“Incorporating green to the urban world”: an interview of Liezl-Mari Nienaber

The modern era conjures up images of skylines, technology, gasoline-fuelled cars, and crowds of people living in skyscrapers. The urbanized world evolves at a dizzying pace. What place does Nature hold in this man-made evolution? There is talk about futuristic, green cities. What does it entail for a city to go green? Caudan is pioneering a go green movement where urbanization and nature may coexist. We interviewed Liezl-Mari Nienaber to get insight into Caudan Goes Green.

You are an experienced landscape architect. How did you discover your passion and when did you realize you wanted to do this as a job?

As soon as I finished school, I knew I wanted to do something creative, and architecture in particular appealed to me. At the same time, university encouraged us to look into landscape architecture as it was a profession that was rapidly developing at the time. On top of that, these types of architects were lacking, yet were needed all over the world. I realized then that to help save the world, I could help by adding green spaces to our urban environment.

Tell me a bit about Green Intentions. How and when was it founded? What is your vision?

When I first came to Mauritius, I started working at Medine Ltd. After my contract ended, I realized that the landscape architectural field was still a novelty on the island, yet had huge potential. I fell in love with everything: the structure, color, trees, plants… it all just grows so easily here! There are a lot of green spaces in contrast to my country of origin, South Africa, where I was used to urban projects such as parking areas or shopping centres. Green Intentions was founded five years ago, and gathers innovative landscape architects with the aim of mixing greenery and architecture. We even collaborate with design firms: every designer has something to contribute, something to bring to the table.

Tell me more about your previous designs and projects.

I worked on various projects including shopping centres, business parks, hotels, apartments and a Holiday Inn hotel, where an amazing green wall was once implemented. Some of these projects include the Tamarina Hotel, the renovation of Le Saint Géran in partnership with Landmark Studios, or even the Casela renovation, where we had to start new constructions to repair the damage on the original site. We also worked on Azuri Resort and Spa with the help of the Planning Partners, a South African firm. We keep things interesting by bringing solutions to the needs of our clients while adding a touch of novelty to all projects.

How did you get the idea of creating the Caudan Goes Green project? And why Caudan as the location?

The management envisioned a green Caudan and wanted to turn it into an exemplar for future developments, which is great because I know Caudan very well. I regularly come here to do some shopping. As a result, I know all the places and what can be improved or implemented. The parking areas, for instance, need the biggest improvement due to their lack of nature and greenery. The idea for this project popped into my mind. So, we seized the opportunity and decided to add green elements, especially trees, an essential part of nature which give us oxygen and provide shade. Right now, we are still embellishing the area with the addition of 25 hanging pots of various flowering plants and elements on the walls to give this large urbanscape a greener appearance and some color. This does not require much effort. However, the next step is the real challenge. We will need to dig up holes, add plants and grow vegetal walls opposite the casino and the back alley between the cinema and the Labourdonnais Waterfront Hotel.

You are going to sow 1,000 plants. What is going to happen to them after the event?

Yes, and we are going to add 85 trees to the development as well. We already did so in the parking while creating a bigger area for them and their roots to develop. As for the plants, they will go back to the nursery after the event while the trees will remain here and be maintained by Top Turf, the landscape contractors who are also helping with the installations.

How do you manage to blend urban architecture and design with greenery and nature?

I think it is important to accommodate nature in our lives, as it not only brings us a sense of well-being but reduces stress as well. It is a subconscious element that brings out positivity. Humans are not machines. They need it! Especially as we are now entering an age where urbanization is becoming more dominant. So, I find it interesting to juxtapose architecture and nature as they beautifully complement each other.

Since when have you been working on it?

We started the meetings and presentations in July. We went through the project’s vision, what could be achieved and what to achieve in the long-term.

With this project, what kind of message are you trying to convey to people out there?

I think it is fun to incorporate nature to an existing establishment, especially with the use of new technologies. I want to show them that we just need to think of creative and innovative ways to make a part of our environment green. We can take ownership of this aspect by maintaining and caring for it.

When did you first hear of Porlwi by Light? Is it your first time participating?

I have known about the festival since its very first edition. I just love the vibe, the energy and how this event brings Mauritians or travellers from elsewhere together for a good cause. It is my first time participating this year, with the “nature” theme, and I am very excited!

What is your opinion regarding this year’s theme “Nature”?

I think it is very ambitious and I am appreciating the initiative this edition is taking to raise awareness towards nature, despite being in a city. Besides, this is my field. It gave me the opportunity to show what I am capable of, that is, incorporating the natural world to the urban one and demonstrating how these two can work together and become something beautiful and impactful.

As a landscape architect, what do you think of Port Louis today? And how do you imagine it to be in the near future?

It is a charming city and the people are very friendly. Yet, the main problem here would be accommodating pedestrians and vehicles in a space that a lot of people have to share. In some places, nature is really lacking. Hopefully in the future, designers will accommodate every type of user so that we can all benefit from the city, feel protected from the sun, and make it a place where people can enjoy nature in an urban environment.

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