A visit to the 911 Memorial Site (Ground Zero)

Laith Wark from Verdaus recently visited the 911 Memorial Site in New York, designed by Peter Walker.

The site, “Ground Zero”, was redeveloped as a memorial in honor of the innocent people who died during the tragic events that occurred on September 11. I guess everyone  will interpret the design of this place in their own way. I left the site with a deep sense of empathy for the people who suffered the loss of loved ones. The design concept powerfully emphasized the concept of loss in the way the tower footprints were expressed as deep excavations. The fact of what had happened, and the sense of what had been destroyed were laid bare. This was a brave design move. I imagine the urge to “cover and forget”  would have been a “safer” proposal, less controversial.

The experience of visiting this site is something that will be difficult to forget.

A visit to the Highline in New York City

Last month Laith Wark from Verdaus visited the Highline (designed by James Corner Field Operations and others) on a side trip during a business visit to the USA. It was early summer and the weather was amazing. The Highline was bursting with fresh green growth and thousands of people out to enjoy a day in the park.

The Highline story begins with an industrial period elevated railway line in New York City. In the early 2000’s the aging infrastructure was destined to be demolished, until a successful community campaign won the right to convert the railway into a park.

Today the Highline attracts millions of people per year, and offers opportunities for cultural events, social service, and respite from the streets of New York City.

Development projects have since sprung up along the route of the new park, demonstrating how recreational open space can generate investment in real estate and stimulate an economy.

The following photographs were made by Laith Wark during his recent visit.

(The photos were geotagged after taking them…probably not all as accurately as they should be.)


The Change Initiative Landscape – a Splash of Green

Verdaus provided landscape design services for the Change Initiative Store in Dubai. The store aims to bring to Dubai a ‘one-stop’ marketplace for sustainable products and services such as advice on how to make the home and workplace more sustainable.

The Change Initiative Garden is a wonderful mix of planting that creates a small pocket of sustainable green in Al Barsha – an otherwise barren landscape.

This project offered the opportunity to develop a planting scheme using plant species that were either native to the local area or required less water – in keeping with the sustainable mission of the Change Initiative. Verdaus also offered advice on how to achieve the LEED rating in a cost effective way, reducing the landscape budget by over 100%.

Acacia arabica planted with an understorey of clumping grass and desert heath groundcovers.

The project is in Barsha and is visible from Sheikh Zayed road. Keep a lookout for the splash of green!

The splash of green in front of the store is a garden planted with species that are native to the local area or use less water.

SoharUniversity– Landscape Irrigation and Waste Water Treatment

Landscape Middle East Magazine recently covered a Verdaus project with a focus on integrated water resource management. The article, “SoharUniversity– Landscape Irrigation and Waste Water Treatment” is an interesting cover of how foresight, collaboration and innovation can offer environmental benefits and cost savings.


In 2007, Sohar University appointed a consultant team to prepare a new master plan.  Verdaus Landscape Architects LLC was part of the consultant team.  Later, during the detailed design stage, Sohar University commissioned Mizan Consult to prepare a Feasibility Study and then a design for a “Reed Bed” system for waste water treatment.  This design offers considerable advantages over the present system of removing waste water by tanker.  Intensive collaboration between Verdaus and Mizan identified ways to integrate the landscape irrigation and waste water treatment systems to provide further advantages. Continue Reading

Rain Gardens of Isfahan

The city of Isfahan is built around water in the centre of a vast desert plateau. The Zayandeh River, supplies water to the city from snow melt originating in the Zagros  mountain range 200 kms  to the west. Isfahan is famous for it’s bridges spanning the Zayandeh, most were built between the 12th and 18th Centuries. However the less publicised “rain gardens” of the old city are an equally impressive engineering achievement.

A pleasant dappled shade dominates the character of Isfahani streets. This is a striking and welcome contrast to the exposed expanse of surrounding desert. Environmental comfort on the Isfahani street far surpasses the hot and exposed  streetscapes only a few hours flight away, in the cities on the southern side of the Gulf. The planners of Isfahan obviously had a clear vision of what makes a city street work in this harsh environment. These streets have some of the densest urban tree planting in the world. Continue Reading

Muscat Royal Opera House – Site Progress

Landscape works at the Royal Opera House in Muscat, Oman, are in full swing. A large amount of the hard landscape is completed in the sunken maze garden. Site offices have been moved “off-site” to make room for the remainng landscape. The scale and proportion appears to be working very well. We are looking forward to opening day.

Also included one photo of stone carving architectural detail. This kind of workmanship is rarely seen in construction these days.

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.

Muscat Opera House in Construction Week Online

Recently Construction Week Online recently posted an article about the Muscat Opera House. This is one of Verdaus’ projects, definately, but sadly our involvement was not mentioned in the article! Well, this won’t stop us from posting about it in our own blog.

When complete, the opera house will be only the second of its kind in the Middle East and occupy an area of 80,000 m2, half of which will be set aside for landscaped gardens.

Recently we published a post about construction progress for this project here.


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.

Landscape Magazine: “Who’s who – Laith Wark”

Interview with Laith Wark by Landscape – The First Specialized Landscape Magazine in the Middle East.

Source: Landscape Magazine, January 2011 Issue 43

Copy of pdf file here.

Two inspiring projects improve slum living conditions

Part of the purpose of this blog is to share information about inspiring work by others. We recently came across a couple of inspiring projects that improved the quality of life for people in poor living conditions. The first project is the Slum Networking in Indore City which achieved remarkable results. What we like about this project most is that it benefited the local community. This project won an Aga Khan Award for Architecture.

Slum Networking is a community driven approach which sees slums not as resource draining liabilities, but as opportunities of sustainable change for the city as a whole. The programme involves the building of low-cost service trunks which include gravity-based systems of sewerage and storm drainage, the planting of gardens, and the surfacing of roads. In addition, 120 community halls have been constructed for health, educational, and training activities.

The second project is the Kibera Public Space Project. This project by the  Design Initiative included a range of initiatives to improve the living conditions in the Kibera slum of Nairobi, Kenya—the largest slum in Africa and second largest in the world. This project is interesting because of the way the consultants worked very closely with the local community at the grass roots level.

By the way, the Kibera slum is also the location of the Kibera School for Girls, organised by the Shining Hope Foundation.

Project update: Royal Opera House in Muscat

We visited the site for the Royal Opera House in Muscat last week and were impressed with progress. Almost all the concrete works were complete. The scale and proportion is now clear it looks right. We’re looking forward to seeing progress accelerate now.


Sohar University: Foundation Stone Ceremony

The ceremony for laying the foundation stone happened at Sohar University on 13 November 2010. This event was attended by Her Excellency Dr. Rawya Al Busaidiyah, The Minister of Higher Education; His Excellency Mahmood Al Jarwani, The Chairman of the Sohar University Board of Directors, Dr Abood Al Sawafi, The Vice Chancellor and other distiguished guests.

This day marked an important stage in the development of the Sohar University campus. In 2007 Verdaus were appointed by Sohar University to design the external areas of the campus. The master plan was a team effort with Verdaus, COWI (infrastructure engineers) and Earc (architects).  Construction is well underway on site with the structure for may of the buildings now rising up to level 2.

The gathering at the opening ceremony.

The perspective illustration belows shows an overview of what the campus will look like once the landscape is established.

Trees are an important feature of the campus. They shade the the main walking routes. Greens spaces have been shown to improve learning. Dense vegetation also links the character of the university campus with the agricultural character of the fertile Batinah Coast.

Perspective Illustration of Sohar University Campus

An overview of the campus when it is completed.

Verdaus are very pleased to be a part of the rewarding project and the mission to provide world class higher education in the Sultanate of Oman.

Jebel Akhdar Walk

Landscape architects love natural landscapes. This is one way we are like most other people. We recently had a great experience walking amongst the villages and agricultural terraces of Jebel Akhdar, Oman’s “green mountain”. Getting out into the surrounding landscape was very refreshing. The walk was also an education in cultural landscape studies of the ancient falaj irrigation technique which remains very much alive today. We gained precious insights into the close relationship between the land and it’s people. We also had a lot of fun!


We mapped this using a hand held GPS unit and uploaded the data to the Everytrail website along with photographs we made on the day. To see the map and photos go to the trip saved on the Everytrail website. The GPS route is also downloadable from the site. Go get it and get out there!

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.

Verdaus use Land F/X software for accurate irrigation design

This post is based on the latest newsletter from Land F/X, a provider of Land Information Modelling software.

Every month, Land F/X highlights a success story from one of their valued clients. This month they feature Verdaus Landscape Architects with special thanks to Tarek Al Sheeti, our irrigation engineer, for input on using LFX.

Tarek has been using Land F/X for two years and describes the program as “a powerful tool to me as an irrigation designer. It helps me to focus on design principle issues rather than just sizing pipes, calculating flow rate, and other traditional tedious irrigation work.”

His success story deals with a 103 villas project at Emirates Golf Course in Dubai. Tarek describes it as a “fast track project. I was requested to submit the detailed design package within a week for area of 21000 square meters of net planted area. I had a challenge with how to assign irrigation equipment for each villa, to reflect the required flow and pressure. However, with Land F/X I could do everything needed, such as represent the drip irrigation system requirements inside each villa, and also having drip considered when I size the pipes. I was happy when I found out that I can assign an end cap from auxiliary equipment. I ended up assigning four types of end caps for each different villa type and distributed them over the plan.”

Verdaus also worked with a contractor who was incredibly impressed with the level of work done within the Land F/X program. The contractor was  surprised to see such  “accurate hydraulic calculations” as well as other detailed documentation. The contractor returned a project with virtually zero changes. Tarek describes that as “a declaration from the contractor – indirectly – that he could not do better.” This is a complement in a region where contractors are expected to complete the irrigation design. Later on, LFX were approached by the same contractor to enquire about their software.

Verdaus are very pleased with LFX. The software has allowed us to differentiate our services from others in the market by providing highly detailed and accurate irrigation design in the shortest time.

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.