Need for resource-conscious landscaping

Landscape Architecture in India
Landscape Architecture in India

Bright-eyed in the morning, I walk down the pavement for some fresh air. As I squish over greasy paper bags and forsaken Coke bottles, the stale smell of plastic bags strewn all over hits me. Stamping on them, I charge onto the already cramped road, jostle for space with other people, dodge honking cars, and reach the park breathless, dishevelled and foul. All this, for some fresh air!

City roads don't factor in pedestrians; most often, pavements are added as an afterthought. The monotony of a row of residential blocks, industries or highways repeated ad infinitum doesn't have to be explained. However, it isn't that hard to break this. Landscape architecture is the answer.

Landscape architecture is the professional skill of creating man-made structures using existing natural landscapes. Generally misunderstood, it is not just a glorified version of creating an expert garden layer! Garden design is a separate art that caters to private and enclosed lands, while landscape architecture works on public spaces. It is the art of adding value to existing conditions, with a strong sense of conservation of what we have with us. And it is not something new.

Ajanta Caves, Maharashtra - in tune with the nature around (Source: Wikipedia)

Ancient cultures, from Persia and Egypt, to Greece and Rome, all have a rich history of landscape architecture. The Acropolis in Athens, the gardens at Bleinheim Castle in England and the stroll garden at Katsura Imperial Palace in Japan are beautiful examples of how outdoor spaces have been treated. India too has mesmerising examples such as the The Taj Mahal in Agra and Humayun's Tomb in Delhi.

Today, landscape architecture includes designing a golf course, a waterfront, a greenway and much more. The crux of it all is responsible design - one that has the least impact on existing native vegetation. It must also factor in existing traditions & cultures so that the end result is both beautiful and sustainable. It is this understanding - that we are all connected and affected by all that is around us - that landscape architecture provides.

While planning both indoor and outdoor spaces, one needs to be conscious of the scarce water supply so that the designs don't add to the prevalent water shortage. As S. Vishwanath, a renowned water expert from Bangalore clarifies, one needs to consider complete water endowment – rainfall, groundwater and wastewater while designing spaces. Water needs to be conserved and not wasted on frivolous things. Tongue-in-cheek, he says with a straight face ‘Grass is for cows, not humans’.

Planning green spaces based on actual requirement versus for purely ornamental reasons is important. For example, a wastewater treatment process that uses bioremediation, a process that uses living organisms like bacteria and other micro organisms to remove pollutants, can also be integrated into landscape design. Aquatic plants can clear the wastewater on the one hand, and also be integrated seamlessly into the landscape.

Osho Teerth Park is a live example of how the city's sewer has been converted to a public park. Source: FlickrA landscape architect is a sensitive designer who will carefully study various aspects of the region including the groundwater, soil and land use and imagine the whole space as a landscape. The entire volume of space can then be designed with options like a terrace garden, vertical garden and hanging pots.

Farhad Contractor of Sambhaav Trust, a crusader for traditional and indigenous knowledge on water issues, reinforces the same sentiment. He says that it is the ecological master plan that needs to be worked out first. The architectural plan should be imprinted over it, rather than the other way around. Currently, planners first decide on what they want and then impose it on existing pieces of land with no respect to its history, culture or significance.

Another practicing architect, Jatina Thakkar, rues the fact that landscape architecture, an extremely specialized field, is still not a well-known profession in India and does not merit many takers. In India, land is simply viewed as a property with purely commercial and monetary value; its inherent properties are seldom paid heed to. She feels that to do complete justice as a landscape architect, one needs to be sensitive to the site’s inherent characteristics and must feel very strongly about preserving it. 

Preview of the book 'Landscape Architecture in IndiaSuch information in an Indian context has long been overdue. A book titled  ‘Landscape Architecture in India’, is to be released on October1, 2013. This reference book brings together knowledge about the meaning and scope of landscape architecture in the Indian subcontinent.

It seeks to introduce landscape architecture to students and future professionals in spatial design disciplines and to disseminate knowledge about the subject in a regionally specific manner.

The book also intends to demonstrate the interdisciplinary nature of the subject by showing how environmental science, art, anthropology, history, engineering and design all have an important role in the creative process. It also elaborates on the history of landscape architecture in India. The practicality and splendour of selected historic Indian sites like the Ajanta Caves in Maharashtra and the rock shelters in Bhimbetka Caves, Madhya Pradesh are also noted in this book.

This book will not only help design plans that are both environment-friendly and resource-conscious, but will also explain the environment of our country, and what makes each place unique. It will help create a vision in tune with the diverse natural conditions nation-wide.

Landscape architecture helps build happy, healthy outdoors for local communities and also protects our rich heritage by respecting the character and identity of each unique place. You can try your hand at amateur landscaping depending on where you live and how much land is available to you. 

Small roof-top garden Source: Picfinder

  • Plant an edible garden – a kitchen garden in your backyard or your rooftop.
  • Grow medicinal herbal plants.
  • Create a bio-diversity hotspot - grow flowers in containers on your window sill to attract butterflies.
  • Design a waterwise landscape, that conserves water –  a Xeriscape.
  • Try your hand at illusionary gardens - a Japanese garden.