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Kamelia Zaal on using desert plants for landscaping

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designMENA speaks to landscape designer Kamelia Zaal and architect Tarik Zaharna about the latest trends in outdoor design and also explores different and more sustainable concepts, such as native landscaping.

Government initiatives, such as the UAE Vision 2021 National Agenda and Abu Dhabi’s Estidama policy for 2030, are strongly focusing on preserving water resources and implementing green growth plans. Furthermore, the Abu Dhabi Public Realm Design Manual specifically outlines the social and contextual aspects of planning and design. The document actively promotes landscaping with native plants requiring that at least 80% of the total proposed landscaped areas in public realm projects should consist of locally occurring, drought tolerant plant species.

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The landscape designer of urban green oasis Al Barari, Kamelia Bin Zaal, last year set up her own design studio and is now on a quest to promote native landscaping for commercial and residential projects.

Zaal has recently developed an indigenous planting palette to be used within her project – the Canvas. This mixed-use development in Dubai was recently launched by KOA, a real estate company owned by her brother Mohammed Bin Zaal and designed by Tarik Al Zaharna, founder of T.ZED Architects.

“When we were given the directions about the actual landscape, the idea was to create the true sense of place and community within Dubai. This project is a total opposite to Al Barari where we did a very lush landscape, which we are so used to here in the UAE and we often assume it should be part of any commercial or residential project. As an Emirati and landscape designer, this triggered something in me and I wanted to take a different approach. We have a balance of 80% indigenous and 20% native adaptive plants, which will sit well within our extreme climate.

“Ultimately, we are in the dessert and we wanted to create a desert landscape. The plants that we used here are used to this extreme weather and this is their natural environment. Bringing that ethos into landscaping is quite rare and I’m not sure if it has been done on such a large scale.”

Furthermore, Zaal explains that there are certain misconceptions regarding the usage of recycling sewage and grey water for irrigation.

She continues: “Although the government has introduced this in the public sector, there is still a lack of understanding for its use in residential projects. That it is, in fact, clean water. These systems are actually available here in the market and I would love to see them being used in the private sector more.
“As designers, it is our job to make sure that the intent of the client is always upheld, but at the same time we need to educate them on new technologies of water recycling or natural soil additives that retain water.”

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The architect and designer behind the Canvas project, Tarik Al Zaharna, explains that their shared vision was to promote more contextual design language in the Middle East.

“Luckily we were faced with a client who wanted to challenge the norm and rethink the way people live, engage and interact with the architecture they inhabit. The brief was to create space that people can feel they can belong to,” says Zaharna.


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