This study is concerned with the development of a practical and effective form of computer-aided analysis of the visual impact of building development in rural areas. Its contribution is fourfold. Firstly, a conceptual model has been developed for the process of seeing in the context of visual impact analysis. Secondly, a mathematical model for a consistent series of visual descriptors has been devised. Thirdly, a suitable design tool has been devised to make use of visual descriptors in visual impact analysis. Fourthly, visual descriptors have actually been implemented as computer software. The concept of visual impact analysis is defined and placed within the wider context of landscape research. The problems faced by a designer in the context of visual impact analysis are identified and the concept of a 'design tool' is introduced and defined. A number of existing computer software packages, intended or used for visual impact analysis, are reviewed critically. The concept of 'visual descriptors' as measures to be used by designers is introduced and examined critically. A conceptual model is presented for the process of seeing in the context of visual impact analysis. A range of possible measures for use as visual descriptors is presented and developed further into a series of precise definitions. A method of implementing visual descriptors is presented together with formal algorithms for the derivation of eight visual descriptors. A software package incorporating these descriptors is presented and verification and case studies of its use carried out. Visual descriptors, as implemented, are assessed for their effectiveness as a design tool for visual impact analysis.

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