How many landscape architects work at Cracknell? Do you have a diverse mixture of cultures? And If so, does this reflect in any way your designs, attitude to environmental issues?
Cracknell have 115 staff located in our offices in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Doha, Muscat and London, including 30 landscape architects, horticulturists, graphic artists, irrigation engineers, lighting designers, technical and admin personnel.
Our strength as a successful design practice lies in the quality, expertise and dedication of our professional personnel. We have a truly international mix of staff, allowing us to draw upon the best design practices from diverse cultures around the world, and to provide high quality design in many regions or environments.
What are the most challenging aspects of your job? Most rewarding?
Cracknell have responded to the challenge of the changing world economic situation by expanding our design operations and seeking new opportunities for business beyond this region. This creates new challenges for our designers and technical teams as we learn to adapt our designs to new climates, cultures and environments.
For us this is a fascinating and rewarding process, allowing us to develop designs that respond to regional cultures and requirements. Our designers will go to great lengths to find out what are the important local influences to ensure that our designs are not only appropriate to their cultural context, but also resonate with the local character.
One the most rewarding aspects of our work is to see a finished project being well used and enjoyed by the end users. We recently held our company sports day at Zabeel Park in Dubai, a project we completed about 5 years ago. It was amazing and very satisfying to see place full of families and groups using the park.
Since the beginning of operations in the UAE, what has been Cracknell’s greatest achievement to date? Biggest setback?
It is difficult to pin down our greatest achievement as a single project or a single event over 20 years of operations in UAE.
We are very proud of our involvement in some of the most iconic projects in the region such as the districts around the Burj Khalifa, the Dubai Mall, Internet City, Festival City, The Walk at JBR, Dubai Financial City, Jumeira Beach Hotel, Zabeel Park, The Palm Dubai and the Dubai Marina. It’s a great pleasure to see our work and the spaces we have created being well used and enjoyed by so many people.
We are also proud of our involvement in some of the less visible projects where our role is to create great communities with practical and responsible design, and to see residents enjoying their living environment.
We have had the fortune to be a part of the massive growth of the UAE over the past 20 years and we are proud of the influence we have had not only on the quality of the landscapes you see throughout this region, but also our role in establishing the importance that is now placed on the value of the public realm as an integral part of our living environment.
How do you maintain the pace of growth within your company?
The main concern with growth is to ensure that quality isn’t sacrificed. The UAE grew at a huge pace over 10 years, during which our office expanded from a team of 4 to 230 staff. Our strategy was to adapt the team structure to ensure that projects were well supported and well managed, and to take on board new technologies.
With fewer opportunities in the UAE, Cracknell are now focusing on growth in other regions and in emerging markets including Asia and further afield. This is an exciting phase for us and is presenting us with tremendous new opportunities.
What are your current big projects?
We are working on a number of very large public realm projects in Abu Dhabi that are very exciting and will ultimately provide some of the City’s most dynamic public spaces. In Saudi Arabia we have recently completed the first two phases of a multi-phase residential community that has been awarded the BEST RESIDENTIAL COMMUNITY IN SAUDI ARABIA 2012. We are also working on the urban regeneration of the Jeddah Corniche and the adjacent streetscapes to create a wonderful destination park for the people of the Jeddah.
In Asia we have 10 hospitality projects on the drawing boards and several large residential townships and mixed-use developments that are keeping us very busy.
What is very exciting is that there has been a resurgence in tourist related projects in Dubai. We have recently completed the new Meydan Beach Club located on the Walk at JBR and are working on another large tourism project in Dubai that will be a great new international destination for the region.
How is it possible to balance beauty, nature, and functionality in designs to respect the needs of both people and the environment?
This is a valid question these days and is something that Cracknell have been very focused on. As responsible designers we need to ensure our projects not only provide well designed functional spaces, but also achieve this with minimal impact on scarce resources. Sustainable design is at the heart of our process, and is something that in our view has ultimately improved the design product. For example by using local materials and local plant species our designs fit within their context and express the character of the region, telling the story of the place.
Cracknell have also been working hard to address technologies that improve water management for irrigation systems and are constantly reviewing new technologies for ways to improve efficiencies. We have worked with Government bodies to provide our expertise on the water demand for plant species and to develop the lists of indigenous and drought tolerant plants that have become the primary palette for landscape architects throughout the region.
Landscape architects are naturally very conscious of our environment, so for us addressing sustainability is a positive process that ultimately leads to better design.
How can landscape architects do more to consider the human element and the local culture when developing projects in our region?
From an individual landscape architects standpoint, make sure you travel around the region with your eyes wide open and your sketchbook or camera in your hand. The best and only way to really learn about the diverse cultures in the region is to get out there and see it first hand.
Travel allows us to evaluate and experience existing successful landscapes and spaces, to see how they have developed over time and to see how people use spaces in different countries and climates.
When so much interest is focused on ecology and the environment. What is the role that a landscape architect must play?
Landscape architects have a huge obligation to maintain and enhance our environment in a responsible way and to set an example for sustainability. As experts in understanding both our natural environment and our manmade environment, landscape architects have the skills to bridge the gap between nature and the designed space. We have a professional responsibility to ensure that the environment is considered in parallel with the end users needs and our Client’s requirements.
What specific guidelines or best practices do Cracknell as a company adhere to?
The application of Estidama as a guideline for sustainable landscape design has been one of the most successful and effective strategies implemented in this region. We have adapted our specifications, water demand strategies, plant lists and material selections to support Estidama as much as possible. This just makes good sense to us.
Many of our staff are LEED Accredited Professionals and this also guides our processes. However, Estidama is more specifically adapted to the regional requirements and is a more practical and appropriate guide to good design practice.
The principles set out by guidelines like Estidama can be applied to any regional location where consideration of resources in hot climates is a driving factor. However, in addition to the design process, Cracknell have developed detailed specifications that set high standards for project implementation and which ensure that our design work has a sound basis of constructability. Our specifications follow British Standards and International standards to ensure that the best practices are followed.
What are your concerns and projections for the landscaping industry in the region in general? And what changes would you like to see in the profession?
We are very optimistic about the region and are seeing a growth in larger scale private and public realm projects that is very encouraging. It has been an interesting time for everyone over the past 4 years with a massive shift in the type and scale of projects in the region. However, it feels as if there has been a period of consolidation that this is beginning to bear fruit and will lead to well considered projects.
Over the past 20 years we have seen a real shift in the perception of Landscape architecture and recognition of the added value it can bring to a project and the urban environment. As a result Landscape architects have started taking a more leading role and have been engaged at an earlier stage in the design process. However, we frequently find that we are brought on board too late during a project’s design cycle with the result that landscape opportunities can be missed. We would hope to encourage all Clients to consider landscape as a leading process rather than a secondary process as we believe we can add a great deal of value to the end product.
What does Cracknell have that your competitors lack?
Cracknell have been practicing in the region for 20 years and have generated an enormous wealth of knowledge about the region and its requirements for successful landscapes. We have the largest body of completed projects of any of our competitors, including many of the most high profile landscapes, and this body of work acts as our greatest asset in terms of winning new commissions.
Within our design team we are very happy to include some of the best and most experienced designers in the region with a broad range of skills and backgrounds. Our teams have the ability to take on a wide range of projects from small scale private landscapes to taking a leading management role in major multi-disciplinary projects.
We recently completed the design of the Shahama and Bahia Corniche for UPC in Abu Dhabi in which we not only had the leading landscape design role but we were also the lead consultant, managing marine engineers, infrastructure engineers and cost consultants. Our Clients recognise that we have the capability to manage large scale projects and we see this as an advantage over many of our competitors.
We have great depth in our in-house technical and support divisions and are able to offer our Clients full services that many of our competitors are unable to provide. In addition to our landscape teams we also have planners, lighting designers, horticulturists, Mechanical and Electrical and structural engineers, cost consultants and irrigation engineers. We are able to operate as a cohesive multi-disciplinary office which gives us an advantage over many of our competitors.
We have a dedicated post contract team that is led by experienced landscape architects who have all had many years regional experience. This adds tremendous value to our completed projects by ensuring that the design vision is successfully translated onto site.
How do you see UAE’s phenomena as an effect on the global landscaping design concepts and ideology (Mega projects influence)?
I think the primary effect is that the UAE has set a benchmark for what can be achieved and how a city can be transformed. Landscape has had big part to play in this transformation, not only in the private realm spaces, but also in the treatment of the public realm and streetscapes.
But following the period of massive growth, I think the most interesting effect is the new direction this country is now taking towards more sustainable landscapes. We are now seeing a much more considered approach to development and a more responsible approach to how we treat our environment, and we believe this is now setting a new benchmark for the others to follow.
Are there any unique forms of landscape or concepts that have evolved from within UAE and are adopted in other countries/regions?
It has been interesting to see how well the inspiration of the desert and the regional culture has been translated into the urban context in imaginative and contemporary ways. This has had a great influence on the way that public realm spaces are treated and has set the tone for expressing the context and character of the region.
Good examples from our portfolio that were influenced by the local context include the dune forms at the Dubai Convention center, contemporary arabesque patterning at the Burj Khalifa Boulevard and the wadi style landscapes at Festival City streetscapes and public realm.
What are the processes by which Cracknell evaluates the contractors and its landscape maintenance contracts?
We have a live data base of contractors in which contractors are continuously graded against their ability to supply and install their specific products. This allows us to continuously evaluate the contractors and to work with them to keep them appraised of where there is a gap in standards. This also feeds into our initial prequalification process and ensures that our tenders only go out to the best contractors. We believe that this process has over the years contributed to the high quality of construction and landscape installation that we see today.
Where do you see UAE in 10 years time with respect to development and landscape?
We are very encouraged about the more responsible and considered approach to development we are seeing that takes the local context into consideration. We believe that context and culture based landscapes will stand the test of time and will make a more durable and readable environment. We see this trend continuing as a response to a drive towards more sustainable urban environments.
I think one of the great goals this region should have over the coming decade is to establish a stronger sense of place, to create spaces that really speak about the character of the region and the culture of the region.
I also see a movement towards the creation of more public space and anticipate that our regional cities will have better designed and more accessible public realm spaces in the coming 10 years. This is the key to every great city and is where every great city expresses itself culturally and socially. Public spaces define the city and should reflect the culture and context and respond to the way people use their public spaces.