A public space in Dubai designed by Loci reinterprets the Japanese rock garden
The Tashkeel Zen Garden, commissioned by Dubai-based art and design initiative Tashkeel, is a recently opened public space located adjacent to the organisation’s main art centre in the emirate’s Nad Al Sheba neighbourhood. Designed by UAE architecture and design practice Loci, the garden sits in what was once a skate park.
According to the architects, the skate park lacked a sense of order and defined landscape, but it was home to a number of existing mature Ghaf trees, which would form the central focus on the design. Loci also drew inspiration from the traditional Japanese rock garden – a wall-enclosed garden that includes carefully arranged rocks, water features and gravel to represent water ripples.
“We took the Japanese rock garden and combined it with patterns, colours and textures found in the local Emirati context,” said Hamad Khoory, architect and partner at Loci. “Tashkeel’s mission statement and Loci’s design ethos are the same – both believe in supporting local talent and using the local context for inspiration to create designs that respect their environment.”
The garden’s design further centres on the main natural elements, including earth, fire, wind and water, and aims to remind visitors of harmony, self-reflection and space. In achieving this, common textures found throughout include sand grains, wooden particles, plant leaves and stones, which are left in their natural state. The garden also includes various desert plants suitable for Dubai’s climate.
“We installed wooden signage boards on some of the existing Ghaf trees, but without text. There is no sense of urgency. People are allowed to exist and wander around to do what they desire,” added Khoory. “They are encouraged to use their intuition to navigate, relying on the design of the space to understand how each space functions.”
While there is no sense of time at the Tashkeel Zen Garden, according to Khoory, there is an emphasis on shape and space. The main functional spaces are well defined using the hanging leaves from the existing Ghaf trees, carefully selected stone and circular stone routes.
Separating the garden from its surroundings is a back wall, constructed from local stones that were handpicked from Ras Al Khaimah’s mountain base – a process that played an important role in the design process.
“The act of handpicking stones also ensured that the colours matched the colour of the sand-filled, back-lit, multi-polycarbonate sheets that serve as ‘windows’ on the barrier walls, breaking down its rigidity to create moments of light,” said Khoory.
Loci conducted a number of studies before choosing the circulation route that best suited the garden. The architects then opted for a fluid circulation throughout the garden, giving visitors the chance to transition through the spaces, navigating through the radial paths to reach the five main zones, which include a play area, a sunken seating area, a bonfire area, the solitude deck and an interactive art perspective area, which houses a hanging art piece designed by Loci.
The sunken seating area was created from cast-in situ polished concrete and layered with purple seat cushions to match the vibrant hues of adjacent plants. Surrounded by raked gravel stones, the seating area also includes a central water feature that trickles on grey stone sourced from Hatta.