Building blocks

Design giant Atkins has been gradually expanding its regional landscape division for a while now. COD talks with Jim Carless, head of Atkins' landscape division.

Jim Carless
Jim Carless

Design giant Atkins has been gradually expanding its regional landscape division for a while now. COD talks with Jim Carless, head of Atkins' landscape division.

Multi-disciplinary firm Atkins is not specialised in landscape architecture, but has been putting more of a focus on it recently, setting up a dedicated landscape team in Dubai and expanding its landscape team in Bahrain.

Shade is slowly becoming a more common element in open space and public realm design.

Head of the division Jim Carless takes time out to talk with Commercial Outdoor Design about the company's work in the region.

Can you tell me about the background of the Atkins landscape team in the Middle East?

Atkins' regional landscape department started about two and a half years ago in Bahrain and was initially established to support the Durrat Al Bahrain project.

There were only a handful of landscape architects at that time, but in early 2007, a decision was made to build the landscape team and recruit more staff. We are also now building a creative team in Dubai.

How does landscape design and urban design fit into the overall design of a project in your opinion?

It, like most design disciplines, must be considered integral to the process. We generally focus on the spatial planning, we are interested in new ideas on how to use site, how space complements built forms and how those aspects of the site design tie back to the intended urban structure and land use.

Landscape architects and urban designers work closely with architects and planners to analyse land use mixes and take into consideration the intended use of a site, and of course need to consider this in the context of the site surroundings.

Could you talk a little about Atkins' biggest landscape project, Durrat Al Bahrain?

Durrat Al Bahrain is a large multi-use land reclamation development on the south-east coast of the Kingdom of Bahrain. The landscape design for Durrat was conceptualised in the UK and Dubai offices of Atkins, and the detailed design carried out by the Bahrain office.

The landscape team in Bahrain has been working on the project ever since and will have a full time site presence until project completion.

What other projects are you working on in the region at the moment?

Some of our current projects include the Supreme Education Council in Qatar, Etihad Village in Abu Dhabi, The Wave in Oman and Palm Gateway Towers in Dubai. We are also doing a joint venture in Saudi Arabia with a local consultancy, Omrania.

Omrania is responsible for the engineering and project management while Atkins is providing streetscape and landscape design services.

What are the main challenges for landscape design firms in the UAE?

Getting the best people with particular skills and experience is one of the major challenges. There are, however, many attractions to working in the region, mainly the scale of projects and the fast-track experience, aspects of professional development that are not matched elsewhere.

What difficulties are there in terms of plant selection?

The biggest difficulty is not so much species selection but rather supply versus demand.


Jim Carless is based in Bahrain. Prior to joining Atkins, he ran Siteplan Landscape Architects in North Queensland, Australia.


There isn't the scale of nurseries to keep up with demand in the region. As a result, a lot of plant stock comes from outside the region. The number of plants required by contractors monthly is in the millions, the amount actually available may only be a small percentage of that now.

It's the same situation for other construction materials such as glass, timber. Also paving products, a lot of paving comes from Europe although more and more manufacturers are establishing factories locally.

How do you resolve this?

You bring in smaller (immature) plant stock, which is something nurseries can do but clearly cannot be done with building materials. A lot of plant stock has to come from elsewhere South Africa, Australia, for instance.

In Bahrain and Qatar for example, most plants come from Saudi Arabia. Supply is not matching demand and probably never will because the demand seems to constantly outstrip supply.

How does working on landscape projects in the Middle East compare to working on projects in Australia?

The scale of the projects in the Middle East is enormous compared with Australia. The construction budgets are also far greater. I do find it interesting that most of the sites we work on here are green field sites with little or no existing natural features such as streams, forests and mountains to consider in the development of the site design.

This is something that is common in Australia, often taking considerable time and funds to gain relevant authority approvals for development.

What do you think is missing in the design of the outdoor space in the Middle East region at the moment?

If I had to select one basic aspect it would be amenity shade. Middle Eastern landscapes traditionally are sparsely vegetated with date palms and minimal canopy trees. This does not provide the users with sufficient relief from the harsh elements.

It is nice though to see that in some developments, this trend is slowly changing. Shade is slowly becoming a more common element in open space and public realm design.

What is Atkins' agenda on sustainable design?

Sustainable solutions are long term in their outlook, help us live within our environmental, economic and social limits and provide added value to clients by improving the success of a project.

In the Middle East we have strong relationships with academia to carry our research into new areas and we have an in-house team of specialists.

Fact file

Established in region: 1979

Offices regional: Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, UAE; Manama, Bahrain; Muscat, Oman; Doha, Qatar; Kuwait City, Kuwait

Offices international: 200

Total number of staff in the region: 2,308

Number of landscape architects: 26

Services include: Masterplanning and urban design, environmental services, building design, landscape design, and architecture.

Key landscape projects in the region include: Durrat Al Bahrain, Bahrain; The Wave, Muscat, Oman; Iris Bay, Dubai, UAE.


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