Shaping the Environment: Top Trends in Landscape Architecture

At a time when the planet is pressed for resources, landscape architects are endowed with a power to make choices that can induce some harmony into our living spaces. In fact, trends suggest that landscape architecture is moving clearly in the direction of sustainability. Clients no longer look for just aesthetics, instead, they are letting environmental concerns drive their decisions. We look at some of the latest trends that are changing the landscape of landscape architecture:

Permeable Landscapes

The importance of a landscape that ‘breathes’ has gained traction in recent years. Permeable landscapes are those that allow for water and air to flow to the ground. It is projected that the demand for permeable materials for pavements, pathways and walkways in the outdoors is going to grow further. Some of the currently available options are brick, stone, gravel, grass pavers and plastic mats among others.

When non-porous materials are used in landscapes they do not allow water to seep into the ground. This means water is redirected, flooding some other part of the landscape or storm water drains. Permeable landscapes on the other hand filter water from pollutants and let it soak into the ground recharging ground water that is depleting in urban areas. Not only are natural permeable pathways ecologically necessary, they also provide a great opportunity to incorporate beautiful vernacular elements.

Native Vegetation

According to American Society of Landscape Architects (ALSA), the top trend in landscaping for residential spaces for the year 2017 is the use of native and drought-tolerant vegetation. Any construction impacts a site and its vegetation, landscape architects have an opportunity to mitigate this impact with sustainable practices. The best choices of vegetation for any project are native species which are resilient to diseases. They also require less maintenance, no fertilisers and considerably less water. Native and non-invasive plant species play an important role particularly in urban areas by creating a favourable ecosystem for pollinators such as birds and bees. Even LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) recognises the importance of native species and awards points for the restoration of project habitats with native plants. LEED points are also accorded for landscaping with native species that do not require irrigation.

Water Conservation

Clients are overwhelmingly concerned about water management on their sites.  Year after year, water conservation is predicted as one of the biggest concerns in landscape planning, showing that it is a stable trend even as the resource gets scarcer. Landscape architects can no longer chalk out grand plans without taking water management into consideration.

Lawns and vegetation that require a lot of water are in fact becoming less popular. Several landscapes are moving towards drip irrigation to water plants to reduce water consumption. Projects are expected to take rainwater harvesting into consideration when landscaping. Graywater recycling is also becoming a default expectation for watering lawns and decorative plants. Landscape designers are also incorporating facilities to recharge groundwater with water bodies or recharge wells.

Low Maintenance Landscapes

According to ASLA’s survey in which 817 landscape architects were interviewed, 79.25% pointed to low maintenance landscapes as the third highest trend of 2017.  Options that stand the test of time and don’t require recurring maintenance are becoming a popular priority. This is one of the reasons sustainability works. A sustainable approach to landscaping is by default a longer-term approach that works both for the environment and for clients. Native species require less maintenance, water conservation reduces costs and creates a self-sustained ecosystem. Even when it comes to picking materials, the choices lean toward long-term solutions that need not be replaced often. Palmex’s synthetic thatch, for example, is a favourite roof in outdoor architecture such as gazebos and treehouses. A key reason for its popularity is that it can last for as long as 50 years with no upkeep, unlike natural thatch that needs to be replaced every two years. Clients are consciously moving away from landscape design that requires tedious maintenance.

Biomimicry

Biomimicry is the concept of imitating nature in design in order to solve problems. Natural processes, organisms and ecosystems are used as inspiration. It was in 1996 that biologist Janine Benyus coined the word ‘biomimicry.’ She says that architects were among the first set of people to be inspired by the concept. Landscape architecture, which is a confluence of architecture, engineering and ecology has begun to go back to the basics to look at and imitate natural ecosystems to solve problems. How plants, soil, water and other elements interact in nature can be markers to solve landscape problems. As in nature, design’s first role is functionality and not merely aesthetics, so biomimicry inspires one to not just imitate nature superficially, but to emulate it to create sustainable solutions.

An example is understanding local vegetation or a nearby forest patch and using it to solve issues of wind, rainwater runoff or create a natural habitat for local species, while landscaping.

Outdoor structures

Structures within landscapes have the power to be pointers and blend into natural surroundings the way buildings usually cannot. Outdoor structures have become extremely popular and most landscape architects use them as effective tools. Creating elements in a landscape for shade, rest, recreation have today become an integral part of landscaping. These structures can be utilitarian, decorative or a blend of both. Pergolas, decks, porches, pavilions, accessible structures such as ramps etc. and even tree houses make the outdoors inviting and engaging.

Vegetable Gardens

Gardens in landscape architecture are moving from being merely decorative to something more value based. Apart from the inclusion of native species into landscapes, the resurgence of interest in kitchen gardening is being seen across the globe. From backyard patch gardening, the love for growing vegetables has turned into a serious landscape statement. City planners, architects and landscape architects are all finding innovative ways of bringing back food into how spaces are designed. Several hotels today invest in their own vegetable patch and serve ‘garden to table’ fare to their clients. While landscape architects are increasingly using medicinal herbs, fruit trees and vegetable plants as part of their greening plans. Balconies, raised beds, container gardening, rooftops: space is used judiciously to grow as much food as possible. The flowers and fruits from the plants work as part of the décor in the landscape.

Whether it is a gazebo, an open bar, or a tree house, Palmex’s synthetic thatch can give your outdoor space an effortless eco-friendly facelift. If you want to know how thatch can be used in landscapes get in touch with us.

Elizabeth Raj | Blogger

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