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Ascending Landscape Architecture

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Arunkumar Landscape Architects Pvt Ltd is a 30 year old firm in Mumbai that provides design planning and environmental management expertise for residential, commercial and institutional projects in India and abroad. The firm is led by Priyadarshini Award winner, Arunkumar who has worked with the well known architect late Nari Gandhi and is associated with leading international design firms. He talks to Buildotech about the landscaping trends & challenges and some of his remarkable projects in India and abroad.

Arunkumar Landscapes has been associated with many prestigious projects like the Akshardham temple in Gujrat & New Delhi, Lavasa Township, Science City project Ahmadabad and waterfront developments for Sheraton Group of Hotels in Kenya & Bali to name a few. The firm worked on such expansive projects with a belief that a project cannot work as a series of isolated spaces designed independently of one another. A design, to have an impact in unison, needs inputs and work in tandem from all the individuals involved from architects, engineers to other affiliated consultants.

My design philosophy believes in transforming the land to skilfully merge the natural with the manmade. It will not be satisfactory to just change the landmass from its original form rather it is much more important to bring into being a piece of work that not only enhances the quality of space but brings about a greater change in functionality and aesthetic value satisfying the owner and the user alike. For instance, at Akshardham Temple, Delhi, the landscape takes inspiration from the traditional architecture and religious philosophy. The elaborate floral pattern in topiary work mimics Rangoli and the decorative concept of water bodies & mythological gargoyles surrounding main temple is derived from the floating diyas. Likewise, the form of lotus flower plays an important role in the hardscape of the temple complex. The musical fountain incorporates the mythological significance of number nine in its concept, reflects the strong architectural features of the temple and yet does not stand out but forms the integral part of the spatial layout.

In India, landscape architecture is gradually coming to the fore but still has a long way to go. Not restricted to hospitality and institutional projects, landscaping is becoming an integral part the residential complexes as well. The reasons can be attributed to the rising awareness of homeowners who now wants a complete living experience as also the perspective vision of the major realty developers who realize the importance of outdoors in creating a right ambience of a place. However, the reasons for adopting landscaping in projects in India still remain superficial than functional and technical. This is where the expertise of a designer is required to integrate the functional and sustainable aspects of the landscape design while offering the client and user, the perfect outdoor setting.

However, unlike international practice of involving the landscape designers as part of the project from the site development and planning stage itself, the tendency in India is to engage us when most of the site demarcation has already been done with foundations for built structures in progress. This not only creates a challenge in laying of pipes and services but also in developing the site according to the climatology of the place to benefit the built up spaces. Moreover, maintenance of the landscape features and greenery in particular and the entire project in general is a major challenge in our country. The lack of upkeep on regular basis can defeat the most noble of purpose and function of any design element.

Also, it is seen that public in general and even some professionals still believe that landscaping is nothing more than gardening that includes planting grass and plants and adding some water feature. As a matter of fact, landscaping is both science and art. It requires understanding of both the elements of nature & building construction and involves coordinated planning and designing of land. To achieve a comprehensive outdoor space design and development, we apply aesthetic and scientific principles in arranging objects and spaces not only for human enjoyment but also taking in consideration the user safety, health and welfare. For example, at Vijay Vilas residential complex at Thane, the podium being two acres in area is one of the largest in the city. Once the outdoor space was integrated with built space through careful planning, it came to have an identity of its own as the green spaces complimented the built structure in terms of both form & function. The designed spaces offer all the functional usage, add greenery to otherwise stark concrete built-up podium and buildings around and also ensure safety and security through well integrated lighting design that changes the quality of space as per the time of the day.

India has a rich history of landscape architecture and design. From geometrical Mughal gardens to terraced Brindavan gardens, there is a lot of inspiration available right here for the designers. Yet, the trend today is to copy the west as can be seen in steel and glass buildings. Similarly, the use of foreign plant species or design themes are neither suited to Indian tropical climate nor economically viable and sustainable. Instead, the tropical design & layout incorporating local diverse flora not only will provide beauty to the project and comfort to user but will also be easy to maintain and more relevant to its setting. Such as, the dense foliage trees we used in our hospitality projects are a great landscape attraction and also provide outdoor seating for the guests to enjoy nature.

While, the private projects are slowly but steadily incorporating outdoor planning, it is disappointing to see a complete disregard for urban design and planning in most Indian cities. Buildings are a part of the larger urban environment which is not just parks and gardens. It largely consists of streets, sidewalks, parking lots and utility areas. Yet there is very little design to be seen in these areas. A well thought out landscape design offers safety, ease of use and enable people to enjoy public areas. Also, it can moderate extreme heat, recycle water, reduce energy use and lower carbon emissions. On one hand, the realization and commitment need to come from the town planners to integrate planned green spaces and upgrade utility areas. On the other, the landscape architects too need to assert themselves as designers of parks and gardens, as designers of public infrastructure as well.

An oft used term in design profession is sustainability that seeks use of eco-friendly materials and technology. For me the term means accepting the potentials and limitations of natural elements of the land and designing the site for specific purposes. It includes embracing the conservation and restoration of natural soil, water, vegetation and climate and then responding to the complex problem of land use. This is well highlighted in one of our residential projects, Neelkanth Woods, Mumbai where the site is designed to take the advantage of its limitations and create a strong new environment for the residents. A pre existing storm water drain in the middle of the site was an eyesore and the negative feature of the property. The same negative element of the land was turned into a unique feature of the development by treating the collected water and transforming it into a dominant multiuse central water feature, abutting the massive clubhouse on one side. Today, the water body not only offers residents amenity like boating but also serves the practical needs of water harvesting. This is an apt example of sustainable design as it recognizes the long-term ecological, economical, as well as social and psychological values. Other sustainable landscape solutions practised include proper placement and selection of shade trees and creation of wind breaks, permeable paving design to reduce stormwater run-off, water-wise garden techniques and gray water for irrigation and soil preservation & management.



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