What inspired you to become a landscape architect and was your educational background directly related to this?
Dr Hala Nassar
In your opinion, what are the essential attributes that any landscape architect should possess?
Landscape architecture is a design discipline and therefore landscape architects should have a good understanding, appreciation and knowledge of both the technical and artistic components of the profession. Landscape architecture is neither a pure art nor a pure science. It involves theoretical concepts as well as the practice of utilizing space and designing landscape. It is a profession that has both humanistic and scientific dimensions. And since it is concerned with creating outdoor environments for human use, landscape architects need a great deal of interdisciplinary knowledge and an awareness of the impact of social, cultural and environmental factors on the profession.
Landscape architects must also maintain current knowledge in terms of theory and professional practice, trends in design and projects, and the dynamics between local and global issues that affect change in landscape architecture.
The Middle East has seen major developments in the landscaping industry over the past few years with major projects in the UAE, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Now the attention must be turned to sustaining these ‘Green’ landscapes for years to come. How can this be done bearing 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?
As we are witnessing today, the Middle East continues to play a significant role in the world on multiple levels including scale of development, speed of urbanization, and the magnitude of large landscape architectural projects. With very rapid environmental and economic change in the region, and with the growth of new cities, such as on the Arabian Peninsula, as well as the continued expansion of mega cities like Cairo, it is very important to explore the nature of landscape change in the region, explain the factors contributing to significant change, and understand the implications for the future. At the heart of the profession is an inherited stewardship and responsibility towards the natural environment. We therefore strive to find a delicate balance between how much to build and how much to conserve.
When it comes to sustaining landscapes and public places which have been developed over the past few decades, the lack of a sufficient number of professionally trained and educated individuals continues to be a major issue. There are very good departments of architecture and regional and urban planning in the academies of the Middle East. However, there are very few departments of landscape architecture. One way to provide support for landscape architecture in this region is to introduce the profession as an academic discipline in institutions of higher education as well as technical colleges.
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?
Dr. Ismail Serageldin, director of the Library of Alexandria in Egypt, and holder of several honorary doctoral degrees, has been an important voice throughout the last decade calling for more attention to water issues. In August 1995 he warned that, "if the wars of this century were fought over oil, the wars of the next century will be fought over water -- unless we change our approach to managing this precious and vital resource.”
Especially in the Middle East, with its arid and semi-arid environments, Dr. Serageldin’s warning about potential water problems is very critical. Landscape architecture is one of the leading professions in that regard because of its ability to respond to the environment and to work within its parameters. In hot arid environments landscape architects pay close attention to appropriate water conservation practices specified during the design phase and put into place during construction, operation and post-occupancy maintenance. Water-conscious strategies for landscape designs take into account the amounts of water needed for sustaining landscapes, the quantity and types of plants being used, the use of native/local vegetation, and the heat/drought tolerance of plant materials. Recycling of off site water and use of recycled water (greywater) for irrigation can be a very valuable strategy in water conservation. Using state of the art irrigation technology can also provide long-term efficiency and cost benefits in terms of water use. Other strategies that might apply to limited parts of the Middle East include rainwater harvesting and retention. And above all, we need general, culture-wide behavioral changes involving the use and management of water. Therefore public awareness, education and communication of best practices regarding water usage are important keys for a sustainable future.
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?
Certainly! As we have grown to be more environmentally and energy conscious, we will have to also become more water conscious. Designed landscapes and built environments need to respond to the decreased availability of water in the foreseeable future. Perhaps what is needed is to revisit the landscape architectural palate and develop an appreciation for different types of gardens, plant materials and landscape designs that are not heavily reliant on excessive amounts of water. That does not necessarily mean that we have only arid landscapes, but that we also explore design alternatives to traditional lush-looking landscapes.
Which project has you been most proud of throughout your career and why?
It would be hard to pick one from the many architectural and landscape architectural projects I have been involved in. I have worked on projects involving housing, urban planning and design, hotels and resorts, urban parks, health care facilities, and landscape architecture public art installations projects in various countries including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, China and the United States.
I would like to mention a recent project that has been intriguing and interesting to work on from conceptual development to installation in Sonoma, California entitled “Climate Change Garden.” It is an invited project involving the installation of public art in a landscape setting. The project addresses the implications of climate change on garden design and combines aspects of sustainability, context specific design and global trends in landscape architecture.
The “Climate Change Garden” expresses through design the impending changes we face concerning meaning and nature, resource scarcity, and greater global cultural awareness. Images of nature from around the world gain greater significance, once plentiful resources become especially precious, and plants shift in form and function like the shifting boundaries of our ecotones.
If you could create your dream project, what would it entail?
I have been very fortunate to have worked on a wide variety of projects in different parts of the world. Each project presented a different configuration of variables including location, scope, climate, ecology, program, constraints, potentials, and so. My dream project would be one that presents another level of challenge and another possibility for creativity.
As a woman in a male dominated profession, what has been your experience working in this field in the Middle East?
I believe that I am able to answer this question based on my personal academic research and general observation in practice.
In the United States, in early 2000 I conducted research that examined both the academic performance of women in landscape over a time span of 20 years and also surveyed these graduates about their professional career satisfaction. In terms of academic performance, women generally out performed male students in most of classes and studios. Research results of surveying both male and female graduates showed that women graduates still held landscape jobs in their 30s and 40s, that they were overall satisfied with their career choice, and that they were engaged in all aspects of the profession from design to implementation. Solicited written comments indicated that women found it difficult in the beginning to be in a male-dominated profession but once “trust was earned” they encountered no major issues working in the field.
As an educator, my own observation of the classroom or design studio is that classes were generally around 50% male and 50 % female students.
My observations based on working in the Middle East, both as an educator and professional, are not significantly different. I have observed an equal numbers of male and female students in most design disciplines and in professional practice women hold different types of positions representing different aspects of the profession. In my opinion, there are more and more women entering the field. It would be very interesting, and definitely needed, to conduct a similar study examining women’s professional status, performance and satisfaction in landscape architecture in the Middle East as well.
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?
I believe that globalization is one of the strongest influences affecting large scale landscape change; its impact is extensive, fast paced and deep. In the face of such rapid change our challenge would be the preservation of both the natural environment and cultural heritage. It will therefore be very important to keep in balance future development and the protection of our existing cultural heritage and treasured places.
What advice would you give other women wanting to enter this profession, both here and overseas?
Women have always been engaged in landscape architecture. Historical records and scholarly literature attest to their consistent academic and professional contribution to the profession. Landscape architecture is a great career choice that needs the continuous contributions and presence of talented professional women.