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Landscape Architecture on the Rise

11 Jun. 2020

Since 2015, desert INK, the UAE-based Landscape Architecture studio, has created some of the most exciting places in the region.

Duncan Denley

DUNCAN DENLEY
FEATURED BLOGGER

Duncan Denley is the founder and Managing Director of desert INK and has been a UK Chartered Landscape Architect since 2008. An impressive list of projects bear Duncan’s mark,  including The Block and Sharjah’s Al Faya Lodge.

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As a Landscape Architect, I am delighted to report that the value placed upon our skillset appears to be on the rise. After decades of playing under-study to architects, developers are now consulting landscape architects and urban designers sooner and structuring their schemes around the provision of open spaces.

Where in the past, developers viewed the landscape as a purely aesthetic exercise in draping greenery over the urban fabric, thankfully we now see leading developers recognizing the much greater value which landscape can deliver. A quick survey of any city will always reveal a direct correlation between the provision of quality outdoor spaces and property values. A quick tour of my adopted city of Dubai will reveal that Downtown and Citywalk yield some of the highest property values, despite neither being located next to an obvious natural asset such as a waterfront.

Savvy developers recognize that an investment in quality landscape and public realm will pay-back tenfold in the resulting rents, sale prices, footfalls and destination identity. Developers have historically been challenged in placing value upon landscape however since it does not generally derive direct revenue.

Instead, the landscape leverages higher value from the surrounding assets. Since developers don’t directly sell the streets, parks, playgrounds, or other such outdoor spaces, they are often the first to fall to value engineering. Less sophisticated developers often see the landscape and public realm as an unnecessary cost and eliminate it entirely.

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Little do they realize that investing that final 1% of the development budget into the landscape and the public realm can transform the community from a soul-less, deserted and barren collection of buildings into a thriving, desirable, and healthy community that ultimately yields much higher revenue for the developer. We can all think of master developments which feature perfectly adequate and well-designed buildings, yet command very low rental and sales prices due to the lack of cohesive public realm and landscape to stitch the development together.

Thankfully this short-sightedness is largely a thing of the past in the UAE, with sophisticated developers fully aware that landscape yields massive lifestyle, health, marketing and sell-ability benefits.

At desert INK, we can point to several of our own commissions where investment in landscape and public realm have raised the value of a development. The Block Park in Dubai Design District (d3) is perhaps one of the best examples of the catalyzing effect of landscape. During the infancy of d3’s establishment as a hub for lifestyle and design, developer Tamdeen recognized that the success of the district could not be solely reliant upon the design community. The concept of creating an iconic public park in the heart of d3 was struck with the aim to draw a wider population base into the district.

Thankfully for us, desert INK won a design competition to deliver the park design and the project has since gone on to become extremely popular, increasing the value of the surrounding businesses and properties. Block Park has become a hotspot for teenagers, families and picnicking groups who would never have visited d3 otherwise. Being graphically vibrant, the park is also a hotspot for the Instagram generation and pops up in countless music videos and fashion shoots.

I certainly look forward to playing an active role in making our cities healthier, more vibrant and ultimately more liveable. Perhaps I am over-optimistic, but I predict that developers of the future will consider quality landscape and public realm essential, recognizing excellent value when seeking to differentiate their scheme from others.

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