challenges of mrl, this project provides citizens, decision-makers, practitioners, as well as present and future generations of actors in the field (ie. students trained at partners’ institutions) with tools to
    • envisage the future development of MRL,
    • and to develop future sustainable and inclusive rural landscapes, villages and cities (IIIb).
    • MODSCAPES provides the opportunity for publicly debating past and current nationalist narratives against European ones,
    • and offers a platform to discuss past adcs against present-day EU policies.
    • Through its reflective approach, this project makes new and fresh contributions to different academic fields: nation-building theory; modern and contemporary (environmental and cultural) history of Europe; modern architectural, planning and landscape history; theory, epistemology and research methods in the design-related disciplines.
    • Last but not least, MODSCAPES is likely to give European and global scholarship on the topic significant leverage for its institutional consolidation, possibly into a permanent international academic network.

MODSCAPES is carried out by a team gathering expertise in architecture, landscape architecture, urban design, planning, art history, and anthropology. It is led by five experienced individual investigators, with the support of three associated partners of international relevance in their specific areas of activities.

Find out more about the MODSCAPES team


To this end, MODSCAPES engages and targets diversified potential audiences through an articulated knowledge exchange and dissemination strategy carried out through activities, events and deliverables, enabling a better understanding of the common patterns and rich diversities which shaped our national identities and may help to support shared European narratives.

Explore the research outputs