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Beyond Beauty

by Michele Howe on Feb 16, 2009

Dastin Hillery.
Dastin Hillery.
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The role of the landscape architect should be about more than just beautification, say Dastin Hillery and Mona Rizk, senior associates at global design consultancy Aedas. Commercial Outdoor Design finds out more

One of the most aggravating problems that landscape designers have to contend with is a misunderstanding on the part of the general public as to exactly what their role entails.

The lay person’s view is that the landscape architect is some kind of gardening expert or someone brought in at the end of a project to tidy up the space and make it look pretty by adding a few palms and shrubs, but the reality, as anyone in the industry knows, is that the role of landscape architect is far, far more complex.

The role of a landscape architect is about much more than just beautification and has a far reaching impact on the land, says Dastin Hillery, senior associate at the urban design and landscape division of global design consultancy Aedas.

“Every time you attend a meeting with a client, the first question they ask is what kind of species you want to use,” he says.

 “But landscape architecture is not just beautification; it’s about creating a space, creating the ambiance of a development, initiating lifestyle and it’s creating a new public realm and at the end of the day it’s also about creating a quality built environment. And if you are talking about a quality built environment, you cannot avoid talking about the ecological footprint and the environmental framework.”

As a global design consultancy firm, Aedas, which has 40 offices worldwide, is well placed to comment on how perceptions of the landscape architect in this region differ to those in other parts of the world.

Both locally and internationally, there has been a gradual shift in awareness with the landscape architect slowly becoming a more prominent figure in the design and construction process, comments Mona Rizk, also senior associate at Aedas.

“Landscape architecture has gone from one phase to another and today you cannot do any masterplanning project or any kind of building anywhere without a landscape architect to advise on how to go and do things,” she says. “All the spaces that they call the ‘left over’, that we consider as being the public realm, that is what adds quality. It’s not beautification. How people relate to their environment; that is the most important thing.”


Crucial to understanding the importance of landscape architecture is an understanding of landscape planning, and this is something that to a degree is missing in the Middle East region, notes Hillery.

“The understanding about the landscape planning is still slightly immature,” he says. “People are still not interested in discussing the ecological components of the landscape, the impact on the ecological footprint, the human comforts aspect that landscape could offer in this extreme climate condition, or [about] how landscape could reshape the future of a city.”

“In Dubai, the landscape role is to beautify and repair the mistakes while others look at landscape as the lead of the development because of the ecological component,” he adds.

Hillery points to Hong Kong or Kuala Lumpur as examples of locations where there is more focus on a greening masterplan, and where landscape is viewed as a backbone of urban structure that will guide the growth of a community throughout a span of a history.

 “I think landscape planning is highly important. It should drive the development. It should create a clear and strong ecological framework and backbone for the city and its growth,” he states.

But there is, of course, only so much the landscape architect can do to move beyond beauty and plan for the environment without the support of the client.
The level of understanding that a client has of the landscape profession obviously varies but in general there is now more evidence of developers putting more focus on landscaping and integrating it into a project, says Rizk.

“Clients understand this need but  don’t recognize or identify the professional who can implement landscape planning and who is the right person to achieve that. This is something that is changing and you can feel it,” she says.

“Nowadays when you have a masterplan the first thing the client asks about other than the buildings is the added value for his development, the open spaces, the community areas. [This is] actually what would make his project successful,” she adds.

One of the key factors that can make a difference to ensuring a landscape is not just an attractive landscape but a planned landscape is getting the landscape architect involved early on, but this doesn’t always happen, says Hillery.