Please tell us about your family and educational background?
What inspired you to get involved in the landscaping industry?
As I said, what other profession has the opportunity to impact on how people feel about their communities and their surroundings. That perception then in turn, can create a whole new social awareness and responsibility for the individual and the entire community. When people feel better about and have a sense of pride in their neighborhoods, it can transform a whole region. People care about what happens there and who lives around them to add to our whole global social conscience. What an awesome opportunity to be a part of that!
Environmental responsibility, sustainability and water conservation are the big issues affecting the landscaping industry at the moment. How do you ensure these key factors are incorporated into your work without sacrificing on the overall design and layout of a project?
With the “new wave” of environmental awareness, I feel that people are realizing that it is all our responsibility to protect the only earth that we have. As the world seemingly becomes smaller with our global economy and information access seemingly at our fingertips, it is apparent that our present day resources are finite. Having come from Central Florida in the United States, two themes that we dealt with on a continual basis were thermal comfort and water conservation; themes are also very essential in the UAE. In addition to environmental conservation is the protection of a region’s cultural and social heritage. With these important goals in mind, I wrote planning guidelines that would take these factors into consideration and yet allow for creative professional freedom as the development emerged out of the ground. With years of experience in the Landscape Architecture field, I was able to write language that took the natural systems into account for the greatest opportunity for project success and natural conservation.
Do you think that the scarcity of water in the UAE has put pressure on landscape architects to create more hardscape with arid desert plants and trees that can withstand the heat?
I think it is not only the scarcity of the water but the wisdom of the UAE planning community that has made it a code requirement. As Landscape Architects and Planners it is our social responsibility to plan areas with the long-range consequences in mind. One of the great opportunities that professionals have, as I see it, is to create a place that is truly Abu Dhabi. A place that doesn’t try to recreate another place with a certain set of circumstances. Even in other desert climates, they don’t have the great things like Abu Dhabi Sand Lake Road Commuter Rail Station.
If so, do you agree that the need for water conservation and less irrigation will have a negative impact on your creative abilities when it comes to designing ‘green’ landscape?
No I don’t think so. I think designers are going to have to rethink what a green landscape is. I also think this sustainability effort will give us a chance to rethink how we use resources everywhere. As we reduce water consumption in our homes and businesses and look for creative ways to take what we waste and put it to good use. Perhaps we can take the hundreds of gallons of water from our clothes dryers and dehumidifiers and instead of pouring it down the drain, we could have a collection area for it so it could be used for irrigation or some other purpose. There is so much that could be saved if we are all willing to change the way we do things just a little bit and do them a little differently. The sacrifice is not great if we all do it together. The key is when you do provide a traditional lush green landscape that you do it in a meaningful way, where it can be used by many and thoroughly enjoyed. Everything we do should be purposeful and with meaning for the direct effect it will have on the project and not just because “it looks cool.”
During a project that I recently completed, Pine Hills Redevelopment, we had the challenge of creating a new community-gathering center that was adjacent to a new school that was being constructed. In order to respond to the desires of the surrounding residents, who wanted more recreational areas, we looked at the lands surrounding the community and realized that had adequate recreational lands, however, they could not access them easily. To solve the problem we created a gathering center to the community containing Pine Hills Redevelopment.
Which project have you been most proud of throughout your career and why?
Celebration Florida. The primary criticism of the project was that it was not real. Real projects deal with infill and redevelopment scenarios and a real depth of a city as it grows over time. It morphs to its people and becomes a signature of them. But this was all fabricated from the ground up at one time. Those initial criticisms may be true but even so, as the community ages and the “wrinkles” begin to emerge from the clean lines of youth, a true community will be born and reborn…Such a thrill for a planner.
If you could create your dream project, what would it entail?
As I shared, my dream project was Celebration Florida but to build on that dream, I would take Celebration one step further and incorporate another project that I have been very proud of. The celebration project was fabulous and awe inspiring, but to make it better, I would incorporate a fixed guide way public mass transit system into the design. The world’s reliance on the automobile as a whole does not make for a healthy environment. This reliance forces us to look at walking and mass transit as something that is only for people that can’t afford something else. Creating transit systems that have safe, interesting connections to residential areas and jobs will only enhance our connections to our communities. We, as people, no matter where you are from, are meant for community and not to live in isolation from one another. It is when we are in close proximity that we exchange ideas and realize we are not so different from one another. We become fellow travelers with similar patterns and problems and goals and joys. It always amazes me to hear from people about their vacations to New York, Paris, etc. and how they could ride a train anywhere they wanted to go…yet they oppose building these new systems in some parts of the U.S.
As a woman in a male dominated profession, what has been your experience working in this field in the Middle East?
I have yet to secure a position in the region but I am truly looking forward to it. I think women have an advantage in male dominated professions in general. Women think differently than men. That doesn’t make us better or worse, just different and I always feel that many perspectives make a better project, a richer, deeper, project. Ultimately to goal of creating the best project possible should surface, regardless of whose ideas are contributed to create that project.
How do you see your field developing in the Middle East? Do you have any concerns, advice, opinions regarding this?
As a smart growth planner, I see the region as primed and ready to be a major world destination. The good bones are already in place through the initiatives already set in place through the vision of the Sheikhs and those planners that have come before. We can’t be afraid to abandon the ways and methods that are not conducive to building the vision. It is the follow-through and continued improvement that is important now. The details must be focused, as they will give the area its unique qualities. The possibilities are endless, if the willingness is there.
What advice would you give other women wanting to enter this profession, both here and overseas?
Only become involved in landscape architecture if you want to serve your community and make the world a better place for all. I guess your parents do have a big effect on you, after all.