Reading the landscape

None of us knows what the future holds, but we all have our own ideas as to what changes it is likely to bring. COD asked a panel of experts to give their views.
Reading the landscape
By Administrator
Tue 15 Jan 2008 04:00 AM

With a new year beckoning, it is only natural to pause and reflect on what has gone and to ponder what may be.

In this spirit, COD contacted a number of industry professionals to ask them to give their take on future trends in outdoor design.

The theme was open to interpretation although to stimulate discussion, each contributor was sent the following questions: How do you think the use of outdoor space in large-scale residential developments in this region will change over the next 5-10 years? What role do you think the outdoor will have in developments in the Middle East region in the future? How will these changes lead to a greater promotion of an outdoor lifestyle in the region?

John Wigham, Marketing director, Cracknell

The increasing wealth of the Gulf region and its success in attracting tourists and expat workers is leading to the biggest change happening to outdoor spaces in the region. ‘Europeanisation' - the move towards wanting to use these outdoor spaces in the style and manner of European cities is in fact led in part by locals who are travelling more and more frequently to Europe, and indeed residing there, especially during the summer. Their experience of the ‘trattorias', the ‘piazzas' and the ‘terraces' - probably one of the traditional high-points of European summer life - lead them to want to recreate that experience at home, and it's welcomed equally by European (and other) expats who also know, relish and seek that ambience.

What will this mean in practical terms? More than anything else, it will lead to a focus on the creation of a specific ‘style' or ‘feel' for a space. If, for example, it's a Parisian, Champs-Elysée style that's wanted, all the décor details will have to be taken into account, including the very proportions of the street - a general ‘patio' style will no longer be sufficient.

There will still be a place for local style - low cushioned couches as Shisha areas are all the rage in London - but it must be ‘authentic'. For designers this means knowing what surface finishes to use to achieve a certain look, what proportions, what containment. Location is also critical - many of the best places to loiter for hours over a cappuccino are on the street, where people-watching is the main recreational activity. To recreate this, it means artful managing of pedestrian and vehicle traffic to create that constant buzz of activity, whilst still maintaining enough peace and safety for it to be a comfortable pedestrian environment.

In summary, outdoor spaces are going to be much more habitable, much more ‘lifestyle' spaces where people can meet and socialise for hours on end.
Geoff Sanderson, Principal, Green Concepts

After nearly 10 years of large project developments, the UAE is beginning to rationalise expenditure on landscape under the combined pressure of capital cost of developments, maintenance costs and the new catchall - sustainability. The changes I anticipate are as follows:

Firstly, reduced extent of outdoor open space. Large open spaces are expensive to develop and maintain and they demand vast quantities of water. Golf courses will need to be much smarter users of much less water. There will be greater use of buildings to shade and shelter outdoor space, with landscape and built form synergy. Buildings will shade trees and the trees will shade buildings and the ground surfaces, in tandem effecting an overall reduction in temperature and reduced consumption of energy for cooling.

There will be greater use of productive (fruit bearing) trees and other plants, to justify the consumption of irrigation water. More protection will be given to existing trees, particularly in urban areas. Far too many trees are removed at present to make way for roads and other developments when they could have been retained and the development designed around them. Most western countries place much greater importance on retaining mature trees with the great value that they offer to urban areas.

Landscapes will tend to be simpler in public places, leaving the 5 star landscapes for those places that are funded by retailing or by hotel patrons.

Outdoor space will be more comfortable when it is cooler, it will be better maintained when there is less of it. Shaded, small fountains and pools will replace the vast fresh water bodies that are proving to be a maintenance nightmare and of questionable recreation value at present. Creekside parks, beaches and beach parks will be in even bigger demand.

Finally, natural places, such as the dune fields, the mountains, the sea shore and marine environments will be given far greater protection from the current damaging trends.
Uwe Nienstedt, Project development director, KEO

The climate of the Gulf Region, though hostile in summer, provides six months of pleasant weather with many opportunities for outdoor activities. Especially at night Middle Eastern cities come to life with walking, dining and pick-nicking at the top of the list of activities.

With the rapid development over the last 40 years due to the oil boom most cities present themselves as centred around car traffic. Pedestrian zones and even public transportation are scarce. This reflects the city planning ideals of the 1960's and 1970's with their functional separation and preference for private transport.

Nowadays many cities, like my city Abu Dhabi, see a renaissance of parks and cornice developments to cater to the urban dwellers need for recreation. This development will be severely hampered by the scarcity of water for irrigation, which can amount to as much as 15 litres per square metre per day.

In response to these issues, KEO is developing a number of master plans which feature high quality, but compact green spaces nestled within dense urban developments. All new developments now require the majority of parking to be below ground. This frees up the immediate neighbourhood of residential buildings for recreational zones and networks of greenways.

While large parks have their important role in city fabric, quality of life can be achieved in providing these small oases within walking distance of the dwellings. Pedestrian friendly residential parks, community centres, play grounds and sport facilities need to be where people live. Together with the dawning realisation of the need for more efficient public transport, these decentralised green spaces may help avoid the imminent collapse of many Middle East cities due to their decades long focus on the private car.

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