Tashkeel Zen Garden
I wrote an article for Landscape ME magazine on a designed landscape by LOCI Architecture+design (@loci.ae) in collaboration with the Tashkeel community (@Tashkeelstudio).
In September 2017, the Tashkeel Zen Garden was completed by Dubai-based LOCI Architecture and Design. Tashkeel commissioned the designers to renovate the existing skate park adjacent to the organization’s main center. The former skate park had no sense of order and no defined landscape, but is home to existing ghaf trees, which played a primary role in the design for the new garden: the Tashkeel Zen Garden. This garden was named after the Japanese Rock Garden, a small wall-enclosed garden which is meant to be seen from a specific viewpoint outside its walls. The Japanese garden typically includes carefully arranged rocks, water features, and gravel to represent water ripples. LOCI used the Japanese rock garden inspiration and combined it with patterns, colors and textures found in the local Emirati context to create the Tashkeel Zen Garden. 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 respects its context.
The design for Tashkeel Zen Garden is central around the main natural elements (earth, fire, water and wind), constantly reminding its visitors of the idea of harmony, space, reflection, and the human self. The design of the landscape puts emphasis on textures such as sand grains, wooden particles, plant leaves, and stones, encouraging the exposal of the material’s natural characteristics. The garden includes different types, textures and sizes of desert vegetation suitable for Dubai’s warm climate, yet they complement each other on the overall canvas.
LOCI installed wooden signage boards on some of the existing ghaf trees, but with no text on the wooden boards.There is no sense of urgency as time stands still. The human being is allowed to exist. The human being is allowed to wander around and do what they desire, using their intuition to navigate, relying on the design of the space to understand how each space functions. There are no signs, text, nor written words dictating how to use the Tashkeel Zen Garden.
Although there is no sense of time, there is a large emphasis on the idea of shape and space. The main functional spaces are well-defined using the hanging leaves from the existing ghaf trees, the carefully selected stones, and the circular stone routes. All elements in the Tashkeel Zen Garden are portrayed in their original shapes and forms: the dunes, the grass, the trees, and the stones resemble what they are meant to resemble in nature.
Separating the Tashkeel Zen Garden from its surrounding neighbourhood, LOCI designed a backwall constructed from local stones that were handpicked from Ras Al Khaima’s mountain base, a process which played an important role in the design process. The act of handpicking stones also ensured that the colors matched the color of the sand-filled back-lit multi-polycarbonate sheets that served as “windows” in the barrier walls, breaking down its rigidity to create moments of light. The sand was personally collected by LOCI from a particular spot in the Emirate of Fujeirah. One of the most important elements is the junction between the stone wall and the sand-filled panels. The junction highlights the two different materials, but the brown color palette remains the same, maintaining a sense of harmony and balance in the space, and complementing the neighbouring low-rise white plastered buildings.
LOCI conducted several circulation studies before choosing the one that best supported a more natural approach. They created a fluid circulation through the garden, giving the visitors the chance to transition through the spaces, navigating through the radial paths to reach the five main functional zones.
LOCI designed a sunken trampoline area surrounded by three existing ghaf trees and a “play area” where the landscape itself was created using specialised poured rubber, moulded to mimic the sand dunes found in the Emirati desert.
LOCI also designed a sunken seating area, which was created from cast-in situ polished concrete and layered with purple seat cushions to match the vibrant hues of adjacent plants. The sunken seating is surrounded by raked gravel stones, emphasizing the radial nature of the seating arrangement. The sunken seating area also includes a central water feature which trickles on Hatta grey stones placed in the middle of the radial space. Water is one of the natural elements that portrays purity and encourages visitors to disconnect and relax.
One of the main designed zones is a bonfire area, portrayed in the most simplistic way, allowing the element of fire blazing from a concrete fire pit as the main feature of the space. The surrounding stones were also handpicked by LOCI to be ergonomically suitable as seating areas for visitors.
The Tashkeel Zen Garden is also home to a Solitude deck, the only non curvilinear zone in the garden. The deck was designed to appear hidden, covered by a tree and boulders from Hatta-Oman, and surrounded by raked gravel. The raised meditation deck was created from thermally modified ash wood.
The Tashkeel Zen Garden would not have been complete without an art installation in the Interactive Art Perspective Area. The hanging pendulum art piece was designed by LOCI, fabricated from brushed stainless steel pipes in a tripod shape, and anchored to a concrete base covered by sand.
LOCI Architecture + Design
Founded in 2013, LOCI Architecture and Design is a Dubai-based firm which understands the importance of relating design to a project’s place and immediate local context, hence their slogan, ‘Think Glocal’. Their design philosophy encompasses that architecture and design are not an imported technology, but rather one that grows from the site’s culture, tradition, history, as well as it’s climatic and geographic context.
LOCI received the INDEX design competition award in 2013 for their majlis design “Flow”.
LOCI designed the ABWAB Pavilion for Dubai Design Week in 2015.
For more information on LOCI Architecture + Design, please visit loci.ae
Tashkeel is a contemporary art organization established in 2008 by Lateefa bint Maktoum in Dubai. The organization is dedicated to facilitate art and design practice, creative experimentation and cross-cultural dialogue through a series of workshop, international fellowships, programs and studio facilities. The organization also offers the opportunity for local designers to create limited edition products under Tashkeel’s design product label, Tanween.
For more information on Tashkeel, please visit tashkeel.org
Words // Yosr El Sherbiny
Photography // © Sandra Zarneshan