Creating inspirational cities and places to live and work requires an ability to respond to the complexity of urban, rural and remote development, creating spaces and landscapes that respond to the interaction of people and nature.
Every scheme, such as Saudi Arabia’s very own The Red Sea Development project, seeks to generate its own unique design solution in response to ‘place’, requiring a multidisciplinary approach involving environmental science, art, ecology, and much more, including groundbreaking technology, sometimes leading to extraordinary results such as restoring endangered wetlands.
However, Martha Schwartz, a Professor in the Practice of Landscape Architecture at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design, explained that no matter how advanced the technologies used in a project, if people don’t feel connected to the landscape it won’t be successful. “How people use open space in the Middle East is very different from how they use it in China. So if you don’t really understand people’s cultural values, you’ll get it wrong,” she says.
In other words, what does an urban landscape want to be, and how will it relate to the residents and visitors who utilise it?
Inspired Design for the Future
Many urban designs incorporate landscape, but in Shenzhen, Hong Kong, they did something just slightly different, creating an urban community farm in the middle of a metropolis. This challenges the way we look at our cities, particularly as this particular farm is also in proportion to the city’s number of inhabitants. This acts as a reminder of the amount of land needed to feed them, so it’s educational too.
The great German philosopher Martin Heidegger, known for contributions to phenomenology, hermeneutics and existentialism, once said that “the places make it possible for a space to exist, and the distinguished character of the places is gathering and being together.” The Madrid Rio design is an excellent example of this, a massive project in terms of scale, but very contextual in each minor part of it, making it very welcoming and attractive for visitors. Pedestrian bridges, parks, pine trees, the hierarchy of spaces, and various altitudes are just some of the diverse experiences this design offers. And while the scale is rather big, the designers have thought of particular details that make these spaces wonderful no matter how many times you’ve visited them.
The Red Sea Development Company’s giga-project, Shurayrah Island, is another scheme on a colossal scale. Although the kingdom is home to many archaeological sites, pristine beaches and excellent diving, it is not currently a holiday destination like Egypt’s Red Sea resorts or the city of Petra in Jordan. Shurayrah Island, alongside other major projects currently being undertaken in Saudi Arabia, will change that.
Part of the mammoth Red Sea Project, Shurayrah Island will be a sustainability-focused new holiday hotspot, offering incomparable experiences, awe-inspiring resorts and extraordinary natural landscapes.
Powered by 100% renewable energy, the Red Sea Project encompasses an extensive marine spatial planning exercise, which has helped identify priority conservation areas.
The end result leaves 75% of the islands within the project area untouched, with nine islands designated special conservation zones.
So often, including developments in the Middle East, ‘glitz and glamour’ have taken precedence over nature. With its futuristic urban design and landscaping, the Red Sea Project shows how destinations of the future should be designed and constructed. It is a genuine game-changer and will set a new benchmark for sustainability and environmental awareness.
The focus will be on people, not cars, too, something that other developments throughout the world are moving towards. For instance, Paris has become a leading city when it comes to promoting user-friendly spaces, with Place La République just one example of how a special place in the city has been transformed into a wonderful, relaxing space. With very few interventions and strong attention to detail, it is now a people’s place; a great square that offers Parisians increased opportunities for activity and enjoying life.
Keeping People in Mind
‘Smart city’ has become a buzzword nowadays, and while this is important, the most important thing is to create a ‘happy city’. But what does that mean? The answer is cities that people actually want to live in. In England, Brighton is an excellent example of a place that has created a shared space that satisfies the needs of everyone who lives in and visits the town – New Road.
New Road lies at the heart of Brighton’s ‘Cultural Mile’, but had become rather run-down and was failing to attract small businesses or visitors. However, an innovative project led to a new type of street: Brighton now has England’s first shared space street where cars are welcome – but on people’s terms. And studies conducted by the City Council showed that 86% of Brighton citizens would like to see more and more areas developed like this in the city.
So what is good urban design and landscaping? Put simply, it focuses on the relationship between people and the environment, and always remembers that a design isn’t finished until someone is using – and enjoying – it.