The Landscape Studio is a landscape architecture and design firm based in Nairobi. It was registered in Kenya as Chincol Company Limited in 2013 and has already created solutions for a diverse portfolio of projects around East Africa; planning and design of academic and residential, corporate, institutional and mixed-use, parks, streetscape and urban improvement as well as agricultural schemes.
The quality of the spaces we live in have a direct effect on our perception of the world and our quality of life. We see a world where the spaces in which we interact with our natural environment are mutually beneficial for the ecosystem and the people that inhabit it. We want to take part in the creation of new paradigms for these spaces, where urban, rural and natural can co-exist in a healthy balance.
Our practice comes with an acute sense of responsibility. We aim to produce fair and sustainable solutions that can stand the intensity of change in our times, whilst providing liveable spaces that can age with beauty and dignity. Landscape architecture plays a crucial role for future sustainable development, healthy populous communities and the possibility of conservation of diversity of flora and fauna within a new common environment; the urban landscape. This approach is especially relevant in places of rapid growth in population and development, such as the African continent.
We provide adequate landscape design solutions that balance the environmental and geographical attributes of the site, the architecture, and the requirements of the project.
Observation of the existing conditions and understanding the context are fundamental to our approach. We take into consideration cultural and historical references, and consider all stakeholders, promoting environmental education and community participation. This open and methodical exercise allows for responsible designs that capitalise both on the individuals that will live in these spaces, and the broader landscape.
We strongly believe that there is beauty in simplicity. That lucid, soft gestures can provide elegant and timeless spaces. That these spaces can host nurturing experiences and build lasting memories.
The Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, is a large savannah grassland and acacia forest ecosystem, located in the Laikipia district in Northern Kenya. As an entity, the Conservancy works as a model and catalyst for the conservation of wildlife and its habitat. In 2013 Lewa was awarded recognition as an UNESCO Heritage Site. The key element of the brief was to provide a simple intervention into the extensive protected grasslands at Lewa Wildlife Conservancy that would allow people to closely examine and observe the local and unique fauna found within the savannah. The core intention was to educate about the ecosystem. Any intervention needed to be sensitive to the wider landscape and ecosystem. Both adults and children need to use the space for educational purposes.
It is always fascinating to work in such an immense landscape. The conservancy itself is 80,000 acres. Our intervention, which is for human use, needed to be simple enough so as not to compete with the wider landscape, and to be at a human scale. The circle itself is a nine metre diameter. Which allows for a small group of people to haven enough space to lie and observe the grasslands at ground level in a safe way. Our design intent always looked at how we can keep our human hand on the wider landscape as humble as possible. We wanted to provide just enough to meet the brief but not include materials with negative environmental concerns, locally or in the wider environment. The project is built using locally hand quarried stone, so the environmental impact is kept as small as possible. No concrete was used in the construction, hand cut stone bricks were placed into a compacted hardcore base and laterite hand compacted around the stone to ensure stability. Top soil collected from the stormwater runoff from road drains around the conservancy ensured we did not destroy any environment in bringing in the soil to increase the small height of the grass circle. This soil was brought carefully by hand into the site to reduce damage to the surrounding grasslands. All materials, construction methods and labour were as local as possible to reduce the carbon footprint impact of the project. Drought resistant local grasses were planted within the circle. These grass is maintained short but no irrigation is used on the project so the circle grass also browns and greens according to the rainy and dry seasons, adding to the sense of seasonality. Our key collaborators here were directly with the Conservancy understanding the delicate nature of the ecosystem and trying to meet their concerns in providing a sensitive solution to their brief. Secondly, the local people from which we sourced the stone and worked with to build the project. Supporting the local community was an important element during construction.
Don Orione Community Centre offers an invaluable service to mentally and physically disabled children in Ongata Rongai; a dusty dry small town on the outskirts of Nairobi. The landscape design seeks to provide simple elements that will improve the quality of life of the children and staff, with the minimal budget available to the school and centre. Key elements such as paths for ease of circulation and trees to provide shade are key to our landscape design. These two elements, “movement and shade” dictated our design. Such two humble offerings have transformed the lives of the children who interact daily with the trees and plants and can visit all elements of the school and adjacent school farm easily, a dramatic change to the muddy and dusty reality that used to force a number of children to stay indoors.
The key elements of the brief were to improve the disabled access over the whole site, to consider how we could stimulate the children, and to improve the general environment by planting trees and providing shade. Our intervention, although simple, covers the full site. The design intent saw paths and ramps made with local stone which move throughout the whole site. Avenues of trees grace all pathways as a humble intervention to try and make the journey for the disabled children as calming as possible. The sense of repetition is a purposeful tool that provides a sense of texture and rhythm to the space, but most of all a feeling of security and reassurance that is soothing for the children. The choice for the species for the avenue trees throughout the whole project is the indigenous Markamia lutea which was chosen for its rich green foliage and bright cheerful flowers, again with the children’s well being in mind. Other planting includes a zone of indigenous drylands forest to create a buffer from the road and various orchard crops. The reintroduction of indigenous species has brought back the birdlife, filling the air with their song. The trees were all planted by the parents with the children helping and the construction of the paths and ramps where built by a small local construction company using local slate (mazeras) stone. The sense of self ownership of the children and their families in this project is remarkable.
The school has become a real attraction to the neighbouring towns for the open green and inviting spaces. This has led the Centre to open their doors on the weekend to the neighbourhood, forming the Don Orione Community Club. This initiative has opened a door to integrating the hosted children to a world that usually sees them as a curse.
In Nairobi, and in Kenya as a whole, there is very little public space within the urban environment, turning roundabouts into desirable gathering spots. The need and demand for these spaces has started to lead private entities to add public space as a competitive advantage. The public courtyard space we designed at the Junction Mall, aims to provide a multifunctional courtyard for use of events, but also to provide a safe place for children to play and for people to be able to relax away from the bustling environment of city life. Everything in our design, which in essence is an urban space, seeks to use simple lines and materials to allow people experiencing the space a cool rest bite from the city outside and the often hectic mall environment.
In seeking to introduce a subtle closeness to nature we have specifically chosen native trees which change seasonally, something unusual in a tropical climate. Calodendrum capense is planted in a grid, a tree which is a fully deciduous, which drops all its leaves, followed by a full crown of pink flowers. The idea that even within the urban environment users will become aware of the cycles of nature, as well as attach a value to landscape associations which are true to the context the site and which would have grown here naturally. We feel as a practice that more and more, this sense of true context created by using native species will become more and more invaluable in the future. Seasons will become an event to be celebrated by the tenants and passer-byes. Another interesting element was seeing how we could provide subtle areas for children to play without losing the feeling that the courtyard belongs to everyone, adults and children alike. We designed long, rectilinear wood benches which subtly move up and down, effectively a subtle see-saw. Its wonderful to see the children jump up and run along the length of the bench as it moves up and down with their weight. Similarly our swing set is more like a set of hanging chairs, which allow little children to sit and swing together.
This project has just finished construction and will be soon opened to the public.
The Cotton on Foundation has been funding the building of several remote village schools in southern Uganda.
Together with FH Studio Architects we are continuing to work with them on a total of seven schools where the landscape proposal and designs seeks to provide simple gathering zones, play areas, outdoor classrooms and to plant fruit orchards, all on an impossibly small budget. What it means is we have sought to use local materials in the simplest way possible, building simple outdoor classrooms using local river sand as the surface and simple stone walls, which second as balancing / play walls, as well as acting like an amphitheater for gatherings and outdoor classes.
The orchard plantings, a key element of the design, uses local fruit trees such as mango and guava. Our key thinking of the placing of these orchards was similarly strategic with the mangoes being placed within the playground, as they not only already have an important place in local social memory, but also are remarkable as climbing trees as well as congregating all children (and adults) when in fruit. The project is nearing completion and the fruit trees have been planted but are tiny! We look forward to seeing the project develop over time. All elements of the landscape have been implemented together with the local community.
The paths at ‘Salaam’ play a small part in the garden, but a part none the least which we feel represents and interesting concept in how man interacts and is allowed to interact with the landscape.
To paint the story from the very beginning. TLS became involved in this project back in 2014. The site was smothered in coppiced Neem trees which suffocated the site. As we cleared Neem trees and began to work closer to the house we nurtured and protected the native coastal bush which naturally began to emerge. The seasonal transformation was remarkable; Kenya is a tropical climate and so one would assume lush tropical native vegetation. The truth is far from this. As the Kenyan calendar year fluctuates from long dry and painful periods to vibrant and often torrential rainy seasons the coastal natural vegetation changes from moments of wealth and growth to terribly dry periods which leave the landscape looking like a skeleton of its former self.
Not only for the rare seasonal transformation in the natural vegetation in a tropical climate but also from the element of conservation and preservation of a vastly depleting indigenous costal bushland (lost over to lush lawns and thirsty tropical plants) we discussed at length with the client and proposed the landscape design to simply embrace what was growing and naturally present in the site and to allow, where necessary, a path and journey through the existing landscape.
The result is a design made up of a series of paths. Firstly some minimal, transient, not purposefully created by us, but instead placed between two locations which allow people to naturally discover. From a design perspective it is a achieved by simply brining people to a place and the enticing them forward simply by sounds of the sea, or strategic placings of indigenous jasmines. The idea being to encourage a sense of discovery. These simple “man- made” paths discover upon determined gestures which draw easy, wide paths within the bush, making it easy for one to walk, to wonder and appreciate the tropical seasons. A phenomenon often overlooked.
All in all there is a desperate responsibility in our hands as landscape designers and architects. The native vegetation in many parts of the world is being over-ridden for more dramatic and tidier “formal” plant choices. At the heart of our project at Salaam is to realise and to embrace that which belongs.