Smart Landscape Summit 2013 Image Credit: Courtesy: Expotrade Middle East

With sustainability high on the global agenda, Dubai is preparing to host one of the greenest World 
Expos in history. This ambitious goal goes beyond the event and it is seamlessly woven into the city’s strategic goal of positioning itself among the world’s top ten sustainable places by 2020.

The vision will be achieved through implementation of green building regulations, smart landscaping solutions, renewable energy generation, smart water systems and many more initiatives that aid in saving valuable resources and reducing the carbon footprints. Sustainability has also become a key objective of several national projects and government policies.

Charlene Corrin, Conference Producer at Expotrade Middle East, says, “Sustainability is now one of the key pillars of development in this country that is driven by the strong vision of its leaders to create the highest quality of life for residents and tourists alike. It is with this that landscaping has become an important part of urban development, and a lot more focus and thought is now 
being put into green spaces and user-friendly community environments.”

Dubai will play host to the two-day Middle East Smart Landscape Summit 2014, now in its second and final day at Jumeirah Emirates Towers, Godolphin Ballroom. The event is being held for the second consecutive year in the UAE and is a must for anyone interested in new technologies, design techniques 
and plans for sustainable urban development.

The event

“With increased activity in the construction industry and the successful bid for the World Expo 2020, the summit has this year moved from Abu Dhabi to Dubai and is being held under the patronage of Dubai Municipality. Regardless of the location of the event, stakeholders from across the Middle East are taking part to share case studies, challenges and discuss ways to drive the growth of the landscape sector,” says Corrin.

“This summit is an eminent stage for organisations looking to get involved in projects in the region. It serves as an opportunity for businesses working within the sector to learn about upcoming projects and provides them a chance to meet with industry leaders and municipal authorities to discuss collaboration,” she adds.

Last year’s event saw a positive response from more than 350 senior landscape architects, government authorities, urban planners, environmental specialists and developers and this year the event has expanded as word has spread about the importance of attending such an influential programme, she adds.

The summit has a boutique exhibition lounge alongside the conference, which brings together the region’s leading landscaping product and service providers and top international brands.

“This two-day programme will include presentations from experts sharing case studies and new perspectives for the audience to take away. The event also includes panel discussions and roundtable sessions that provide an opportunity for attendees to collaborate, ask questions of their peers and share new ideas,” says Corrin.

Sustainability is the key theme of the event. “It is important that smart technologies and sustainable design practices are incorporated into standard practice. Local municipalities are leading the way with initiatives that will be shared at the summit and this vision will influence others to uphold the same values within their [own] projects.”

The event has grown in size both from a delegate and sponsorship perspective. Corrin adds, “There will be participation from around 30 innovative solution providers who are looking to showcase their products and get brand exposure among a quality audience. It is important that companies participating in this event show a commitment to sustainability, and we are delighted to be partnering with such forward-thinking people.”

“The Middle East needs a platform to share challenges, brainstorm solutions and discover new smart technologies to incorporate into landscaping projects. It is through this knowledge sharing and partnership building that the industry will grow and develop in a sustainable manner.”

Green solutions

The sustainable initiatives help in increasing awareness on the green solutions in areas such energy and water saving products and technology, and this has a direct impact on the business as well as on the environment as it minimises the carbon footprint, points out Hoda Jaffal, Agriculture Engineer, Al Yousef Agriculture and Landscaping, which is is supplying and installing Zinco green roofs in the Gulf.

Jaffal wants to highlight that the green roof concept is a need for healthy cities, and that there are plenty of ecological and economical benefits in both the long and short term. At the summit, she aims to expand her circle of contacts with major landscaping consultants, contractors and with the government entities who can endorse sales and marketing opportunities to her company.

She says, “The architectural designs in the UAE are modern and conforming to the latest trends, the sustainable design is one aspect considered in the concept of design and in relevance with the green building design powered by Dubai Municipality.”

She continues, “The plants that are mostly used in landscaping are severely weather-tolerant plants. Many soil additives are also used in order to increase the capacity of water detaining; plenty of drip irrigation technologies are being introduced to the market, all of this for reducing water consumption. We are focusing on the capillary pressure phenomena that were incorporated in one of our ZinCo products — Aquatec 45.”

Andre van Heerden, Managing Partner and General Manager, Cape Reed Group of Companies UAE & ME, an exhibitor, believes that this summit is a fantastic platform for landscape innovation and information sharing. He attended the summit last year for the first time and found it had a wealth of knowledge and information for the landscaping industry of the UAE.

The company specialises in the design, supply and construction of high quality African- or Safari-themed structures with natural sustainable materials and through this event they want to inform the leading bodies of the UAE landscaping community about how the product can contribute to a sustainable landscape design.

Heerden says, “This year, I am planning to highlight the importance of natural, sustainable shade structures that are in harmony with the environment, but at the same time highlight the impact economically and socially. As for our industry, we are delighted to see more tenders insisting on making use of natural sustainable materials such as FSC [Forest Stuartship Council]-approved timber and demanding materials comply with Estidama, Leed or Dubai Green Build regulations. I find that landscaping designs in general are incorporating more heritage-style structures and aim at more sustainable solutions than when I first arrived in the UAE in 2005.”

According to Steven Velegrinis, Director, Urban Design — Middle East and North Africa, Perkins+Will, the biggest challenge the industry is facing is ambivalence or outright fear of sustainable design. Velegrinis is contributing a second time to the Smart Landscape Summit as a speaker. 
He says, “Clients often don’t care for or are suspicious of sustainable design and they are often convinced that it must be more expensive and more difficult. Therefore, one of our most important tasks as professionals is to share the facts about sustainable design, rather than acquiesce to the popular view of it. We can achieve wonderful, sustainable and cost effective landscapes when we try.”

He continues, “We chose to participate this year at the summit because we see the increasing importance of landscape architecture in the region. In master planning, the landscape dynamics are fundamentally important, particularly relating to things such as water cycles, energy and passive solar design. From a lifestyle perspective, people increasingly cherish the privilege of green space in their lives.”

Landscape innovations

Hence, Velegrinis will explain how landscape architects and urbanists need to start thinking smarter about landscape as a medium for city building. “Using examples, we aim to highlight the idea of landscape as green infrastructure and encourage people to look at landscape as more than something that is simply exterior decoration. Examples can include how we can use streetscapes to process wastewater, how to use public parks to grow food or provide habitat for native biodiversity, how to combine solar desalination, food production, reforestation in public landscape areas and how we can enhance social cohesion through landscape architecture,” he explains.

“Events such as this allow us to set an agenda that leads to more responsive and place-based design. We need to use the summit to provoke and challenge all members of the industry to do better rather than pat ourselves on the back and talk about how great a job we have done. It is also important to highlight the new approaches and technologies to developers and authorities so that they are aware of the options and start demanding that the industry does better.”

He also adds that some of the most interesting changes of the past few years have been in the field of enabling technologies such as irrigation and materials science.

“Highly efficient sub-surface irrigation systems such as the EPIC water management system have revolutionised what is possible and reduced water consumption by up to 80 per cent in the UAE field trials. Peter Neuschaefer, Director of Environment, Water and Energy in the Middle East at Waagner Biro Gulf, has perfected the Terrasave system in the UAE, which combines wastewater treatment, highly efficient solar energy generation, biofuel and food production in one packaged system that has been proven to work in the region.”

Intelligent irrigation systems

He continues, “One of my colleagues at the American University of Sharjah, Assistant Professor Ginger Krieg, invented ‘biobricks’, which are zero carbon bricks produced using dune sand, bacteria and urea to create durable and cost-effective, low-carbon building materials. E-crete with 60-70 per cent less embodied energy is also taking off and is starting to be produced in the region. In addition to that, there is significant interest in establishing a local vernacular that relies more on indigenous species than imported species.

“Organisations such as the Qatar Foundation have championed this, which has led to commercial nurseries developing the know-how to establish local plant propagation.”

There is a significant social and communal aspect to the landscape as well. Velegrinis explains, “This is a real challenge in Dubai insofar as we have started from a traditional culture of privacy and private open spaces instead of public open spaces. This is unfortunately also reflected in large public parks such as Safa Park and Zabeel Park that are fenced to control who can or cannot use them. This is a form of social control that leaves some segments of society very poorly served.”

Furthermore, he adds, “Looking at Bastakiya, though, we can see that elements of the Fareej like the Baraha and the Sahan around larger mosques have always been part of the tradition. Our new reality is that we now have a multicultural society where the traditions of many cultures need to be accommodated in communities. What we have seen in developments such as Arabian Ranches and the Greens is the emphasis on communal green and urban spaces and an emphasis on livability. In addition, recent projects such as City Walk, Al Wasl Square, Emaar Boulevard and The Beach have highlighted the way in which people are demanding a more vibrant, communal, urban and livable environment. Even developments like the Palm Jumeirah have exhibited similar changes with the Central Park in the Palm having a wonderful native garden.”

Rooftop gardens

Vertical gardens are becoming attractive features both inside and outside of buildings, says Robert Griffith, Senior Consultant at Aurora EDC, who is one of the speakers at the event. He believes the summit is a good platform to have so many influential people that have the ability to contribute to the UAE’s development.

Aurora EDC offers a product that will allow plants to grow on the walls and rooftops of buildings in the UAE, with low cost of maintenance and water usage. Griffith says, “Building an ecological city in this part of the world requires good scientific knowledge and solutions.”

However, finding reliable designers, suppliers and installers that are able to create ecological cities is the main challenge that the industry faces, he adds.

“I will provide my findings on the best way to establish beautiful vegetation to cool the city and provide pollution control. With the right products, design and selection of material we can provide sustainable outcomes. Aurora products clean the air, reduce dust and cool buildings. They make it easy to establish plants and store water in this harsh climate,” he says.

Zeoplant will provide their smart landscaping solutions at the exhibition for the first time. Ralf Stahl, Managing Partner, believes there is a long way to go when it comes to smart landscaping. The industry should use existing products to enter a new chapter of environment-friendly landscaping, he says.

At the summit, he will present case studies from projects in the UAE and Qatar where Zeoplant has been used successfully to save massive irrigation water and operation costs. Zeoplant is the benchmark product for natural soil moisture retention additives that reduces irrigation water and fertiliser demand by half.

He says, “We hear many clients worrying about irrigation costs and decreasing availability of irrigation water, but very few are ready to invest into proven products and technologies. Initial capital cost is often used as an excuse, even though the payback period is between one and two years.

“There is a lot of talk about the usage of local plants, but the problem is the shortage of availability of these plants. You hardly find nurseries that propagate such species.”