Buildings and Landscape are One
Every now and then I despair when I see a rendering of a proposed new resort – glass and steel skyscrapers rising to the heavens or man-made forms pushing out to sea from virgin forest or untouched coastline. Why, on earth, do we think that we are adding anything of value to the human experience by despoiling a beautiful natural landscape? What connection will visitors have with the natural environment - the reason why the new resort was located there in the first place - if they are on the 22nd floor of a tower surrounded by other towers? Where sites are truly virgin landscapes, then I believe that proposed buildings should be woven into the landscape respecting and responding to the site’s topography and flora. Where sites are populated by, or adjacent to, existing buildings which have grown over time, then they should be respected such that the newcomers do not shriek “LOOK AT ME” but, rather, quietly say “see if you can find me”.
To my mind, it is a good discipline for architects to approach their task as an exercise in camouflage. Nothing pleases me more than to hear that one of our resort projects has “settled into” its location. This does not mean a building style that is a mere copy of the architectural vernacular of centuries past, but it does mean design that respects the past and draws on the best of what is traditional, bearing in mind such factors as the local climate and materials, and combines this with architecture that responds to how we live our lives in the 21st century. Importantly, it also means a design that knits the buildings into the landscape, developments where the landscape takes precedence.
These were the founding principles of ReardonSmith Landscape when we established the business in 2013. Increasingly, we were being asked by clients to explore the design of the landscape, the relationship between buildings and the terrain on which they sit and the impact of our buildings on the environment. It made sense therefore to have our own specialist landscape design team so that buildings and landscape could truly be considered as one from the outset of the project. Fortunately, we had the recent experience of a particularly successful collaboration with Ed Freeman, a landscape designer working on our new marina town project, Porto Montenegro. He accepted our invitation to join us and together we created ReardonSmith Landscape.
The surrounding landscape of the Porto Montenegro site, and generally the Adriatic coast, had been very much our inspiration from the start of our initial masterplan. We carefully studied the old towns that cling to the edge of the local coastline, considering their relationship with the natural environment. Over the eight years since we first visited what was then a decommissioned naval base in the gloriously captivating Bay of Kotor, Porto Montenegro has grown organically around its marina, a destination not just for superyachts but a vibrant town for holiday makers, local people and yacht crews. Take a summertime stroll through Porto Montenegro now and you will see residents and visitors exploring the streets, enjoying numerous photo opportunity moments, shopping and relaxing in the cafes.
This has been achieved, I believe, because the original masterplan sought to create a cohesive narrative which is timeless and responds to fundamental human needs. It has also been achieved because the town slips into the Montenegrin coastline, once described by Byron as “the most beautiful encounter between land and sea”, and because the landscaped pathways and roads that we have created flow naturally through the town in a way that encourages people to stop, discover and take in the carefully framed views of sea and mountains. In so many respects, Porto Montenegro is the lens through which to appreciate the landscape.
I suppose to best illustrate our approach is to point to its polar opposite. I refer to such architectural hell-holes as the Costa Brava where tourist development over the years has created an environment which should shame architects, developers and all those who have contributed to the impoverishment of what once was a beautiful place. A similar act of desecration has occurred along parts of Turkey’s Anatolian coastline. Of course, there are those who justify such developments as simply the required response to the ever-increasing demands of tourism. In a strict and myopic commercial sense, they may have a point. But, in an age where concern for our environment is a consistent global headline, surely it is not beyond us to create responsible solutions which do not require the wholesale destruction of the limited global resource which is our environment. Once it’s gone, it’s gone forever.