MEA Talks: Duncan Denley says desert INK's Khor Fakkan Park serves as a blueprint for environmentally sustainable parks in the GCC
Located on the east coast of the UAE, along the Gulf of Oman, the Khor Fakkan Park is one of the latest designs from desert INK, a landscape architecture practice based in Dubai. Keen to move away from the heavily planted, high-maintenance designs typically found in the region, the architects looked to create a blueprint for environmentally sustainable park that embrace local materials and vegetation.
“We always visit our sites before arriving at a design direction, and this project is a great example of why that is essential,” said managing director Duncan Denley.
He added that the site, nestled in a bowl at the foot of the Hajar Mountains on the outskirts of a small town, features three steeply sloping sides. A landslide of unstable, excavated rock dumped into the valley during adjacent road construction had severely compromised the otherwise pristine site, so desert INK’s approach was sought by the client to turn this neglected landscape into an asset for the region.
“The first thing we did at the site was to strap up our hiking boots and scramble around. It soon became clear that the majority of the site was actually relatively untouched, and hosted all sorts of flora and fauna,” said Denley. “The cracked earth patterns in the mud floor of the valley also told us that seasonal flooding occurred. We knew that our role in these areas was to enhance the existing natural environment and simply provide a more accessible route to explore, enjoy and learn about the natural processes of the site.”
As the designers explored the site, the list of native plants found growing continued to expand. They then realised that the park should serve as an educational gateway to experience these species.
“Very few people ever get close enough to our indigenous species to really appreciate them, and hence few people actually know much about them. We wanted this park to bring people into these seemingly inhospitable places and learn about the adaptive characteristics of these species,” said Denley.
A series of boardwalks, sculptural plinths and compacted stone paths were devised to promote accessibility, while the team hoped to avoid mimicking nature. Rather than have architectural elements blend into the site and appear natural, Denley said they preferred to be honest about what was natural and what wasn’t – hence the angular, manmade forms in the valley.
Dealing with a large quantity of excavated rock and a steeply sloping site, desert INK was inspired to provide the site with what it lacked: flat areas that could be used by visitors for more traditional recreational activities. By stacking the waste stone into gabion baskets, the architects created a number of terraces that descend into the valley floor, creating platforms for camping, lawns, play areas and seating zones.
“As outdoor enthusiasts ourselves, we’d seen such terracing used in the higher points of the Hajar Mountains on hiking trips and wanted to create a modern interpretation of this ancient practice. Traditionally these terraces were like dams that captured fine grained material as it washes down the valley. These terraces were then used for farming which would have otherwise been impossible,” said Denley.
Supplementary weathered steel retaining walls were employed to contrast with the natural stone, while a number of boardwalks, platforms and even a zipline allow visitors to enjoy the otherwise inaccessible site.