Landscape architecture and creating attractive spaces between buildings is becoming more of a factor in design across the Middle East.
Dubai, especially, has been viewed as a collection of neighbourhoods which each stand alone and apart from one another but inter-connectivity and public plazas and parks are now viewed as increasingly important.
Developments such as The Beach increasingly emphasise the human factor in design and provide areas for a greater degree of social interaction.
Other recent Dubai projects which emphasise connectivity include City Walk.
Salim Hussain of Atkins said: “The space between buildings is critical as this is where the full cultural breadth of the city is experienced. It is somewhere everyone can be present and so the space needs to be many things for many people.”
Architects James Rose and Garrett Eckbo, colleagues at Harvard in the USA during the 1930s, were the original pioneers of a movement which adopted ideas about space from artists such as Wassily Kandinsky and from architectural ideas based on Mies van der Rohe’s free plan, which called for flexibility in design and buildings to be arranged in a way which best suited people.
Rose saw landscape as an integral part of architecture. He said: “In pure landscape, we drop the structural shell and the volume is defined by earth, paving, water and ground cover; foliage, walls, structures and other vertical elements on the sides, and sky, branching and roofing above.”
Proper masterplanning is the best way to ensure connectivity in design, according to Pedram Rad of U + A Architects, which is based in Dubai.
“In older times cities grew organically,” he said. “So parks and open spaces were part of that process.
“Now open spaces have to be incorporated into the design of modern urban centres. Look at Dubai, for example. I feel there have been a lot of missed opportunities as there is a lack of greenery between buildings. The Marina for example has lots of beautiful water but no vegetation along the promenade.”
Rad said he felt people were starting to want a more natural approach to design in the Middle East.
“Residents of Dubai, for instance, are starting to appreciate the fact that greenery is becoming more important” he said.
“Greenery means a place for people to walk, for children to play, or even just a place to relax and watch the sunset. At the end of the day humans came from nature. We do enjoy seeing buildings – but we also do enjoy seeing the natural landscape.”
LANDSCAPING AT AN EARLY STAGE
Recent high profile developments have shown the value a landscape architect can bring to a project, according to Duncan Denley, manging director of Dubai-based Desert INK.
He said the “human experience” of a project can be enhanced when attention is paid to surroundings and the spaces between buildings.
“There was a time when developers considered appointing a project landscape architect as a luxury; the first to be sacrificed when budget becomes an issue,” he said.
“Where a landscape architect was appointed, it was often too late to add significant value other than a bit of ‘window dressing’ here and there. Thankfully however, recent years have seen a number of major projects led by landscape architects, such as New York’s Highline, The UK’s Eden Project and the spectacularly-successful London Olympic Park.”
Denley said these high profile success stories have not escaped the attentions of clients and project managers and the profession now finds itself better understood and appreciated than ever before.
“In order to understand how landscape architects can add value, we must first understand their background and training. The word ‘landscape’ has unfortunately led the uninitiated to think of landscape architects as gardeners with an inflated title,” he said.
“Since landscape architects are not focussed solely upon one area of expertise, they are able to ‘join the dots’ between disciplines and envision a project which incorporates aspects of architecture, engineering, human interaction, art and the natural world.
“This holistic approach favoured by landscape architects can also improve human experience of a project, with projects studied in the context of their surroundings.” Denley said Dubai examples of this include Madinat Jumeirah with its hidden piazzas, terraces and canals, and the Park Hyatt Hotel withits sheltered courtyard pool.
“In the increasingly-competitive resort industry, visitors frequently spend more time enjoying landscape facilities such as swimming pools, gardens and al-fresco dining than they do in the hotel’s interior spaces. and rooms.
“Not only is landscape relatively good value for money, but a good landscape architect will reduce project spend if involved from the outset.
“For example, it’s possible to save millions on podium structures if landscape loads are coordinated with structural allowances, rather than over-engineering slabs to accommodate any foreseable eventuality.
“Landscape architects can eliminate expensive structural items such as retaining wallsand vegetated slope stabilisation. the earlier the landscape architect gets involved, the more savings can be attained.”