Landscape Architecture can be described as the moulding of the land to fit various needs of the client with respect to the people and the environmental resources. Landscape Architects are specially trained to design, implement and maintain the landscapes as guided by the client’s needs. Simply put, the land is the canvas, the landscape design is the paint or drawing medium used on the canvas to create the composition and the Landscape Architect is the artist.
How well known is the profession in Kenya?
Landscape Architecture is still relatively new to most Kenyans, or at least the idea of having a professional to advise you. Most people still equate Landscape Architects to their local roadside plant vendor and gardener. Don’t get me wrong, they are equally important and we work hand in hand. I have, on several occasions, been called something close to (when translated) a dignified shamba person. ‘Dignified’ because I did my undergraduate for five years and ‘shamba person’ because I predominantly deal with plants and soil. We go far beyond beautification.
This can be attributed to the fact that only one university (Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology) is currently offering the course in Kenya and it’s still relatively new. Moreover, most people are yet to fully understand, differentiate and hopefully appreciate the practice as an important entity in the built environment. However, there is hope as some people are now realizing the significance of Landscape Architecture given the growing trend in the real estate sector and the need for well-planned developments.
So, what does landscape architecture entail?
This is one broad area with a myriad of fields that fit the bill. Therefore, I will use an illustration to drive the point home. Disclaimer: all names, locations, measurements and values used in the story are purely for illustration purposes.
Assuming a certain Mr. Mega has a large piece of land he wants to develop say, 20 acres. This land is about 8 km from the main (tarmacked) road. The terrain is fairly flat with one end slopping towards a river. It has no formal water connection, it lacks an electricity connection from the main grid and other basic necessities. But all in all, it’s a developers haven, scenic and holding a lot of potential. Being well informed, he has quite an ambitious plan of setting up a family home, developing a golf course; country homes for sale; the gated community kind, complete with shared social and economic amenities such as a shopping centre, shared swimming pool, play areas and a cool club house. He has the idea but has no clue where to start.
That is where we should (ideally) come in, the Landscape Architects, together with the Architects, Structural/ Civil/ Mechanical Engineers, Quantity Surveyors, Construction Managers, the whole lot. But sadly, the perception of most people is still that we come in last, post construction. To ‘beautify’ the remaining space with grass, flowers and a few trees for shade.
Here is why Mr. Mega will require a Landscape Architect’s services in his team before he starts construction:
1. Site Analysis
This is crucial. Determining location and access of the site from the main road, the soil type, drainage, climate of the area, socio-economic viability of activities, existing plants and any animal habitats, ecology and sustainability of the environment. The surrounding and proposed land uses need to be analysed to prevent conflict in use. These are just some of the factors that will determine the final design.
To calculate, create and manipulate the land to the necessary levels and desired views for the roads, paths, building pads, golf course, lawns and pools.
3. Planting design, plant palette and plant selection
The placement of the plants has to be designed to be functional yet aesthetic. The type of plants is also determined by the setting too. For example, some plants do well in full sun and others in partial sun. Some grasses do well in shade, others in certain types of soils. Some trees don’t allow anything to grow under them, others have aggressive root systems and others have brittle branches that fall off any time and could wreck your car or house roof if ill-advised. You don’t want that happening, now do you?
4. Water reticulation
A system of clean water for use within the site has to be established. Also, considerations of recycling and re-using have to be considered.
5. Irrigation systems
For the lawns, growing trees and plants. The source of water has to be established (is it fresh? Recycled? From the river?) and a system laid out before the lawns and structures are put up.
Lighting of roads and paths for security as well as aesthetics. Strategic lighting highlighting interesting flower plants and trees and pools all of which bring out the best visual effects. Most importantly, the source has to be determined. Is it from the main grid? Sustainable options can be considered, such as solar lighting and photovoltaic cells.
7. Landscape structures
Structures such as gazebos, pergolas, arbours and trellises need to be factored into the design if required. For shade/ shelter, sitting areas, focal points and creating interest in the design.
With that said, it is important to note that, a Landscape Architect cannot accomplish all the above alone. Their work is to design and put the client’s vision on paper in collaboration with other players in the project (architect, civil/structural/mechanical engineers,). Finally, a contractor will come in and implement it as specified. Sometimes, the contractor can be a landscape architect who specializes in that.
Maintenance of the installed landscape is also as essential. Depending on the contract, the Landscape Architect follows through to look out for possible pests, plant failures and any other unforeseen occurrences after installation, as well as general maintenance.
Landscape Architecture also entails:
- Site Planning
- Urban Design and Planning
- Recreational Planning: Parks, gardens and cemeteries
- Corporate, commercial and institutional centres
- Ecological and Sustainable development
- Water front development
- Transportation and transit facilities
- Conservation of natural and historic landscapes
- Storm water management, Reservoirs, Dams and Wetland restoration
- Land Use Management
- Environmental Impact Assessment and Audits
With such a wide scope of specialities in the profession more often than not, you will find Landscape Architects will specialize in certain areas and carve a niche for themselves as per the market demands.
Others areas where Landscape Architecture is relevant are:
- Plant identification and installation
- Roof gardening and Green roofs
Ideal for urban areas with limited outdoor spaces, or where the rooftop is been used for outdoor living. In colder countries, grassed roofs are used as thermal regulators too.
- Interior plantscaping
For offices, homes and commercial premises. Container plants can bring in colour, they can also be used as indicators of direction or room dividers.
- Vertical gardens
These work well where space is limited or where visual interest is needed, for example on walls.
Landscape Architecture is a fast-growing practice and it goes beyond trees and well-manicured lawns. It involves an orderly process of investigation, evaluation of the resources, requirements and solutions for the designer to reach the desired outcome.
For more information check out this explanation.