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Daibhí Mac Domhnaill, Head of Landscape and Urban Design at Cairn, works closely with the team in designing beautiful outside spaces that enhance the development itself and the locality. Here he outlines the importance of good landscaping and urban design across a wide range of Cairn’s housing developments. As published in The Council Review.

Cairn is committed to building developments that enhance a community for generations to come. Elegant architecture and high-quality materials are used to create housing that is visually pleasing, but as much care and attention also goes into the streets and green spaces in each development.

Q: How important is landscaping for Cairn housing developments?
A: I’m involved at the very start of each project and provide input throughout each stage of the design and construction process. We have a multi-disciplinary team of planners, architects and surveyors in Cairn that oversee the planning and development of our projects. I work very closely with this team to make sure that the site planning delivers good urban layouts and meaningful green spaces. A project always starts with a detailed site visit to identify important site features, trees and hedgerows, and to get a feel for the character of the site and its locality.

Q: How does Cairn create innovative and agile landscaping?
A: Besides the problem-solving aspects of design work you also have to come up with a concept for the look and feel of the development. This is always influenced by the local context, the tones and textures of the area, and drawing inspiration from site history. Every new layer of development should have its own accent and identity, which you try to do through design and composition, but in a way that is harmonious and respectful of the local context. We have recently begun collaborating with artists on some of our projects and I always find it helpful to share ideas early on with our marketing and creative team.

Q: How would you describe Cairn’s design philosophy when it comes to landscape and urban design?
A: At the core of our design philosophy is delivering high-quality public realm and green spaces that are robustly detailed to stand the test of time. We place an emphasis on a native tree palette and planting long-lived specimens and parkland trees for future generations to enjoy. We promote natural play within our parks; using timber equipment, organic materials and natural features for playgrounds that fit in seamlessly with surrounding nature but also encourage children to play, learn and explore.

Q: Do you encounter any challenges in turning your vision into reality?
A: We are, of course, a commercial house builder and working to budgets is important. We look to build strong working relationships with contractors and suppliers to ensure value for the investment. I oversee the delivery of landscape projects across all of our sites; making sure the materials are all to specification and that high standards of workmanship are adhered to. One of the challenges with planting is that you have to work with the seasons and adapt to changing weather conditions.

Q: How do you characterise the design approach between apartments and houses?
A: It’s very important with apartments that the courtyards are designed in such a way that there’s something to be seen from each apartment. The dominant interaction that apartment dwellers have with the gardens is looking out, so the strength of the courtyard as a visual composition or parterre is very important.

Q: How does sustainability influence the overall landscape design?
A: I never think of sustainability as a design theme in its own right. The principles of sustainability transcend all aspects of good landscape and urban design. We aspire to create urban environments and green space networks that improve as they mature. Our projects typically take a number of years to be complete and we make sure that all of the streets and green spaces are well maintained until handover.