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Designing outdoor spaces – Landscape architecture as a tool for pushing our design further

When we talk about architecture, we think about buildings and especially the indoor-outdoor relationship. Yosuke Hayano, from MAD Architects said “Architecture should have an emotional connection to nature”. As architects we create contextual and sustainable architecture to live, care, work and learn better. But how can we go a step further in the reflection of the indoor-outdoor connection? How can we apply our architectural principles and values to the outdoor spaces in our projects? How can we establish stronger links between our projects and their (un)built environment? How can we shape and optimise the microclimate around our buildings to design a sustainable project? This is where landscape architecture steps into the design process.

Why, who, what?

The experience of a building already starts before your first step inside, from the first glimpse you catch from the street to your walk to the main entrance. This “unbuilt”, negative space on the site is as important as the building itself. Landscape architecture should not be approached as the leftover space, but rather as both the link between the project and its site (context), and the opportunity to extend the program outside and reinforce the project’s identity.

Creating a strong sense of belonging to a place is essential for the users and the wider community . The character of a place has an impact on its user, which is called ‘emotional geography’. Who knows better than the users themselves what they value in places and what makes them feel positive? Therefore, it is our role as architects to involve the future users in the design process.

They help us to identify these aspects in order to create an environment which responds to their needs and contributes to their well-being.

New headquarters for CM Limburg

Contextual landscape architecture: understanding the environment is the key

The understanding of the site (context), by studying historical maps (how was the natural landscape used to protect, transport, etc.), helps us to shape the built environment. It is often a wise action to follow the voice of the past when making decisions. There is often a good reason why historical land-use took place in a certain way. Urban analyses and environmental studies (solar, wind and noise exposure; soil conditions; green and blue corridors, etc.), provide a foundation for the design. They make focal points, important networks and weak points of a site visible at a broader scale. What makes this site special and how can we take advantage of it? This awareness enables us to accurately layout the different programs on the site and strongly anchor the project into the community, and vice-versa.

O.L.V van Lourdes,Wakken : urban and environmental analysis diagrams

Landscape architecture as a tool for pushing the design further

It would only be coherent if archipelago’s four pillars (programming, experience, sustainability and project economics) are applied together with our values to the outdoor spaces in order to push the design even further and deliver comprehensive projects.

The exercise of designing the outdoor spaces from the conception phase reinforces the sustainability story. The choice of materials should be based on life cycle assessment studies to reduce their environmental impact and to make sure of their reuse potential to complement circular construction strategies. As such, we can foresee a water strategy at the site scale by optimising circular water solutions, such as reusing rain or grey water to reduce unnecessary consumption of drinkable water. Or we can integrate other energy flows that can fit into circular strategies, like generating energy on the site, etc.

This consequently contributes to the resilience of our living, caring, learning and working environment. Resilience is defined as “the capacity to adapt to changing conditions and to maintain or regain functionality and vitality in the face of stress or disturbance. It is the capacity to bounce back after a disturbance or interruption”. The public realm and the landscape are media that support this resilience. Aiming for a resilient project contributes to two of our pillars: programming and economy. As a matter of fact, designing projects that drive ecological resilience, ensures a social-economic resilience and provides resilient infrastructure systems for human needs, such as locally available and renewable sources of energies, urban comfort, occupant’s health, etc. This consequently leads to projects which are more adaptable and liveable.

Besides the sustainable benefits of applying landscape architecture from the conception phase, it also adds value to the experience of the (built) environment and contains the potential to contribute to a healing environment. Both giving access to an outdoor space and creating a view from the inside to a natural environment are one of the opportunities for an architect to act as a ‘healer’ and actively reduce people’s stress level. Moreover, within the landscape architecture, elements can be included to avoid that people feel stressed, for example: a good wayfinding, spots for prospect and refuge, balanced density, etc. The positive effects of these rules of thumb from environmental psychology can be reinforced even when methods such as co-creation and Scenario-Based Design are applied in order to make the design tailored-made. Finally, the WELL Principles can be applied as design guidelines for configurating outdoor spaces.

O.L.V van Lourdes,Wakken : “farm on the roof”, sketch of the roof terrace
O.L.V van Lourdes,Wakken : “farm on the roof”, scenario-based design

The benefits of landscape architecture are applied in practice in the project of CHwapi

A (green) infrastructure open to the city.

The “Centre Hospitalier de Wallonie picarde” (CHwapi) project was born from the desire to bring together all the “acute” hospital beds on a single campus in the Tournai region. Designed to encourage social interaction, in particular due to its open base and public forecourt, the hospital has been carefully integrated into the city. It is not only the goal to provide a health infrastructure but also a (green) public space for the community.

Thanks to the Performance-based design process, we identified the most comfortable areas from a urban comfort point of view (less noisy and sunniest areas during the year) that are suited for programming the outdoor spaces. Our researches on the healing power of nature led us to choose to apply the principles of the healing garden. As a starting point, we were inspired, from an aesthetic point of view by the work of the landscape architect and artist Burle Marx. Afterwards, we took advantage of a diversity of paths, combined with landscaping the micro topography, to shape the microclimate of the site to design calm and relaxing areas which are sheltered from strong winds and noise disturbance. Additionally, the vegetation is playing an important role for urban comfort, sustainability, and resilience of the project. We are currently studying the eco-potential of the site. We focused on water management and came out with the concept of water mirrors that create a visual dynamic landscape.

Last but not least, these outdoor spaces are designed in such a way that they can be experienced both on the ground level and also from the hospital room. In addition, we are constantly testing our design by means of persona’s (Scenario-Based Design).

The design of the project is currently in full progress.

How do we make a major hospital a good neighbour?

Case study - CHWAPI

How do we make a major hospital a good neighbour?

The different rooms of the healing public space of CHwapi hospital

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