August 19, 2022

Doha leads the way


Duncan Denley, MD of desert INK, says the Hamad International Airport project should mark the turning point for landscapes in the region, paving the way for a more sustainable future.

After countless visits to Qatar over the years, I was delighted to finally experience the much-lauded Hamad International Airport first-hand on a visit to Doha earlier this month.

I was not disappointed. Banking into the airport over the extensive approach road was quite a sight, with a green thread transporting visitors via a series of landscaped islands before sweeping them to the impressive terminal building. The landscape was no less impressive from ground level. A ‘less is more’ approach has led to a simple linear layout of contrasting ground covers in neat panels at the formal arrival plaza.

I have no doubt that, on plan, the landscape architects at HOK, who designed the grounds, would have been encouraged to add more species, more flourishes and fiddles. Thankfully, such over complexity was avoided and the real magic unfolds as you leave the formality of the terminal area and begin your journey across the causeways towards the city beyond.

From its inception, desert INK has been trying to push a simple, sustainable approach to landscape, and it was thrilling to see living proof that this approach works on a vast scale. The landscape consists of huge swathes of grasses and drought-tolerant shrubs, which drape over a series of mounded islands, interspersed by occasional crushed aggregate panels, stone walls and sporadic tree planting – and that’s it.

Again, in words and almost certainly in plan, this landscape would appear over simplistic. A less experienced landscape architect would give in to the temptation to break down the scale, add showy exotic species and introduce countless unnecessary adornments and complexities, scared that users would find the landscape boring. What we see is a wonderfully expansive and fluid landscape, with grasses billowing in the ever-present coastal winds like fields of corn, nodding and flexing in the breeze.

On my approach to the terminal the next day, I was able to experience more of this magnificent landscape and noted more well-considered details, such as a group of dynamic fountains which emerge from the sea in a bay adjacent to the terminal.

I noted a landscape maintenance crew at work and realised the real bonus of such a landscape is that it is inherently more sustainable than the manicured airport landscapes to which we are accustomed. Grasses may be clipped back twice a year and some occasional trimming of shrubs but, aside from that, maintenance crews should enjoy a relatively leisurely life.

No fancy water features, which inevitably break down and sit empty, no manicured hedges which require constant attention, and a complete absence of lawns and annuals which soak up resources like a sponge. All the materials here can be sourced locally and with ease.

We can all learn from this. Clients must learn to trust landscape architects to exercise restraint. Landscape architects should be bold and not shy away from simplicity. We should use localised assets to maximum effect, rather than imposing foreign ideas and materials. So let’s hope this project marks the turning point for landscapes in the region, paving the way for a more sustainable future in the profession.

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