What inspired you to become a landscape architect and was your educational background directly related to this?
In your opinion, what are the essential attributes that any landscape architect should possess?
Inquisitiveness and passion play a major influence for me. In my opinion, Landscape Architects should have the ability to approach the design from various aspects and elements. Landscape architecture can be part of architecture, civil engineering and planning. This cross-disciplinary collaboration promotes a comprehensive and cooperative approach to planning and design thus creating a very strong design understanding and concept.
The Middle East has seen major developments in the landscaping industry over the past few years with major projects in the UAE, Qatar, and now Saudi Arabia. Now the attention must be turned to sustaining these ‘Green’ landscapes for years to come. How can this be done baring in mind our environmental responsibility to reduce our carbon footprint and the limited skills of the maintenance workers who are left to preserve the landscapes, once the architects have handed over the job?
With the current hype on being ‘Green’, everyone seemed to be jumping onto the ‘Green’ bandwagon. One should not only look upon using complicated technology savvy equipments but more on creating awareness on understanding the local biodiversity and designing workable spaces with sustainable materials sourced from nearby countries, which reduces the carbon footprint.
The choice of local planting palette and low maintenance plants with systematic water management also plays a huge role in going Green.
Water will become the most precious resource in the coming years and it’s likely to become a source of conflict. How can you as a landscape professional plan ahead in your work to ensure that water is treated with the respect it deserves and not wasted?
Water is a vital resource in the Middle East. To ensure that there will be minimal wastage, in certain projects that have vast lawn areas, we try to persuade the clients to invest in a systematic water management system by recycling grey water or incorporate water saving treatments in soil mixtures for the longer run benefits. Certain clients are quite keen in the proposal, although the initial cost will be slightly higher than what they normally pay. But if we look at the long term impact, they will be able to save half of the normal amount of water used for irrigation especially during summer season; whereby lawn area consume double the normal water intakes and also has higher water wastage due to water evaporation.
Another alternative would be to propose local groundcovers instead of grasses while maintaining the lush green effect the client wants.
Do you believe that the landscape industry in this region will undergo a major change in their design practices and be forced to adapt in the years ahead to overcome this problem of water scarcity and how can you avoid having only arid landscapes?
I believe if we start to value the essence of water now, this problem might not arise. To a fraction of clients, the meaning of green is vast lawn area with no trees. Hence, it will be up to the Landscape Architects to educate and change the client’s mindset by proposing mixtures of local and low maintenance plantings to create lush greeneries, whilst using the least amount of water.
Xeriscape concept works well in this region, hence we can explore and create more exciting and rich planting palette. Mixtures of plantings with different materials and textures such as natural stone boulders, pebbles, and recycled glass can be very interesting if designed in a creative manner. This will create a very animated and interactive landscape design.
Which project have you been most proud of throughout your career and why?
One of my favourite projects was creating an interactive hanging garden between two office towers.
The outdoor spaces interlink the restaurant, gymnasium and main lobby hence the design has to ensure smooth people movement from one space to another.
A huge water wall with a few strips of water cascades flowing into a reflective pool welcomes the users into the space and opens up to strips of artificial lawns. One of the constraints was to have green lawn area in a limited space as requested by the client. After going through a series of creative brainstorming, we came out with the idea of using artificial lawn onto the walls, paving strips and seating areas. Green walls and boxes of upstand planters house Bucida trees, creating sculptural features.
The clean and minimalist landscape approach including the choice of planting compliments the aluminium cladded Architectural building style, creating a seamless flow between the indoor and external spaces.
If you could create your dream project, what would it entail?
To create functional interactive spaces that will transform the quality of life and environment, while stimulating all sensory experiences would inevitably be my dream project. I believe that landscape has a direct impact onto the surrounding environment and the people living in it.
A successful landscape project is when the whole space is utilized fully by the people while fulfilling to the original design intent and constantly changing and adapting to the people’s needs.
People movements with the richness of textures and forms in the planting scheme and hardscape materials interlaced with each other evokes the sensory elements with movements, sounds, smell and colours, all working seamlessly captivating people into the space.
As a woman in a male dominated profession, what has been your experience working in this field in the Middle East?
Being a woman posses both advantages and disadvantages in this field especially in the Middle East.
In my past experiences working here, things could be quite challenging when you have a meeting room full of men during site meetings that looks down on you because you are the only female presence in that room. This is when all your training and experiences play a crucial part, not only in addressing bombarding questions from these men but also how you delicately make yourself be heard whilst handling the job and delivering good quality design.
I did not have any issue in proving myself in my previous working experiences in Malaysia. I find it very interesting and refreshing to be able to challenge myself to that level over here. If you pass this test, you will be part of the team and they will respect you even more. Being a good Landscape Architect means being able to deliver good design and get those designs built in reality with good communication and coordination amongst the whole team.
With the exception of water, what are the main challenges your industry will encounter in the coming years and how can these be overcome in your opinion?
The main challenges we have at the moment is the low quality workmanship and lack of professional craftsman on Landscape. In past experiences, we have proposed expensive material finishes only finding out that the installation done by non-professional workers on site, damages the aesthetic value of these materials. It can be very frustrating when there is no appreciation in valuing such items. To design beautiful things on paper is one thing but the execution on site in realizing the design concept is another challenge. There should be more licensed landscape contractors to perform the job. At the moment, the main contractor with minimal knowledge on landscape is doing the job hence the quality of work at times is compromised.
The lack of Landscape bodies in protecting the registered Landscape Architect is also another issue that needs to be looked upon. At the moment, architects or horticulturist who have experience in working on landscape projects are calling themselves Landscape Architects, which I think is a violation of professionalism. Sadly in certain parts of the Middle East region, Landscape Architects are not being recognized as professional. This is one of the major drawbacks that we need to overcome.
What advice would you give other women wanting to enter this profession, both here and overseas?
All professions posses their own challenges and thrills. Landscape Architecture is one profession where you are challenged not only in designing the external spaces, but also in making the space work for the people, environment and spatial articulation. Go wild in your design and have fun whilst doing it.
If “everything exists within the landscape” then Landscape Architects must learn to design everything.