Tell us about your family and educational background?I was born in Croatia, Zagreb in 1980 and grew up in a picturesque small town of Krapina, where my family still lives. After finishing high school, I left home and moved to the capital city of Croatia to study landscape architecture at the University of Zagreb. In 2005, I got my Master's degree in landscape architecture studies. I participated in exhibitions and international workshops and traveled a lot, mostly around Europe, to learn and study historical and modern landscape architecture.
What inspired you to get involved in the landscaping industry?
I have been ‘obsessed’ with nature and gardening since childhood. Landscape as such is a medium, which permeates our lives, and landscape architecture to me was the most inspiring and the most creative work that I came across. Nature, art and functionality are merged together into interactive compositions. Once you start, you cannot stop!
Environmental responsibility, sustainability, carbon footprints 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?
All these issues are crucial elements of today’s design process not only in the Middle East region but also in other parts of the globe. As a foreigner I can say that environmental responsibility and sustainability are special concerns in the UAE. To my mind, the most important thing in designing environmentally friendly surroundings is the use of local plant material, which is accustomed to arid conditions. The next - almost as important thing is to conserve water and reduce its consumption by using water from renewable sources (gray water, air conditioning condensate, etc.). People's awareness of these things must ensure that landscape architecture meets the requirements of present generations without endangering the opportunities for next generations to do the same.
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 that the scarcity of water is just one of the important guidelines that can provide design which is adjusted and more ecological for this region. As such, it cannot be considered as pressure on the landscape architects of any kind. In the long term, this arid area requires such a design and selection of plants that can show local biodiversity and the species, which are endemic to this part of the region. There is a need to educate young people and to spread the awareness, perhaps by creating botanical gardens with educational content as a part of public areas or as part of wildlife reserves. It is inspiring to see the effort and struggle of people here in the UAE to try and create a ‘green’ country and to see through the implementation of so many interesting projects.
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?
I believe that the need for water conservation and less irrigation will only make a more interesting quest for new solutions and an even more creative and more challenging landscape design. Since early on in my professional carrier, I have been deeply involved in the topic of water conservation and irrigation solutions. After all, it is also a high priority issue in landscape design in my home country Croatia, which has a Mediterranean climate. Here, in the UAE, this is an especially sensitive issue due to a delicate nature balance. The need for water in this region is just an additional motive for landscape architects who have to keep in mind all of the natural factors as well as landscape characteristic and ecological quality before deciding how to leave their own distinguishing creative mark.
Which project have you been most proud of throughout your career and why?
Roof gardens and vertical gardens is a category that I consider unique, creative in design, demanding in choosing the best plant material for the extreme conditions. These are also ecologically necessary and technically the most interesting projects. As my favorite projects, I would like to stress Hotel Kempinski Adriatic and Hotel Radisson Blu Resort and Spa, both in Croatia, especially their extensive and eye-catching roof gardens. I was very proud and even more inspired as a landscape architect when the Cliff roof garden, which I designed with my the Dionaea Gardens team, won the second prize in the international competition ‘Torsanlorenzo International Prize 2011’ a few months ago. Every project has had a special meaning for me, some of them with a more professional note and others a more personal one.
If you could create your dream project, what would it entail?
It would entail an environmentally friendly living system that can fulfill the needs of its users even through minimum usage of space. It would also offer the possibility to transform itself through mobility, for example with the usage of panels on the walls to transform the garden to the liking of the client. It is important for it to be ‘green’ and to be of exquisite design, corresponding to the existing architecture and blending in with it.
As a woman in a male dominated profession, what has been your experience working in this field in the Middle East?
Until now, as a woman in landscape profession I have always had only positive experiences. I’m not the only female landscape architect in my company. However, working as a landscape architect in the UAE felt a little bit different in the beginning but you get used to the culture, people and climate with time. If you work and act as a professional, then there are absolutely no obstacles to having a thriving career as a landscape architect. I believe that different views and aspects in creating any new design can only add interest to a project if you work with creative people. Having a great team spirit and pleasant working atmosphere makes the difference in gender less important.
How do you see your field developing in the Middle East?
The landscaping field has great opportunities in the Middle East through the development of best practice and environmental friendly design and water conservation awareness, which should ensure sustainability for generations to come. New materials, new technologies and new ideas to which this region is open to will continue to attract and encourage landscape professionals. I see it as a great challenge!
What advice would you give other women wanting to enter this profession, both here and overseas?
If you have the passion for nature, design and art, then you are an ideal candidate for landscape architect. The best part is when you see your project completed, and when you are able to enjoy your own design, which will mature and show its full beauty in the years to come. What could be more rewarding for a landscape architect?