WAHO Landscape Architects have been creating fresh landscape interventions in the Middle East for nearly three years now. Established by New Zealanders Sam Spinks and Brendon Chamberlain the studio is design driven and responsive to environmentalconditions and cultural influences. LANDSCAPE caught up with them:
The name? Well, we are both New Zealanders by birth and in Maori WAHO means the space outside a building i.e. the landscape, also Al Waha in Arabic means oasis so there is a nice correlation there. The company provides a comprehensive landscape architectural service. We’re a design driven studio office paying close attention to every stage of the design process through to implementation. In fact coordination and implementation is the key to our approach, a good design needs to be fully realised, a misplaced man hole or irrigation valve box can blow it.
NEW ZEALAND IS VERY DIFFERENT TO THE MIDDLE EAST HOW DO YOU DEAL WITH THIS AND DOES IT SHOW IN YOUR WORK?
Brendon and I have over 12 year’s collective experience in the Middle East; we are well tuned into the environmental conditions, government processes, cultural sensitivities and general tastes of the region. As landscape architects it’s our job to research and process information about the site in which we design,whether in New Zealand, India or the Middle East.
Each location has its own nuances and design cues which we identify and use to our advantage when designing. We pay close attention toHYPERLINK "http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indigenous_(ecology)" \o "Indigenous (ecology)"indigenousplant species, historical influences, geology and locally available materials associated with the site. All these factors help inform the landscape proposal to create a rich landscape that reflects the site context. An example of this is the Halat Ammar Border crossing in Saudi Arabia, for which we recently completed the concept design phase.
Located in the North West corner of Saudi Arabia on the border with Jordan, this customs and immigration checkpoint processes thousands of visitors each year. As the first entry point for many people to the country, the client requested a built structure and landscape that was of the place and marked the area as a welcoming entry point. The landscape response included a series of fluid swaths of endemic plantings and decorative gravel trims. Trees species nominated were Prosopis cineraria, Acacia tortilis and Ziziphus spina-christi all chosen for their low water use and adaptability to the unforgiving environment. Phoenix dactylifera was also nominated forits strong vertical form.
In many situations we have a limited number of cultural and environmental design cues to inform the proposal, this is where the architect’sproposal and the client’s requirements are key, an example is the Pullman Hotel at the Deira City Centre, which is due for completion in November. For this project we followed the architects design lead and complemented the building with modern materials and sophisticated landscape design lines.
The scope for this project included the Porte cochere drop off area and raised pool terrace and sun lounging space. Its a relatively small scale project but incorporates a number of interesting design elements that have been coordinated with the interior designers and the architects, these design elements include a feature stone wall that casts shadow by day and reflects up lighting by night, hardwood timber screens to help defines various spaces, raised timber pods and cabanas to provide private external ‘rooms’ for the pool users and strong architectural planting.
DOES WAHO SPECIALISE IN A PARTICULAR AREA OF LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE?
The UAE office doesn’t specialise in one particular areaof landscape architecture as such, in many situations offices back home may specialise in Heritage Landscape, Hospitality, Institutional or even report writing for development applications, in the UAE the net is cast over all these areas. We often say we are specialist landscape architects, in the sense that we provide all the services expected of a landscape architectural firm, as opposed to a landscape department attached to a company with the core in another discipline, such as engineering. The projects we have undertaking in the region vary greatly but underlying all of them is the attention to detail and full commitment to each individual project.
HOW DO YOU SEE THE FUTURE OF LANDSCAPE IN THE REGION
Challenging but very exciting, we are here for a purpose and that’s to contribute positively to the landscape scene and be involved in the dynamic projects the region offers. We have been through the haze and excitement of the pre 2008 days and now we are launching into the new era of considered, thoughtful and viable developments, this is all positive stuff. In terms of the UAE, the municipalities are establishing some very interesting initiatives and a focus on the level to which the landscape contributes to the built environment and the role it plays in being socially and environmentally aware, this government level directive is very encouraging.
The WAHO UAE office undertakes projects throughout the region including Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and of course the UAE; we also have an office in India that focuses primarily on Indian hi-end residential developments and master planning of these developments. So for WAHO and landscape architects in general it’s a challenging but exciting time to be in the profession and the development industry.