Combining concepts

Operating as part of a multi-disciplinary team has huge advantages in delivering total design output, says Ken Wallace.

Ken Wallace
Ken Wallace

Operating as part of a multi-disciplinary team has huge advantages in delivering total design output, says Ken Wallace, senior associate, Woods Bagot.

Making an integrated approach is what it's all about for landscape architects and urban design professionals at the Middle East offices of design firm Woods Bagot.

As part of a multi-disciplinary company, landscape and urban design employees work closely with other divisions on projects, an approach that helps ensure that the outdoor space is kept at the centre of the project right from the start.

"Working under the one roof, we can work closely with the project masterplanners and architects to help establish the form and scale of the landscape spaces before we may otherwise have an opportunity to get involved in the project," says Ken Wallace, senior associate, Woods Bagot, who heads up the company's Middle East Urban Design Services division.

The Middle East branch has the global firm's largest group for urban design services, having expanded rapidly in size over the past few years. Further expansion can also be expected as the firm broadens its scope of work in the region, reveals Wallace.

Commercial Outdoor Design talks with Wallace about the company's work in the region, his thoughts on sustainability, and the value of landscape in the Middle East.

Can you tell me about the landscape division?

As a multi-disciplinary design company, Woods Bagot has historically offered landscape architecture as one of its services, but this has been inconsistent across our geographic locations.

The company has taken a much more professional approach to landscape architecture and urban design in the last two years with the appointment of a new Urban Design Director and the establishment of a group called Urban Design Services within the organisation, which includes master planning, urban design and landscape architecture.

The Middle East is currently our largest group for urban design services, having grown extensively in the past two years, from around two people [at start] to approximately 35 now, including 15 landscape architects. The group works out of both our Dubai and Abu Dhabi office.

What projects is Woods Bagot currently working on in the region?

One of our main projects is the Badrah Community, part of Nakheel's Waterfront in Dubai. Woods Bagot has been responsible for the masterplan as well as the design of most of the early development stages, including the landscape architecture.

The project is a great example of how we address the landscape from scratch as we've been able to integrate and expand on many of the landscape concepts that were initially identified for the project in the masterplanning stage.

Other projects include the landscape for the Bahrain City Centre, and the masterplan for the redevelopment of the National Racecourse in Bahrain.

Internationally, we're working on a project in central Spain, the Andalusia Hills Golf Resort and Community.

What expansion plans does Woods Bagot have concerning its landscape staff?

We are actively recruiting for Abu Dhabi and Dubai and current projects that we have coming on stream in Bahrain. We certainly intend to expand, not just here in the GCC, but also internationally.

Probably Asia is the next area where we're looking to expand the landscape team. I would envisage that we will probably grow to about 25 people in the next six months in landscape architecture across the GCC region.

What advantages are there in being part of a multi-disciplinary firm as opposed to a specialist landscape firm when working on projects?

There are huge advantages in terms of total design output. One of our major considerations is the complete public realm and for us to achieve a high quality result with that there needs to be an integration of the architecture, the landscape, and the urban design.

As part of a multi-disciplinary team working under the one roof, we can work closely with the project masterplanners and architects to help establish the form and scale of the landscape spaces before we may otherwise have an opportunity to get involved in the project.

The Badrah Community is a really good example of this. We worked closely with the rest of the design team to determine the appropriate sizes for development blocks to accommodate large central courtyard spaces within the building plots, which can be used to provide a variety of external uses, and ensure connection between the internal building space and the landscape.

What value does the landscape have in the Middle East?

Something we've noticed with a lot of our Emirati clients in particular is that they value lush green landscapes very highly. It is rather like the creation of an oasis where the landscape provides a relief from the harshness of the predominant natural landscape and can be a place of refuge, especially in the extreme summer season.

Another aspect of landscape value comes from the traditional Arabic courtyards as a form of refuge where water is used for cooling effects and shade is created from both buildings and lush planting.

The ability to create much larger landscapes because of increased water availability and landscape technologies has in turn created an expectation to provide more of the lushness and greenery that perhaps in the past they've only been able to achieve in courtyard spaces or in restricted areas.

You mentioned that you are doing some work in Spain. What differences are there in creating a landscape in Spain versus in the GCC?

Climate is the obvious one. The location we've got in Spain is a fairly cool temperate area, snow on the ground in winter so the plant species we're using there are totally different to the ones we would use here.

Sustainability is very important in all of our projects and we always look at ways of managing the water requirements for landscape. In Spain, we have the opportunity to develop landscapes without irrigation whereas here we are looking to develop landscapes that are irrigated but that through careful selection of plant species and use of new technologies minimise the amount of water required.

What are the main challenges for a landscape architect working in the Middle East?

With our approach to the public realm, it is actually dealing with the summer climate and encouraging people to use outdoor spaces during this time. We realise that outdoor temperatures will get to uncomfortable levels no matter what, but our goal is to at least extend the time span a space is comfortable for use.


Ken Wallace has over 25 years experience in landscape architecture and urban design.

He has worked on the masterplanning, concept design, documentation, construction and management of a range of projects including mixed-use, residential, and resorts and has a particular interest in coastal and waterfront projects.

We've spent a fair bit of time looking at what factors will encourage people to go outside and use the landscape when the summer temperatures get to a point where they are uncomfortable. Shade is an obvious point.

We do try to balance that because people still enjoy the sun during winter here so we don't want a blanket shade over everything but we do want major circulation pathways to be shaded so that when people are walking they can walk in the shaded area.

We've recently been looking at how we can develop courtyards with retractable roofs. These type of devices affect the dynamics of the space as well so that it may change depending on the climate.

We can have a cool shaded environment during the hotter summer months, and then we can change the character of that space during the cooler months so that it is open and light filled.

You talked before about sustainability. Do you think new guidelines will help promote more sustainable design in the region?

I believe that they should. A lot of the LEED ratings are around the buildings and the landscape can assist in that, things such as the reuse of grey water, looking at our material selections, providing shade.

We do actively aim to enhance the LEED ratings of buildings through the way we develop landscape and that is an area where an organisation such as Woods Bagot that has both landscape architects and architects can offer real benefits.

For instance, we know that development of 10% or more of an urban area as soft landscape will reduce the build up of urban heat islands and that appropriate location of shade trees can also reduce the energy use in cooling of a building.

Something that has always staggered me is the limited amount of mulching in this region. Whilst mulch is an expensive material here and can be difficult to get, it has real benefits in reduction of water loss from the soil and helps cool the plant root zone so we always try and incorporate it in planting areas.

FACT FILE: Woods Bagot

Established in region

Seven years total, landscape architecture for one and a half years

Regional offices Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Bahrain

Number of landscape architects in region approximately 15

Services include: masterplanning, landscape architecture, urban design

Key projects in region include Al Badrah, Dubai, Bahrain City Centre, Bahrain; Accor Hotels, Muttrah and Sohar, Oman; Capital Centre Towers, Abu Dhabi


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