As demand for green and quality-living space in cities escalate, landscaping is becoming more integral to architectural projects
From rooftop terraces with thoughtful planting to Zen-like Japanese gardens, landscaping can make a huge difference to any development, be that a hotel, residential development or public space. In many cases, it can be a property's crowning glory. Consider the Pousada Palácia de Estói in Faro, Portugal, which has gardens inspired by those of the Palace of Versailles, or the Ashdown Park Hotel and Country Club in Sussex, United Kingdom, with pathways through secret gardens, woodland and around tranquil lakes.
By enhancing our private and public space with creative landscaping solutions, we allow ourselves the freedom to linger, interact and engage with other people, and the arts and culture
Sydney residents will get the chance to live in the first home designed by Kengo Kuma and Koichi Takada, Mastery By Crown Group, a five-building development described as Sydney's own piece of Japanese-styled living, when it opens in 2021. The pair collaborated to create the tallest of the five towers at Mastery, a 20-storey 'stacked forest' with generous landscaping on the balconies and terraces of the building (pictured below).Greenery fused into high-rise architecture has become a worldwide trend, with more and more tall towers sprouting living exteriors, says James Horan of Taylor Brammer Landscape Architects, which has been working on the Mastery By Crown Group development. "'Plantscrapers' address growing sustainability concerns in major cities thanks to their ability to reduce pollution and increase energy efficiency," he says. "The popularity of these vertical forests goes hand-in-hand with the harmony Japanese architecture traditionally inhabits between the built environment and nature."
The Crown Group's approach to architectural landscaping is to create a place where people can remove themselves from the city. "It's about the concept of biophilia – the wellness that comes from nature and being outdoors," says Horan. It's also about the simplicity in material, he believes, such as in building facades, so the landscape becomes a place where the complexity of materiality has been retained.
Greenery fused into high-rise architecture has become a worldwide trend, with more and more tall towers sprouting living exteriors
The group says its landscape should make you feel as if you are on holiday, so you have a place where you can truly relax. "The trend has been that it's a resort-style landscaping, so within that landscape are the facilities and resources you would commonly find in a resort swimming pool, gym, barbecue, entertaining area and then quieter spaces for yoga and contemplative purposes. There is usually water inherent in there, which is generally the string that ties the landscaping together, linking the different areas," says Horan.
By working with Koichi Takada, who is overseeing the master planning and urban design at Mastery By Crown Group, the group is developing what one might perceive as a 'modern Zen' approach to the landscaping. Says Horan, "There is simplicity in the material types and vegetation types, so their textures work harder. Whereas with the tropical resort style, there was a lot of complexity in the plant type."At Mastery, the greenery in Kuma's building is also reflected on building D, towards the centre of the site, as the green motif continues throughout. "This is one of the first buildings in Sydney, if not Australia, to do this with plants in its exterior facade," Horan says. "Architects are exploring this in Australia now – how to make greenery part of the eco-system of the city. It improves the amenity of the neighbourhood so much."
In the realm of public spaces, one notable landscaping project in Hong Kong is the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority's (WKCDA) new pavilion, 'Growing Up', which was created by local practice New Office Works after it won the inaugural Hong Kong Young Designers and Designers Competition in 2017. Co-founder Evelyn Ting says there is not such a hard distinction between 'architecture' and 'landscape' in both concept and materiality anymore. She believes its proposal was selected because it captures architectural elements throughout Hong Kong and was able to transform them into a design that is very site specific. "Its profile and volume is simple, like a shed from any city," she says. "However, the roof is low on the park end and rises towards the waterfront, and the pavilion accentuates this moment of transition between park and harbour."The columns and roof beams are constructed from glue-laminated timber, rarely used in Hong Kong. "The appearance, texture and even smell of the wood has really resonated with visitors," says Ting. "We fought hard to keep the pool and the tree, two of the more unexpected elements in the design, which faced a lot of resistance during the competition phase. Now that the pavilion is built, their presence can be felt even stronger. From afar, the tree is like a way finder, sticking out from the roof and signalling the location of the pavilion. In contrast, the pool is much more subtle, as it's an animated surface that reflects the columns and underside of the steps at night."
While the pavilion is situated in a park, its design is much more about the urban elements of the city. Ting notes, "Landscaping doesn't always mean merely planting vegetation, but also relates to changes in topography and the resulting stepped landscape and the dialogue between closed objects and open space."
What is distinctive about architectural landscaping in Hong Kong compared to other countries, she says, is that you often see nature and man-made structures in close proximity to one another due to the city's extreme density. "The palm trees along Lockhart Road, and Gloucester Road nearby the Cross Harbour Tunnel, are prime examples," says Ting. "We wanted the pavilion to reflect this same strange intersection between the natural and the artificial."
Kingsley Jayasekera, director of the marketing and customer experience department at WKCDA, says what stood out about the New Office Works entry was its usability as an event space and the way the design reflected elements particular to Hong Kong.
WKCDA wanted the space to be flexible so unexpected things can pop up so the space always reinvents itself
He observes there has always been a heavy use of concrete and tiles in public spaces and a strict arrangement of functions in Hong Kong, and that it is trying to buck that trend: "Our objective has always been to create a green oasis in the city so lawns and trees have been arranged to create smaller areas where you can escape." WKCDA wanted the space to be flexible so unexpected things can pop up so the space always reinvents itself, he observes.
WKCDA provides 23ha of public open space, including a two-kilometre waterfront promenade – which Jayasekera describes as "the glue that holds West Kowloon together". It hosts a diverse range of events including its regular Freespace Happening festivals with live music, market stalls and arts and crafts workshops here. "Traditionally everyday use of public space in Hong Kong has been quite heavily regulated but unlike other parks in Hong Kong we welcome activities like pet walking, ball games, kite flying and picnicking." The idea is the activities in its venues should spill into the public spaces and the integration of public space within the buildings should encourage the public to cross the boundary and experience what the venues and museums have to offer.
Later this year, WKCDA will unveil another feat of architectural landscaping with the Art Park, an 11ha green space for arts and cultural events. It features a raised deck that slopes down to a lawn facing out to the harbour, and instead of the usual railing along the waterfront promenade, it has created a low wall/seat that opens up the view of the skyline and provides space for people to sit. The lawn spaces – the largest of which can accommodate 10,000 people – are all designed so they can host events, with pre-fixed power and data points. Running through the Art Park is the Cultural Boulevard, which has a small Art Pavilion and Freespace, which comprises a black-box theatre and live music bar.
Later this year, WKCDA will unveil another feat of architectural landscaping with the Art Park
By enhancing our private and public space with creative landscaping solutions, we allow ourselves the freedom to linger, interact and engage with other people, and the arts and culture. Ultimately, that's what it's all about.