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Value Of Green: Landscaping

By: Jotham Lim

When purchasing or developing properties, many factors come into play that require heavy consideration. The usual suspects include the location of the project, the size of the project, its pricing and value per sq ft.

What usually goes unnoticed, however, is the time and effort required to landscape the said project, but that has been slowly changing in recent years. With plenty of new projects emerging from the horizon, many developers and homebuyers are starting to be much more aware of the importance of landscaping, and today we shall dive deep and explore the hidden values that lay just underneath the surface of the grassy plains.

To bring another voice into this conversation, we have reached out to Dr Suhardi Mautan, President of the Institute of Landscape Architects Malaysia OLAM) and Head of Department of Landscape Architecture in Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM).

Property insight is proud to say that Dr Suhardi is one of our esteemed judges for our upcoming Property Insight Prestigious Developer Awards (PIPDA) 2019 awards, and we believe that his insights will add plenty to the discussion.

Landscaping is a growing topic in recent years. What are the common misconceptions people have in regards to landscaping as an industry?

I have many students joining my programme with the initial impression that landscape architecture is all about garden designing and the management of trees. However, there is much more to this “growing” topic than just growing trees and plants. I would say that flora management takes up only20% of the discipline. In real life situations, landscape architecture is all about planning around the available natural resources.

As landscape architects, our job is to make sure that the built environment and natural environment can co-exist with each other while still remaining useful to the people in that space.

A common misconception people have towards landscaping is that it is a major project that requires intensive unearthing and reallocating of soil and resources. Yes, the public needs a recreational space to relax and enjoy what the greenery has to offer, but not at the expense of damaging the natural ecosystem.

Landscape architects have a responsibility to advise developers and the team on how to landscape appropriately, to fulfil all the required needs while ensuring both air and water quality control and intact biodiversity.

Looks like landscaping is more than just pure aesthetics. Care to share what other values landscaping bring to the table?

Many developers have slowly realised that landscaping can actually bring in economic benefits as well. When constructing commercial spaces like shopping malls or mixed developments, a good landscape design can be a great crowd puller and a way to increase footfall..

Take a look at 101 City Mall in Serdang, and how they managed to marry both great landscaping and the shopping mall concept perfectly well together. I believe that shopping malls will benefit most from great landscape designs, as they are under the constant competitive threat from online businesses.

In the modern landscape, shopping is no longer the sole reason why the general public would visit shopping malls. They are there for the environment, to socialise, to entertain and for leisure.

We can expect people to loiter both inside and outside of shopping malls, and we can start to see why landscaping is slowly taking up a more substantial role as an economic booster.

Of course, economic benefits are not the only constraint to commercial projects. From a developer’s point of view, having a proper landscape design functions as a great marketing tool for residential projects, not to mention the added value it brings to the property. The general consensus is that proper landscaping will increase demand in an area which will be reflected in terms of pricing.

Take the Central Park in New York as an example, all the apartments that are facing the Central Plaza are fetching millions of dollars, all for the view of the landscape itself. Properties are no longer about the properties themselves, but also encompassing whatever that surrounds it.

To the developers out there, if you are willing to allocate more money towards building proper landscape spaces, I believe that you will eventually witness your returns on investment. I understand that it is quite hard to justify the cost in the current market climate, but there is an indirect relationship between landscaping and the economic value it brings to the property.

Southville Park, Bang’ Designed by Just Right Design

What constitutes a well-designed landscape?

There is a complicated answer to this simple question because there are so many parameters and variables that we need to take into account.

A well-designed landscape needs to have ample space to achieve its purposes. Many make the mistake of assuming bigger is always better; but a huge space may not be easy to navigate through. The ratio between the project and landscape size must be in accordance with the function of the whole development, which brings us to the next point.

Functionality is the key ingredient in making sure the landscape is fully utilised, but this encompasses many miniature factors as well. Biodensity, build quality, noise protection, air quality and design elements all contribute to the functionality of the space.

The functionality of the space will also reflect the social values it brings to the table. If nobody uses the space, it will just be a waste of resources. In summary, a well-designed landscape consists of ample space, proper location, non-disruptive environmental values, enhanced social values and added economic values.

Property Insight got in contact with landscape architect Liew Ying Yie, who has accumulated a decade’s worth of industry knowledge, to pick her brain on the current status of the industry.

What are the differences between a Landscape designer and a Landscape architect?

It is fairly common to have used these two terms interchangeably, and both require a bachelor’s or master’s degree in landscape architecture. However, there is no hard definition that separates these two titles and the borders of responsibilities between these two remain blurry, and is subjected to the job scope given by the attached company.

Overall, it is safe to assume that a landscape designer primarily focuses on the design department while the architect will be primarily be involved in the projects department.

For example, clients would sometimes employ overseas designers to help draft up the initial concepts and then hand it over to the local architects for execution. In this case, the overseas designer is only involved in the designing process, hence their official title of a landscape designer.

What are the challenges and issues that plague your day-to-day life?

It is certainly not a plague, but there are no fixed standards and guidelines for landscape designing as of yet. This is in comparison to Singapore where landscape projects are heavily monitored and tightly regulated.

There are multiple ways you can look at this, but from the negative end, it could mean destroying the local ecosystem and habitat without doing prior due diligence. On the flip side, designers and architects are allowed the necessary breathing room to express themselves creatively on the field.

The local government has certainly taken up measures to keep this issue from running rampant. In Kiang Valley, new developments are required to allocate a minimum of 10% of their project to landscaping and green efforts.

ILAM is also playing a role by gathering these specialists and professionals together to self-monitor and self-regulate, and more importantly, to ensure that the standards of landscape projects are up to satisfactory levels.

Plants and material selection also pose a big challenge in my day to day life. Developers are always on the constant lookout for ways to reduce the maintenance cost through smart and elegant design. An example would be planting the correct tree to provide enough shade to reduce air-conditioning usage. However, the selection of tree species could potentially make or break the entire project.

The final challenge that I find myself looking forward to, strangely enough, is to answer to the ever-increasing demand for quality and creative outdoor spaces. Long gone are the days where typical walkways and playgrounds would suffice. We, as landscape architects, are required to step outside of our comfort zone and explore design concepts that are even more outlandish than before and yet remain practical at the same time.

Property Insight also reached out to landscape architect Lee Choong Hong from Just Right Design Sdn Bhd to get his comments as well.

What is the working relationship between an architectand the developer?

Throughout my career as a landscape architect, there are three types of clients
that I commonly face on a day to day basis.

The first type of client are developers who would like to develop a working relationship with us purely because they are required toadhere to the requirements set by the local authorities. Budgets can vary wildly, but it is generally a simple, straightforward job for developers to tick another item off their checklist.

The second type of client is a joy to work with. They are developers who see and understand the importance of landscaping, and the values it brings to a certain project. These developers have a clear goal and objectives of what they want out of the project, and it is very easy to establish a clear line of communication with them in terms of design concepts and execution.

The final type of clients are developers who are obsessed with landscaping, using it as a pivotal point to help them sell and market a particular project. Being a key driving factor for their sales, designing and landscaping for these projects requires a deep understanding of the client’s needs and wants and a keen eye for minute details.

Where do you see the industry heading towards in the near future?

In short, I would say that I have a fairly positive outlook on the industry. The market sentiments hint at the fact that homebuyers nowadays pay a lot more attention to the facade, the surroundings and the landscape of a project, hence it is a great marketing angle for developers.

In the past, it is all about “location, location, location” – the mantra for property development. However, what happens when multiple developers are competing with each other in the same area, targeting the same demographic, delivering similar products?

This is where landscaping plays a vital role in swaying buyers into investing in a particular project amongst the others.

One of my little gripes, however, is that I want people to understand landscaping is not just about aesthetics, but also about preserving and conserving the local ecosystem. Rather than brute force your way through altering the entire landscape using heavy machinery, I would encourage building and designing around the local ecosystem instead, minimising any human involvement in the area.

This will help any environmental conservation efforts and will significantly improve the quality of land in the area in the long run.

Property Insight also reached out to Douglas Matsen Guest, a design director from Melbourne, Australia with years of international landscape designing experience, to get his views on the matter.

Southville Park, Bangi. Designed by Just Right Design.

Do the cultural differences affect the way you have designed landscapes in any way?

Yes, it very much does actually. Working in Malaysia, it took me some time to adapt to the local client expectations, timeline, budgets, materials and the tropical environment itself. There are so many factors that you need to take into account when designing a landscape, and I was like a chef given unfamiliar tools.

The most notable point I would like to highlight is that most of my property development clients are of ethnic Chinese background. A big part of developing properties for the ethnic Chinese would be the emphasis on basic Feng Shui principles. Learning all about Feng Shui principles and integrating them into my existing design philosophy is undoubtedly an exciting journey to embark on.

What is exciting about this is that I can take some of these learned principles back to Australia, and vice versa. I have come to believe, and practice, that the combination of eastern and western design philosophies, together with a committed work ethic and an open mind, is a consistently reliable foundation for successful and amazing design outcomes.

Could you walk us through the thought process of designing a landscape?

When designing a landscape, you are actually trying to marry two schools of thoughts together i.e. the technical perspective and the creative outlook.

Designing is more than just art. It is art that serves a functional and practical purpose that can solve real problems.

You can’t build a perfectly evaluated technical project without flare as it will turn out to be a soulless space. On the other end of the spectrum, a creative project without proper technical evaluation would be extremely expensive and impractical to embark upon. Every good designer needs to have both elements in play to craft a well-designed landscape.

CONCLUSION

Landscaping is no doubt an integral part of any living and working space, not to mention the Malaysian economy. The latest governmental statistic shows that the construction sector is currently worth RM200 billion, and landscaping is playing a huge role in contributing to the behemoth of an industry.

Do remember that landscaping provides the first and last impression whenever you enter and leave a building or property. So while you are slaving away, paying for the monthly maintenance cost of your condominium unit, why not take the time to enjoy the facilities you have available to you?

After all, you have already paid to use it. And every time you set foot on a grassy plain on the property, remember that a landscape designer has fought hand to place that green patch underneath your feet.

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