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Standing tall

Creating a unique design is a question of getting to the heart of the project, says John Galloway, managing director of 40North.

John Galloway
John Galloway

Creating a unique design is a question of getting to the heart of the project, says John Galloway, managing director of 40North.

Most companies thrive on growth, charting their progress by revenue increases and more sizeable contracts.

Not 40North. "Every time I come here I've got people asking me to set up shop, but I think it would be oversaturated.

At eight people, I'm as big as I want to get," says John Galloway, managing director of the firm.

 

In resorts, landscaping is such a beautiful part of the environment that it has to be effective from day one.

Having worked in the region for the past 10 years, Galloway left large-scale practice EDSA to set up his own company three years ago.

Specialised in hospitality design and resort planning, he has worked on a number of high-profile projects in the region, including The Royal Mirage at Palm Jumeirah and Sanctuary Falls with 40North, and The One and Only Royal Mirage, Madinat Jumeirah and the Park Hyatt while with EDSA.

Being a comparatively small practice and not having a regional base hasn't held the US-based firm back from success in the region, says Galloway. In fact, the opposite is true. "I turn down about half the projects we are offered," he notes.

Commercial Outdoor Design caught up with Galloway on his last visit to the region to discuss his views on regional resorts, instant landscaping, and why he plans to keep his practice small.

What changes have you noticed in resort landscaping in the region over the past decade?

Ten years ago resort planning was this niche activity. Now there are hundreds of projects in the US$500 million range. The market for landscape architecture has grown so much.

Development in coastal areas has not stopped, in fact it has been accelerated exponentially.

Just look at Palm Jumeirah and The World as examples.

What do you think of the landscape design of resorts in the region?

A lot of the older resorts are pretty static.

It seems in Dubai especially there is this one-upmanship, and rather than seeking out new ways to do things or new materials or new detailing, there is a lot of copycat types of thing happening. Look at Madinat Jumeirah.
 

When it came on board four or five years ago, it was completely unique and now you see knock-offs everywhere. I guess it's a form of flattery but it gets a bit old.

In a region that is always striving to do something bigger and better, how can you do something unique?

You've got to have a reason for doing it. You've got to get into the project and the culture of it, the history of it.

You've got to find something in the project that is unique or different and try and expand upon that to give it something that makes it fresh.

Also when you work in a particular region, you try to use local materials, local craftsmen.

It adds authenticity to the project rather than this synthetic side you see so much.

Of the various projects that you have worked on, which was the biggest challenge?

Madinat Jumeirah was a huge challenge. The complexity of the project, nothing like that had been done in Dubai before, the waterway component to it, the sheer size of it.

It was one of those projects that was fast-tracked, and construction was pushing us so we had to sometimes design on the fly.

What are the advantages of being a smaller practice?

Some of these projects are so large, they require constant attention. I turn down about half the projects we are offered because they are too big. They would swallow all of my resources, all of my people, all of my time.

Also, when people hire us to do a job, they know I'm going to be working on the project.

If I grew this to a 20 or 30 man practice, I'd be stuck in meetings and writing proposals all the time. I like to draw.

I like to create, make things, see them built and that's it. By keeping my practice small, I can spend more than half my time designing, which is why I left a big company in the first place.

Do you not feel as if you are missing out by not expanding the firm?

Resort development is so big. There is enough work for everybody to be successful. I'm sure if we had an office here, our revenue would be 10 times bigger but also it would be 10 times more complicated.

 

Biography

John Galloway started 40North in the summer of 2005, after nearly a decade working at international design firm EDSA. Galloway is in charge of operations of the company, as well as assuming lead designer and project management for all projects.
 

What limitations are there to not having a regional base?

Obviously, travel. It takes 15 hours from Houston to get here but I see that as a benefit. My life is so hectic; it's probably the only time I get to relax. Every time I come here I've got people asking me to set up shop, but I think it would be oversaturated.

At eight people, I'm as big as I want to get. Taking one project at a time, two projects at a time and really focusing on it is our business model.

What are the main problems for landscape architects working in the region?

There are a lot of problems. The palette of plants here is very narrow. Very little of it is grown in the UAE, most of it is imported. The cost of plants is also really increasing.

When I first came here, you could get a four-metre date palm for US$300, I'm sure the cost now is probably five times that. There is such a demand for instant landscaping.

The availability of material is getting very scarce. It used to be you could go out to the desert, now you've got to go to Thailand or India to get plant material because the stuff that is here gets bought up too fast.

Everybody wants it done now. And landscaping is always the last thing to go in, it's the first thing to be cut from the budget and it's the last thing to get installed.

In resorts, landscaping isn't like a lot of these projects you see on Sheikh Zayed Road where it's window dressing. In a resort environment, it's something that is such a beautiful part of the environment that it has to be part of the guest experience from day one.

There is a huge buzz around sustainability at the moment. What can outdoor designers do?

A large part of the LEED rating is mechanical, electrical, architectural - things like that. What we can do is add soil amendments, water retention chemicals, fabrics that you can use to retain water, use recycled water etc. I'd like to use more local plants. I try and minimise the amount of turf that we use.

How much conflict is there between developers' requests for lush green landscaping and their desire to have sustainable ratings?

I don't think it exists if you do your job right. If you keep it as a priority, absolutely it is possible. Is it going to be what we typically think of as a resort? Maybe not, but resorts are changing, landscape architecture is changing. Yes, you can have both.

 

Fact file

Established 2005

Offices Kansas City (US) and San Jose (Costa Rica)

Number of staff 8

Services include landscape architecture and planning. Specialised in hospitality design and resort planning.

Key projects in region include The Royal Mirage at Palm Jumeirah, and Sanctuary Falls

Website www.40northdesign.com
 


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