It was only during the pandemic, that we happened to visit a natural woodland setting along a busy street of Abu Dhabi city. The site was reserved for a future linear park in the neighbourhood.
The many existing mature native trees on the site offered a large shade canopy over a thick layer of dry leaves acting as natural mulch. All a landscape designer was left to do was to work around these beautiful trees and carve out some minimalist playful spaces amidst this natural environment to make it usable. This was one of those seemingly simple projects, with an underlying sense of experimentation.
Thus, we started visualizing a perfectly sustainable park with the purest design intention to provide the right stimuli for children, without taking away the character of the place.
The field of landscape design balances itself carefully on a fine line between the natural and the man-made. While architecture bends more towards the man-made, landscape needs to willingly swing towards the natural side.
We thought of only two additions to this beautiful natural site.
The first was a shaded shared path for walking and cycling, following the linear tree lines along the centre of the site.
Activated pockets for play and fitness, using only locally made simple sustainable elements, arranged under a cluster of existing trees with natural dry-leaf mulch underneath were to be the second addition.
A minimalist quality of landscape satisfies all the basic needs of a neighborhood park by simply providing energetic nodes for social interaction. This leaves room for imaginative and sensory play, making the designed space more inclusive and sustainable.
We wouldn’t have to invite the birds when the place is officially open! They already have their homes in those tall trees, with the evening sun and summer breeze playing hide-n-seek through the branches. The children just need to follow their senses to catch the wind, sunshine and birdsong and make this modest open space a favourite hideaway into dreamland.
It’s such little gestures that liven up the toughened urban fabric. We need to ask ourselves, if manicured lawns, expensive water features or exotic flowers that don’t belong to a region are required at all to make a well-designed park! All the children need is a shaded spot amidst trees to weave their colourful imaginations through.
COVID has silently taught us how to live a fuller life only with what is absolutely necessary and sufficient, in spite of the many emptinesses it has created in our daily lives. As landscape architects, we wish to fill this ‘understory’ layer around big existing trees with lively stories of many-an ‘under’designed landscape!