Sustainable Urban Tree Planting

Structural soil is a construction technology developed by landscape architects. The system is designed to improve conditions for urban tree planting. It is a fairly simple method using a specially designed mix of aggregate and planting medium. The aggregates form a structural matrix to support the pavement around trees, and the planting medium provides space and nutrients to the tree roots. Verdaus first used this technology on the Majlis Oman project. The follow photo gallery shows the sequence of construction.

Landscape Information Modelling…not up with BIM yet

This post is a comment I made on Lounge8, an online site for landscape architects.

Civil CAD 3D is the “Revit” of the civil engineers world and has many applications for landscape architecture. It is the tool for any land modelling, road or pathway corridors, drainage etc, what you would expect from a package for civil engineers. You build the site as a “dynamic model” and the software produces the documentation which is a major advantage of information rich modelling. If we were civil engineers there’d be no question, Civil 3D would be the answer. Verdaususe it for topographic modelling. However we have not yet pushed the boundaries to see to what extent it can cover the full scope of landscape works.

Verdaus also use LandF/X for planting and irrigation. It does a great job on this. It produces automatic schedules of items and Bills of Quantities for this scope of work. It also can do the same for horizontal surface finishes.

It is partly because the scope of our profession and work is so rich and varied that there is no one “Information Package” that can do it all for landscape architects. It would be a very worthwhile pursuit to build a case strong enough to raise interest amongst the software providers to develop a capable “Landscape Information Modelling” package.

I believe it will be important for the landscape architectural profession to have a landscape ready information modelling package. This is the way of the future no doubt.

Landscape Architecture Professional Associations

I often am asked for information about landscape architecture and refer people to these websites:

American Society of Landscape Architects

Australian Institute of Landscape Architects (AILA)

Landscape Institute | Inspiring great places (UK)

Landscape Architecture Foundation

These sites includes links to the professional association website for landscape architects in Australia, UK and the USA. The Landscape Architecture Foundation is a research body set up to “increase the capacity of landscape architects to solve the environmental crisis”.

Projects that Illustrate Landscape Performance

A video by the Landscape Architecture Foundation that showcases landscape projects that provide important ecological services.

LPS #5: Projects that Illustrate Landscape Performance from LandscapeArchitecture Foundation on Vimeo.

Get sustainable with urban vegetation

Plants in the city help make better places for life.

However one downside is the cost of maintaining urban plantings, particularly in hot arid climates.  The good news is maintenance costs and water usage can be reduced through better design. To show just how self sustainable urban planting can be, these photos show plants surviving despite no maintenance other than a leaky irrigation pipe. [sthumbs=513|514,160,max,n,center,]These plantings grew on their own accord. Despite being considered as “weeds”, they benefit us by reducing heat, glare and dust. The cost of maintaining these plants is virtually zero. Compare this with the cost of maintaining the pink flowering annuals which appear so abundantly in our public spaces. These “wild” plants have a different kind of beauty which is unstructured and more natural in character. We made some noise about this issue on another post – here.

We could increase the sustainability of city spaces through smarter planting selections and maintenance regimes. To achieve this we must think of urban planting more as “green infrastructure” than as “entertaining decoration”. What if we designed with survival in mind (our survival)? This issue was discussed in a very interesting article, “Art of Survival”, by Dr Kongjian Yu of Turenscape.

Protected: Muscat Village Park

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Designing for child’s play

Here is a collection of interesting links related to designing for child’s play:

1) An interesting and well researched article about the need for children to have contact with nature.

It is unfortunate that children can’t design their outdoor play environments. Research on children’s preferences shows that if children had the design skills to do so, their creations would be completely different from the areas called playgrounds that most adults design for them. Read more….

2) Playscapes. A blog about playground design.

3) Imagination Playground. A manufacturer’s webiste about some of the latest purpose made playground equiptment to encourage “free play”.

4) Tear drop park. An successful small park design which has proved popular with children.

5) Landscape and Human Health Laboratory. Studies on the effects of greenery on academic performance, particularly for girls.

Muscat: character of the local landscape

These photographs show the natural and native beauty of the natural landscape around the city of Muscat. This is near the area called Bausher. The landscape, in it’s natural state, has a unique and exotic aesthetic.

The intense heat and high humidity illuminate the sky with a soft haze. The effect is sublime, dreamy and mystical. This softness contradicts the harshness of an unforgiving landscape made of scorching stone and sand.

Vegetation, though stunted, hard and woody, offers shade, but no real respite from the intense heat in summer.

Landscape treatments around the city are marvellous but more could be done to respect the unique landscape character. The city has done a tremendous job to ensure that built form enhances local identity. Muscat enoys a strong sense of place because of the consistency of architectural style. The city would also benefit from similar controls for public landscape works. However, as in any country, this would need a seachange in the public’s perceptions of what landscape is.

Current expectations lean heavily towards the popularised model dominated by rolling green lawns and flowering annuals. A valid aesthetic aspiration – however it would be refreshing to see a more “local” character share the stage.

Indigenous planting aesthetic

A lot gets said about indigenous species planting schemes but not much done in the field of implementation. Why? Because of popular perception about what There is an interesting paradox between the demands of the new “green design” codes and local expecations of what planting schemes should look like. Streetscapes are almost universially planted with a dazzaling display of water loving annuals and emerald carpets. Just add water, lots of it, and chemical fertiliser, lots of it. Not to mention the many hours of tender loving care by human hand. It all adds up. The exotic and manicured has its place, but it comes at a price.

Bright and cheery but at a cost

Indigenous planting offers a more sustainable alternative. Using a fraction of the resources, time and expense of by thier brightly coloured cousins, indigenous species offer many benefits by mitigating; dust, urban heat island effects, and glare and providing habitate. Thier unstructured naturalness offers visual relief in the harsh urban environment. However despite the unquestionable and superior performance in many fields, the aesthetic of indigenous species planting schemes is rarely accepted due to an established perception of what “landscape should be”.

Indigenous or naturalised plants demand so little care they often take root in wherever land is left uncultivated. With very little extra care these bare areas would be fully covered in a blanket of vegetation. These photographs show some of these areas found around Dubai.

Indigenous or naturalised species, sustainable and full of character

Ground covers and tree on local street corner

The following image shows the natural beauty of indigenous plants. These plants are fairly common on vacant land and roadside in the UAE and Oman. They require very little water and provide all the environmental benefits of reduced dust and glare that exotic plants do. It is only a matter of public acceptance to encourage cities to use these plants for public landscape works.

Indigenous vegetation. Metalic silver foliage with a natural unstructured texture. Beautiful.

Local Materials, Natural Landscapes, Cues for Care

Two articles in the May 2009 Issue 23 of Landscape Magazine triggered the writing of this post.

The article on Page 8, “Lootah Calls for Innovative Ideas in City Beautification” cites Eng. Hussein Nasser Lootah, Director General of Dubai Municipality. Eng Lootah stresses “the need to find innovative ideas” for city beautification and highlights the “importance of planting and landscaping of the area of Hatta”.

This is great. Hatta is a beautiful area within the UAE. The landscape character is one of the most distinct in the region.  It is a topography of stone. It is elemental and pure. It is also very fragile, and vulnerable to unsympathetic development.

Hatta rock formation

stone landscapes of Hatta

The natural landscape character of Hatta is a valuable asset.  It generates an incredibly strong sense of place. Distinctive landscapes are worth preserving for social and environmental values, they also make money. This is the foundation stone of the true destination. Successful tourism destinations are built on sense of place.

Serendipitously, Page 26 of the same issue contains an answer to the call for innovative ideas in, “Punta Pite: A Residential Development on the Chilean Coast Reveres the Local Maritime Landscape”. This article showcases an inspirational landscape project, using local materials to enhance the natural landscape character. The landscape architect, Teresa Moller, worked with sculptor, Gerardo Aristia, to insert constructed elements into a natural landscape.

The designers use stone from the site to create elements such as paths, steps and walls. These interventions enhance the natural landscape character. The constructed elements do not spoil the sense of harmony within the landscape.

stone path in Punta Pite

stone path in Punta Pite

The restricted use of local materials would be nothing new to the local region. Villagers high in the mountain wadis successfully used local materials to achieve the same results as enjoyed by the Punta Pite project. The structures built during those times harmonise with the natural landscape character. These previous generations used local materials out of necessity. Today, choice of materials is far greater.  However the principle of using a limited palette of local materials can acheive the same harmonious results.

mountain wadi village stone structure

mountain wadi village stone structure

The Punta Pite project also demonstrates the successful implementation of “cues for care”. This is the approach of using cues, or signs, of purposeful intervention in natural landscapes to elevate the general public’s perception of value of natural landscapes. The “cues for care” approach was categorised by Joan Nassauer in the publication “Placing Nature: Culture And Landscape Ecology”.  Nassauer asserts that we assign higher value to “tended” landscapes over those which appear to be uncared for. The “cues for care” approach would readily apply to the Hatta landscape due to the need to preserve the natural landscape character.

I believe the design approaches of using local materials and “cues for care” are essential in preserving and enhancing the special character of the Hatta landscape.

Interchange Planting

[sthumbs=516|515,160,2,n,center,]This is good example of appropriate scaled landscape design and planting for an interchange near Dubai. The use of locally adapted tree species with gravel under is sensitive to water useage. Strong impact through using limited materials in a simple way. The scale is correct. This is the proper scale for roadside planting. Bold mass planting. Limited species. Low maintenance. Hats off to the designer, Jean Cluade Melone who says, “We used an aerial photo of the area which had a strong desert component at that time and followed the natural lines and color massing of the sand dunes and the creek. The use of the “protected” Ghaf tree is a symbol of the victory of life despite harsh conditions. Long time residents in Dubai will remember that the existing roundabout at the junction with Al Ain road contained a fenced enclosure with Ghaf trees. Local legend has it was the burial site of an Emirati tribal war hero. This site had to be demolished for the new flyover structure. I just thought providing an even larger Ghaf population was only fair compensation”.