“There has been a significant move away from lush landscapes toward more responsible and sustainable solutions,” said Robert Shakespeare, group design director at international landscape architecture practice Cracknell. “However, this is not just a factor of cost and water budgets, but a growing understanding that the landscape should be appropriate to its context and respond to the local environment.”
From materials used to the plants selected, Shakespeare explained that GCC-based clients are now selecting landscaping elements that are appropriate to desert regions. These all add up to a design language, he said, that fits with its context aesthetically and practically, and celebrates the regional character and identity.
According to Shakespeare, cities across the Gulf have matured over the past 20 years and there has been a general understanding that green and urban spaces tend to become the internationally recognised face of a city. Therefore, each place should have its own distinguishable character.
“As the GCC gains recognition for design leadership, it’s important that each city sets new standards for its public realm, creating unique identities that set them apart,” he said. “Landscape architects are at the forefront of the design process, dealing with the spaces between the buildings, creating connected green areas, parks, retail destinations and bringing public art into the equation.”
One of the recent changes in market trends has also been the way that residents are using outdoor and public spaces. In Dubai, for example, the population has grown significantly, mixing diverse nationalities together in shared public realm spaces. As a result, Shakespeare noted, there has been a demand for more recreational opportunities, outdoor retail, connected bike trails, and ‘destination’ landscapes.
“The outcome is that many commercial and retail projects are now being designed as genuine indoor and outdoor environments. Public beaches [now incorporate] destination parks and urban downtown streets have become a platform for events, festivals and nightlife,” Shakespeare said.
He added, “We all live and use our public realm far more today than we did 20 years ago, so the challenge for landscape architects is to bring these places to life and make them usable throughout the year.”
Along with the Cracknell team, Shakespeare is looking forward to a few new projects across the region, like new retail districts in Saudi Arabia and waterfront developments in Bahrain and Dubai. It also has projects further afield, from Russia to China.