Posts in Landscape

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Make room for green – How retail can profit from considered landscape design

June 25th, 2019 Posted by All, Landscape

Trees and landscape in retail parks and shopping outlets have been a controversial topic ever since I started designing landscape for commercial sites. It sometimes seems that trees are the ‘baddies’ that obscure the visibility of branding and logos and, just as bad, require maintenance due to their leaf and possible fruit drop. The disregard for trees can also sometimes lead to their demise: In historic retail sites and car parks they may have been placed into tree pits too small to give them a chance of survival – so not only were they a cost to plant, but then also a hassle and additional cost to remove, never to be replaced. Alternative plantings such as low-maintenance evergreen shrub beds have been equally mistreated, often outgrown their space and, continually suppressed by rigorous maintenance regimes, now look tired and ill, sending all the wrong signals to the potential customer.

In order to appeal to the new generation of consumer and to mitigate the impact of online shopping, retailers are now going to great efforts to offer customers a unique experience. A lot of money is being invested in making shop interiors look luxurious, quirky, chic and memorable. And equal attention is increasingly being given to the shop’s setting to entice customers in and give them a taste of what’s awaiting them within. Shopfronts and their surroundings have a great influence on the shoppers’ positive or negative perception. Therefore, the appearance of the public realm has a great influence on making the experience interesting and appealing.

A wealth of research has been carried out in the UK and abroad to assess shoppers’ perceptions and preferences in relation to varying shopping environments with and without trees and mature landscape. And, unsurprisingly to me, the results have very much been in favour of vegetation, particularly mature trees, shaping the space and framing views, providing shelter and improving general visual amenity of the space. Equally, there are numerous studies proving that plants are beneficial to our health and well-being both indoors and outdoors, that vegetated open spaces are the key to help people relax and get closer to nature. On a smaller scale, biophilic design in the workplace – which can include such simple measures as placing plants in offices – are seen as beneficial to employees’ productivity.

Finding time to go out, listen and experience ‘the outdoors’ is crucial for our mental and physical well-being. But it’s not enough to just walk down a busy, noisy street and expect results. The quality of ‘the outdoors’ environment is very important too. And that relates to every scale. A picnic in the park, an outdoor movie night or a bonfire on the beach is by no means better or worse than a dinner party in the privacy of our own garden. It’s all about creating a friendly and cosy atmosphere, slowing down our busy lifestyles to enjoy a moment.

To me, this calls to mind those oft-heard buzz terms such as mindfulness and hygge – in essence, enjoying the little things in life and celebrating the moment. It’s all about feeling good in our surroundings and spending quality, fulfilling time, indoors and out. It is important to go out, meet people, interact, enjoy the sounds, smells and sensations that come with being outside. But with hygge being all about cosiness, how does that translate to the spacious outdoors? It’s all about bringing the scale of the space back into size and proportions that are easier to relate to, creating enclosures, using natural materials, softening the hard edges with soft landscape elements. And then it’s all about senses too, introducing smells and sounds, water or even fire (in a controlled fashion, of course!).

So why wouldn’t this recent shift towards nature, well-being and mindfulness seep into the retail environment? Well, luckily it has, the changes are slowly shaping up and hopefully soon all developers and retailers will realise that creating a high-quality environment within their public realm provides a tremendous subconscious attraction, resulting in better footfall and better sales. Unattractive public realm merely becomes a route from A to B or best avoided entirely. Well-conceived and attractive public realm, on the other hand, will encourage people to use the space, prompt lingering presence, resulting in better sales, client satisfaction and repeat business from time spent in a pleasant environment.

Make Room For Green Caption

There are some practical benefits to plants in public realm, too. If placed correctly, trees can provide shading to the shopfronts which in turn helps avoid solar heat gain, reducing the need for air conditioning and subsequently reducing energy consumption. Tree planting will also be required to achieve the high ecological and biodiversity credentials that most sites aspire to achieve these days. Drainage is another crucial aspect to take into consideration and trees and shrubs are our natural allies in improving draining qualities of waterlogged soils and storm-water management. Needless to mention their instrumental role in climate management and wind-speed reduction. And last but not least, I don’t think I have ever come across a local authority that would reject a landscape design based on too many trees or too much planting – but I’ve encountered many applications rejected due to not enough tree planting and the development lacking character.

So let’s not vilify trees and stop banishing them to unsuitable tree pits. Far better to plant the correct trees in the correct places and allow them enough space for compaction-free root growth. The softness of greenery and seasonal colour afforded by attractive shrub beds and the vertical accents that trees bring into a sometimes very rigid, horizontal and geometric architecture (no disrespect to the architects and their hard work), as well as a well-designed public realm can make the prospect of a day out shopping far more enticing, exciting and pleasant.

The retail world is changing and customers’ expectations have developed towards more biophilic design and experiential visits. The retailers’ outlook needs to change too – and the landlords will follow.

Gosia Soltan | Landscape Architect

Senior Living Landscape

Senior living landscape – Time for change

November 1st, 2018 Posted by All, Landscape

That people are living longer is an incontrovertible truth of the 21st century. Innovations and improvement to healthcare, advancement and convergence of technologies, alongside a broader health consciousness and adoption of healthier lifestyles are extending lives beyond the limits imagined by previous generations. In the United Kingdom, some 18 percent of the population is aged 65 years and older, with this number predicted to grow over the coming years to reach almost 25 percent in 2046 [Office for National Statistics, 2018]. At the same time, there has been a revolution in the way we choose to lead our lives – people no longer feel compelled to marry, are consciously opting to stay single or refrain from having children. In the very near future, it will be incumbent upon elderly living provision to keep this new generation of senior citizens active, whilst also combating feelings of isolation and loneliness.

Whilst there is understandably a lot of focus on the internal environment of senior living and care accommodation, it is our view that for developments to be truly successful they should be looked at holistically. Residents should have an opportunity to live a good life inside and outside their homes whatever their age, gender and background. After all, numerous studies have shown that being outdoors has a positive impact on the health, well-being and overall quality of life of elderly people. This is where well thought out senior living landscape design comes in.

It’s arguable that, in the past, landscaping provision for senior living developments was ostensibly decorative – regimented pathways with smooth paving through carefully manicured lawns – rather than providing functional and active spaces that encourage residents to head outdoors. It’s interesting to note how studies conducted in the USA found that landscape elements that increase outdoor engagement by elderly people are sometimes not what we would most probably think. It wasn’t always the smooth paving, stable seating and easy access to paved walkways that encouraged outdoor use, but good views from the walkways and windows that scored highest and would potentially increase the time spent outside by 3.5 times that of the average rate.

Unsurprisingly, clean footpaths and a wide range of plant material were also recognised as an encouragement for residents to spend more time outside on a weekly basis. Also interesting from the social and architectural point of view is that seniors highly appreciated the privacy afforded by their resident rooms, and even more, the views of vehicular movement during their outdoor activity. Furthermore, the top desired landscape features that would encourage outdoors activity were: the ability to see the birds or wildlife in general, the opportunity to take a round trip by linked walkways, and the outdoors visually linked to the indoors [ASLA, access 28.07.18].

Results of these studies also allow us to formulate the main design concept and should include aspects such as: nature elements, choice/autonomy, safety/security, comfort/accessibility and activity to achieve the most sustainable and comfortable senior living design.

In many care or senior living scenarios, one often observes a lack of activity and residents tending to remain indoors in their apartments for large parts of a day. One of the reasons for this may be the lack of confidence in overcoming real-world obstacles. Well-designed landscape should provide features that encourage people to push their boundaries, for instance different kinds of paving that can help seniors extend their mobility in an environment that they perceive as safe. Comparative examples of this can be seen in implemented solutions such as the introduction of changing levels [Tabar P., 2014]: ramps may be challenging at first, but in time residents can set up their own goals and slowly conquer the ‘obstacles’.

Additionally, giving seniors a choice can prove liberating and improve their life quality. Simple solutions should be included in the design process, such as the provision of more footpaths and diversifying the experience that can be gained during a walk. Making the space attractive all year round is imperative; as landscape architects we need to focus more on seasonal planting to give the end user opportunities to enjoy and revel in their favourite times of year. Introducing multiple, interlinking closed-loop footpaths will increase the attractiveness, the feeling of making your own choices and, at the same time, an opportunity to eliminate the anxiety of being lost. The therapeutic benefits of safe and engaging community spaces are already recognised as a way of dealing with dementia.

As the senior demographic rapidly changes, the concept of independent senior living developments in urban areas has gained traction. Urban living is attractive to seniors who have spent their whole lives in vibrant environments or who just want to live ‘where the action is’ and where there are multiple amenities accessible. Additionally, seniors are increasingly reluctant to live in age-segregated communities. They want to stay up-to-date with the surrounding life [Mullaney, 2017]. Limited urban space is more challenging and needs a flexible landscape solution tailored to different activities, but makes it possible to give the elderly in need of care a whole new opportunity to live and interact easily with other generations.

Seniors want to interact with all ages of the community that surrounds them, so it is important that the outdoor spaces should provide a mix of activities. One of the current trends is to engage seniors in gardening, giving them a real purpose to go outdoors. Well-designed beds with herbs, vegetables and other types of planting can improve physical health and mobility and, more importantly, can reduce stress, eliminate loneliness and create choices to work independently or integrate with others. Indeed, research has found that gardening can give a sense of well-being and satisfaction with life [Teo J., 2016].

The present concern is that senior living could get commoditised – or “McDonald’s-ised” [Perkins B., 2009], but as landscape architects it is imperative that we provide designs for the senior sector which have a human scale and local uniqueness with all the care provided.

To conclude: “There is no building type where you can see a more direct correlation between doing something right and its impact on people’s lives. You can build an environment for the ageing that is confusing, imprisoning, and depressing, or you can build one that frees them, encourages them, and enhances their quality of life. This is a building type where you don’t have to look very hard to see what difference you’ve made in people’s lives.” [Perkins B., 2009].

Gosia Soltan | Landscape Architect

The Green Stuff

The green stuff – Urban Edge proud to offer new landscape consultancy service

January 5th, 2018 Posted by All, Landscape

At Urban Edge we have gone ‘green’ and welcomed a new addition to our scope of services – landscape architecture. This new sector will enhance our already versatile set of skills and allow us to offer a more comprehensive quality package to the client/developer; one that sets us apart from many of our competitors. The combined knowledge and experience of architecture and landscape architecture enables us to offer a wider spectrum of services, advice and guidance. Our expertise in this field predominantly covers the residential and commercial markets, including landscape, arboriculture and ecological services.

This new addition has already met with a lot of interest from our existing clients who appreciate the benefits of landscape design in increasing the value and appeal of their sites – as well as the unavoidable requirement that landscape forms part of every planning submission! The logistical benefits of our architectural and landscape design teams working under one roof aren’t to be overlooked either. The value of coordinated design work in achieving better, more efficient outputs, and in cutting out the headache of project managing two separate sets of consultants cannot be under-estimated.