Where is this 'urban landscape'?

Originally uploaded by jonrawlinson

Los Angeles? Chicago? Beijing? Delhi? Ankara? Sydney? No: it is a view of Riyadh, in Saudi Arabia, from the Al Faisaliyah Center.
What a wasted opportunity. With so much faith, so much central power and so much wealth…. the designed urban ‘landscape’ could have been so very much better. Even now, they should commission a Strategic Urban Landscape Plan for the city – after running a multi-stage competition to select the best firm.
Although I rather admire the Saudi policy of not issuing tourist visas, it has prevented me from visiting the Kingdom to see if the landscape planning as quite as bad as it appears from this and other photographs. They could have had a landscape plan which was sensitive to:

  • Islam
  • Climate
  • Materials
  • Social Customs
  • Hydrology
  • Ecology
  • Etc

What’s more, it would have helped create a more-sustainable landscape in preparation for when Saudi Arabia’s water and oil have been depleted. Both are ‘quarried’ on a non-renewable basis.

8 thoughts on “Where is this 'urban landscape'?

  1. Christine

    Riyadh has experienced an incredible rate of growth. Between the years 1974 to 2008 the population grew tenfold from 650,000 to 5,100,000. (Given most planning time frames are 20-25 years it is unlikely that this growth was planned or managed.) The population is project to grow almost double again in the next 12 years to 2020. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Riyadh#History

    In 2007 strategic planning for the city was underway. Although, there are maps available of gardens within the Sefarat district, I wasn’t able to find a specific landscape plan. However, also in 2007 Livcom awarded Riyadh a bronze award for Salam Park. The park provides not only a place to enjoy by visitation, but also visual amenity with “the provision of green sight scenes to break building density and jammed traffic in the region.”

  2. Jane Fowles

    I’ve just had coffee with a traffic engineer, an old and enlightened colleague, doing a talk to his younger staff on the connections between other professions, the importance of planning and landscape architecture, their place in the development process. Where, he asked me, did landscape architecture come from, how did it begin? Its a newcomer isn’t it? (I bridled slightly at that.) I talked about Alexander Pope, Repton and Brown, Arcadia, the English reaction to French formalism; (bit of a gap here) the formation of the landscape institute in the 1920s, then Sylvia Crowe and Brenda Colvin, Calder Water and then began to dry up. How did they get involved he asked? I couldn’t remember, it was so long ago that I learnt this stuff. So I offered to do some research for him and lo and behold the first place I looked was Tom’s essays on landscape which I devoured – so refreshing to read something which has nothing to do with recession or the commercial reality of getting stuff built. There were chinks of recognition McHarg, Olmsted etc, but I still need the link – Nan Fairbrother??

    As to Saudi Arabia, have you looked at the planning of Abu Dhabi? Its the total antithesis of Saudi, areas of carefully zoned uses, swathes of landscape, high emphasis on reuse of water/energy etc all masterplanned, urban designed and agonised over. I wonder what sort of a place it will create. Will the zoning mean that the city is sterile, too controlled and no place for spontaneity and encounter? Or will the designers’ product turn out to be everything we have ever dreamed of, everything considered and in the right place, with layers of meaning at every corner, beautiful, inspired the whole connected and wrapped, nay absorbed, by landscape to die for???

    Meanwhile I continue my search.

    Class of ’87 or was it ’85?

  3. Tom Turner Post author

    Thank you both for your comments.

    Regarding the origin of the landscape architecture profession, one can hardly do better than the partnership between Hatshepsut and Senenmut as the first mistress-master-piece of landscape architecture. See http://www.gardenvisit.com/garden/temple_of_hatshepsut

    Regarding Riyadh, they could at least have followed the example of Kuwait and commissioned a landscape plan – and it could have been better judged with regard to urban morphology and climate. See http://www.gardenvisit.com/book/landscape_planning_and_environmental_impact_design:_from_eia_to_eid/chapter_11_urbanisation_and_growth_management/urban_morphology_and_climate

  4. Christine

    Siting is an interesting problem both at the individual building scale and at the urban scale. Although I will admit to being, on the whole, aspect rather than prospect driven when I design. And I thought about this; it is possibly also true that I have given priority to aspect when I have been involved in larger scale subdivision or campus planning schemes. [So I am not sure what the ancients would make of me! I think they were also more concerned about the health rather than comfort aspects of siting design than we are today. Probably not a bad idea to revisit this distinction anyway.]

    Although I would say, I will give priority to aspect, I also consider all the parametres of the design problem. So, for example, if I have a favourable aspect and an unfavourable prospect I will try to design in a way that takes this into account. [ie. in Scotland, I might design defensively – choose forms, materials and arrangements that shelter the occupant and then focus on opportunities to ‘play’ with vista in various ways. Refer to Stefan’s comments under landscape policy because they apply here.] It may mean building into the landscape rather than onto it! I do also remember a rather interesting subject at university on designing for microclimate…and the capacity to create new microclimates by design with both buildings and landscape. [But I suppose it would be wise to consider the broader implications of climate change!]

    Perhaps unusually for a designer, I rather like the tricker more constrained problems, (I once heard the opinion that architecture is not intellectual…) but it is in these very situations that you are most challenged intellectually and creatively! I imagine this holds true for landscape also..

  5. Christine

    Two interesting quotes below from ‘The Vital Landscape’ – Nature and the Built Environment in Nineteenth Century Britain (Taylor 2004) give colour to this duality of aspect and prospect/architecture and landscape;

    “As Kerr [The Gentleman’s House, 1864] pointed out, the effect of aspect on a room and on an adjoining landscape did not in reality always correspond. Views from a south-facing window, for instance could be thwarted by the glare of the sun in ‘the picture’.” (p164)

    “Like Kerr’s terraces and parterres Loudon’s [The Suburban Gardener and Villa Companion 1838] verandas form an intermediary space between rooms and the outdoors, between the comforts of the former and the exposure to the elements of the latter.” (p170)

    It would be intriguing to see how two people from different disciplines respond from their own discipline base to an identical problem of aspect,prospect and occupancy of architecture and landscape? And how this thinking might come together in a collaborative way!

  6. Pingback: An excellent landscape design for the King Abdullah International Gardens | Gardenvisit.com Blog

  7. Ali

    Slightly late but I thought I would comment. I have visited Riyadh I have to point out that had this picture been taken from the other side of Al Faisaliyah Center it would have shown a beautiful building – Al Mamlaka Tower. Definitely needs to be seen at night.

    1. Tom Turner Post author

      Ali, thank you for your comment. I agree that modern cities tend to look much better at night than during the day, and that they have many elegant buildings. But my concern is how to make cities which have good open spaces, as well as good buildings, and which are a pleasure to see and to use in daytime.


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