Obsession…but it feels like a fetish…

A fetish?! …an inanimate object with supposed magical powers or because it is considered to be inhabited by a spirit

I have been living the last ten years in a landscape rich with water, rich with soil and rich with plants, the Berner Oberland in Switzerland. Each day this Berner Oberland landscape inspires me. I am happy in and enthused by this Swiss Alp landscape.

But yesterday, I came across an old folder of images that stunned me. Stunned? Yes, because as I went through all 50 of them, they gradually inserted themselves. Internally, I could not understand how the barren emptiness of the Rub al Khali, the Empty Quarter, could elicit such a strange, such a pulsating attraction.

It was just memories, right? Yeah, ten years ago, I lived and worked there for more than a year as the installation manager for the landscape at this resort destination–that had its own memories–but the desert–the Empty Quarter has its own magnetism.

I feel it; but I don’t understand it.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Credits to the client TDIC, the architecture team of Dubarch/Northpoint, the interior design by Hirsch, Bedner Associates and the landscape architecture team LMS International.


Comments on the images:

  • Something fundamental, basic. Where there is water, there is life. Where there is no water, there is no life.
  • After water, this Empty Quarter requires protection for safety of life.
  • The sand dunes are the seductive face of the Empty Quarter.
  • Why do you think the Bedouins call it Rub al Khali, the Empty Quarter? 

Islands in the Sky

Islands of trees in the clouds.

This is not augmented reality.

This is not CG.

This is not AI.


The clouds make these islands in their own time; and they disappear these islands in their own time.

Cloud time is not human time.

Healthy, yet?

For years I lived in the Middle East, the Arabian Peninsula and the Bosphor. For years I lived in Switzerland, the Berner Oberland, Jungfrau Region.

The Middle East was always short of mature well formed trees…for various reasons–not native to the Arabian Peninsula and too heavily human populated–all trees cut up or cut down on the Bosphor.

But in Switzerland, the Berner Oberland, Jungfrau Region human population is low and trees are native.


This isn’t a golf course. This is pastureland abutting a forest. Humans have been managing this landscape, with local records dating back over 700 years. And this is the result. I love it. I feel at ease, peaceful when viewing this landscape because of the pleasing shape of mature trees…for me, it is the hard work of stewardship–taking care of forests and pastures. Sweet!


5 Landscape Architecture Things

…I wish they had taught me at university. Maybe you can suggest others?

  1. All the places where underground utilities are accessed through the landscape surface with requirements and flexibility for placement.
  2. The line items most likely to be big profit items for contractors in unit price landscape construction contracts.
  3. How to write measurement and payment clauses for landscape construction contracts.
  4. Financial positioning and leveraging variables for landscape development in the domains of real estate and architecture.
  5. Advancement pros, cons and how-tos for landscape architecture careers in private sector versus government.

Upper Balconies

Deep in the back row of the upper, upper balconies, which are all full today, you can do whatever you want because no one will see you. Can you hear the sonata?


Clouds fill the upper balconies. 

‘Lovers’ Caught

…something completely different…speaks for itself…

From a newspaper,

‘A livestock owner, who staked out his pen in a bid to apprehend the thief responsible for his regularly ‘disappearing’ milk, stumbled upon a couple in a compromising position instead.

Unable to pinpoint the reason his goat’s milk vanished everyday, the owner deduced it could be the handiwork of a thief. Crouched in a corner inside the pen, the owner made sure he could clearly watch the entrance and pounce on the thief when needed.

An hour later, a GMC Suburban vehicle stopped near the entrance. Stepping out of the vehicle, an Asian driver and a woman entered the pen and hastened into a room located on the far side.

Waiting awhile, the owner tiptoed towards the room expecting to catch the couple pilfering his goat’s milk. He found no thief and as he barged into the room he froze in his tracks.

Right in front of him, the couple were engaged in a sex session. Shocked to see an uninvited stranger they jumped up in surprise and tried to flee.

Refusing to budge without an explanation, the owner demanded they produce their identity cards that revealed their respective nationalities. The amorous couple further disclosed that they used his pen as a regular rendezvous for their animated meetings and also helped themselves to the available goat milk.

When the owner insisted on producing them at a police station, the woman burst into tears pleading to be forgiven. The Asian too followed suit. Not wanting to blow the issue into scandalous proportions, the owner let the couple off the hook.

*end of story*

My comment–happened in Kuwait twenty some odd years ago, when reporters just told a good story without trying to take a political position or without trying to change the world. I found the story fun to read and without heartburn. Can’t remember the last news story I’ve read this year that came without heartburn. 🙂

I did some landscape stuff while in Kuwait.


Not far from Basra, and with a whole lot of Iranian, Iraqi and Palestinian influence.


And then time passed.


Landscape meet Garden

I’ve been writing landscape adventure stories the past couple years, and in a strange fashion, the narrators of each story have taught me new perceptions of landscape architecture and design.

For example, the narrator of Crystal Vision explained to me that landscape harbors danger for humans and that garden is safe and primarily provides for quiet introspection and also for active and regular energy exchange. The narrator explained further that both landscape and garden are deficient if not dominated by plants sustained by adequate water.

Yeah, it did make sense to me, anyone else agree?


It all happens at the town’s edge.

Walkable Neighborhoods

…just around the corner…

As The Twilight Zone’s Rod Serling might have said: …a street in any town…

My two cents worth… What is at the heart of a comfortably walkable neighborhood?

1. Public ways that have human scale. Like the above.

Comment: Originally built before autos—but still able to accommodate wagons and animals. How can these be built today and meet your local and regional health and safety requirements? Maybe it is time to rethink health and safety requirements?

2. Social communities where people are truly respectful of neighbors. Like the above.

Comment: Where true respect exists, people do not worry about personal effects (see lower right above) being defaced or stolen. Or covered with graffiti and tags which often these days are the first signs of disrespectful neighbors.

Care for a walk?

Cross Cultural

Lived lots of years in foreign countries–foreign cultures.

Cross-cultural are experiences in which I have been face-to-face with people and behaviours I did not understand and often did not agree.

…as opposed to multi-cultural which is theory only.

In my work as a landscape architect in those foreign countries and foreign cultures, I had to build major projects. Had to reach workable agreements in difficult cross-cultural conditions. Learned so very much from so many different people.

The links below track some of my cross-cultural journeys.

They are all HD, all less than one minute long, and they are all growing from the Empty Quarter, the Rub al Khali.


Rub al Khali Enigma: the Empty Quarter in the Arabian Peninsula, what it is.



Dreams: how to get from dreams to fiction to reality, Atlantis Dubai 2008.



Empty Quarter: transforming cross-cultural realties, harsh environments into restful shelter, Qasr al Sarab 2010.



A Golf Academy in the Empty Quarter?


Interlaken: design & tourism

…Interlaken Jungfrau…

The yellow dots with black outlines are previously busy successful hotels that are empty, or rarely occupied, or struggling for a four or five-star rating

At the heart of a tremendous landscape. Interlaken.

In the Bernese Oberland region of the Swiss Alps, Interlaken is a 365day/year resort destination on the Aare River connecting two lakes at the confluence of four valleys.

Interlaken alone has more than 900,000 overnight stays/year. Tourism drives the economy. Landscape drives the tourism.

This place is all about design, why? Because this landscape exudes inspiration, it enables captivation. A guest can see it, breathe it, feel it, taste it and touch it. Landscape feeds design.

But change is inevitable. New design is required.

…mountain cure comfort…

The last of the great Interlaken-Jungfrau five-star resort destinations from the Victorian era. Take the airs. Take the views. Take the walks. Take the cures.

…take your pick…

This view of the Jungfrau from Interlaken across the Hohematte today has become nearly a touristic cliche. It was the original tourist attraction. Now it is only 10% of the landscape attractions accessible from Interlaken.

What is the inspirational magic that fills the air in this landscape? For two hundred years the greatest authors, composers and all humans have been captivated by this ethereal landscape beauty which has propelled them to design, compose, write, paint.

Great American writers have built on their experience in this landscape: Mark Twain, James Fenimore Cooper. And a partial list overwhelms: Haller, RousseauGoethe,(as inspired by the Staubbach in Lauterbrunnental), Byron, Mendelssohn, Schiller, AC. Doyle, Tolkien, Bierstadt, Caspar Wolf, Hodler, Calame, and pop ‘artists’ like James Bond, Clint Eastwood.

In the last century the Art Nouveau movement spurred deluxe hotel and town growth here.

The most practical and interconnected transportation and communication systems were overlain for easy access. Best in class convenience from the international airports of Zurich, Geneva and Bern via network of trains, trams and busses seamlessly linked to networks of bikes and pedestrians to all winter and summer recreation options including every xxx-treme sport. These put visiting humans into direct touch with the landscape.

Interwoven in all the above is the art of living in these inspirational landscapes. People who live here have translated their inspiration to trychler, yodeler, alphorn, sagen and scherrenschnitt.

Visitors gain access via Interlaken to sites having the UNESCO ‘international seal of approval’:

UNESCO Biosphere Entlebuch: An area of 400 square kilometres to demonstrate a balanced relationship between people and nature unfolds as a mystical world with pre-Alpine moorland and karst landscapes.

UNESCO World Heritage Jungfrau Aletsch: An overwhelming display of the Alps’ natural beauty covering over 800 square kilometres. At its heart lies the mighty rock massif of the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau and the glacial landscape around the Great Aletsch Glacier. The Aletsch Glacier is 23km long, the longest glacier in the Alps.

So what’s the problem? The hotel, resort destination cycle has been bottoming as the visitor profile has changed. Nobody has grasped what is the 21st century successful tourism paradigm. Four and five star hotels are out of business. Other hotels from the Art Noveau era can not easily meet the 21st century energy savings regulations. And the visitor who 30 years ago would visit one or two weeks, now visits two or three days.

Recent tourism numbers and trends intrigue.

Berner Oberland Region = 12,000 beds; net occupancy rate 50%

Interlaken Region = 4,000 beds; net occupancy rate 64%

International Arrivals = Europe 50%, Asia 25%, Americas 15%, Africa 5%, Middle East 5%

Interlaken Region Arrivals = Swiss 45%, International 55%

In conclusion, this Interlaken landscape region has undeniable attraction to Swiss and every geographical segment of  international visitor. The annual visits are steady. The communication and transportation infrastructure is up to date and best in class; but the types of accommodations are not leading the way. The tradition of four and five star has all but disappeared–it struggles.

But there are committed private sector players whose future is based upon visitors’ feet on the landscape, regional transportation and watch consolidator. Both of them rely on successful, comfortable and convenient overnights.

Where does this landscape tourism go in the first half of the 21st century?

Airbnb, local holiday apartments, dormitory accomodations?

Are the traditional comforts of four and five star hospitality culture a memory, not suited to today’s green regulations, today’s pace of life, today’s constrained economics?

Or is there a new paradigm still undiscovered that matches and challenges this timeless inspirational landscape?

That is a question for designers, entrepreneurs and lovers of landscape.

…mountain magic…

For centuries, humans from this region have used the alphorn to express how this landscape inspires them.

…sweetest music you never heard…

Berner Oberland landscape and plants work their way into the finest corners of human inspiration, design and crafts.


Gentian blue, four species…but the color of lapis lazuli…implies the cultural wealth of millennia.

…taste the mountains…

The local brewery, with 700 yrs of history, sells its brew in two litre refillables–collectible graphic design, no?

…fresh water air

Lake steamers connect Interlaken to all towns and villages on the Thunersee and Brienzersee–fresh air carried on fresh water from the Grimsel Pass glaciers.


The arable land yields food for humans who respect that miracle in their crafts and architecture.

…music, always music…

Whether by jodeling, alphorns or tales…human connections with the landscape are easily accessible in this region.

…flying is too fast…

A visitor can access this landscape in every imaginable manner.

…take a gamble…

Human shelters for entertainment and education–the old and the new both sitting nicely in the landscape.

…up the valley…

Departing Interlaken from the Hohematte foreground in the direction of the Jungfrau begins an exceptional landscape design sequence of spaces experience working up through the valleys to Grindelwald or Lauterbrunnen.


This is a view across the Hohematte toward the Jungfrau. The Hohematte is a 14 hectare meadow in the center of town, first owned by the Augustinian Monastery, then by Bern and finally in the 1860s bought by a consortium of locals who have preserved it as a meadow in perpetuity.


Interlaken blends modern with tradition in many aspects of design, arts and crafts.


Ethnobotany–only the bravest of the climbers could find edelweiss–Leontopodium alpinum.

…two km straight up…

Network interfaces–urban quality interfaces at the foot of Eiger and Jungfrau. Convenient and awe inspiring.


For walkers the wayfinding is superb. Networks to networks–superb. Clear, crisp.

…water's edge…

In Interlaken, the Aare River connects the upstream Brienzersee to the Thunersee and continues as the largest tributary to the upper Rhine.

…and still the landscape inspires…

Churches tell the political and religious history–Catholic, Reformed–Austrians, French…via arts and crafts.

…idealized plants…

Art Nouveau craftsmanship inspired by the landscape.