Orange Identity - A Dutch venture in the Saudi desert
Design duo “The Orange Twins” have come a long way since arriving in Saudi Arabia in 2008. Landscape architect Marlon van Maastricht and architectural designer Vincent Engel registered as foreign investors in Riyadh after designing the landscape for the 22 hectare Garden Palace of HRH Prince Mishal bin Abdulaziz Al Saud. Since then their establishment Orange Identity has put their creative signature on the public space through masterplanning, landscape architectural and architectural design projects throughout KSA. Landscape ME invited the duo to share insight on their orange philosophy and their experiences working and living for over half a decade in Saudi Arabia.
“It has been a bumpy ride setting up shop in Saudi and at the same time an unforgettable and enriching experience that we will proudly carry with us for the rest of our lives,” says Marlon van Maastricht.
“KSA is not the easiest country to establish a small creative entity like Orange Identity, especially in terms of the ever changing requirements, rules and regulations. Without a strong dose of confidence, persistence and especially flexibility we wouldn’t recommend just anyone going on a desert adventure like ours.”
From a designers point of view Saudi seems to have just opened it eyes to the broad horizon of creativity over the past 10 – 15 years. It is therefore a place unlike anywhere else where a strong and innovative vision is appreciated. “Especially landscape architecture and urban design are young fields of expertise in KSA which means that, with the appropriate amount of respect for cultural context, clients desire to be wowed and educated. At the same time there is still hesitation towards the unknown, particularly on an engineering level. Getting a concept or design approved is one thing, but to see it through all the way to implementation in its original intended form is a completely different ballgame!”
When asked about the names Orange Identity and Orange Twins, the two reply that it originates deeper than their Dutch heritage. In terms of branding Orange is a strong colour more commonly related to Holland than their red, white and blue flag. But it’s not their identity as Dutchmen that carries through in their company name as much as their creative personalities. “Both as designers and in general as human beings Marlon and I are quite each other’s opposites,” Vincent explains. “It is no secret that landscape architects and architects have quite different mind frames and approaches. Where landscape, or I should say Marlon’s tropically and Middle Eastern trained landscape approach is usually a much softer playing field with planting and smooth lines, my architectural style is pretty hardcore minimalistic. This gives us quite a struggle to arrive at common grounds, but usually results in quite interesting concepts when the smoke clouds of our discussions ultimately lift up and we agree on the project approach.”
“You can safely say that when Vincent and I are on the same page, something new is born and the clients are happy,” Marlon adds with a grin. It is this mutual touch on a concept, design or detail which the duo defines as Orange Identity.
The Orange Twins met in college where Marlon was on the path to become a landscape designer and Vincent decided that landscape was not for him as he dived into the world of architectural and urban design. After the college days the two went in quite opposite directions as Marlon ventured to Malaysia in pursuit of becoming a better designer and to gain management experience in the outdoor space, while Vincent enriched his portfolio within the architectural scene in Holland. When in 2007 the opportunity arose to become part of an international consultancy team for the Garden Palace, the two didn’t have to think long to fulfill their early student day speculations of joining forces on a creative venture. When we have a look at their Saudi portfolio we can clearly see the spectrum defined by their different backgrounds and personal flavor, not only in the way their concepts take their final physical shape but also in the broad range of projects and products that leave their office into the desert.
A good project example which both exceeds and merges the boundaries of landscape and architecture is their nearly completed design and build landscape development project Sana’a Square in Riyadh. This project features the 27 hectare Exit 22 interchange on Riyadh’s Ring road, which forms the Southern industrial access to Saudi Arabia’s capitol city, landmarked and skylined by the majestic silhouette of the adjacent Yamama cement factory. Riyadh’s Directorate of Park and Landscape asked the Orange Twins to come up with an eye opening design with minimal green and maintenance to compliment the industrial and infrastructural context of the project site with respect and consideration of its large scale and non-accessible functionality.
Marlon: “With an infrastructural project of this magnitude you have to keep in mind that your main user is driving a car which either passes by at 110 km/hr or slows down to take one of the exits at 40-60 km/hr. In addition you have to consider that each of the four flower leaf quarters of the project site is more than 6.5 hectare in size which means that you can’t be designing at the same detail level of an urban park with pedestrian users walking at an average speed of 5km/hr or skating / cycling at a maximum of 10-20 km/hr. This is a large scale, high speed drive by project which required an out of the box approach to achieve a low cost but high impact outcome.”
To accomplish this objective, the duo came up with an innovative landscape development strategy using recycled or recyclable materials such as steel, concrete and natural stone to generate different architectural land-art themes for each of the four quarters of the project site. Even though the planting stage has yet to bring the finishing and crucial touch to the project, the sculptures Orange Identity nestled onto the site have already transformed Riyadh’s industrial citygate into an outdoor display of modern industrial art. Funky might be the most appropriate word to describe the floating trees in planterboxes on four, six and eight meter high legs, cactuses created from recycled oil drums, two meter high steel grass and twelve meter high triangular green towers that create a new found synergy between the architectural elements and their robust industrial and infrastructural environment. Especially around sunrise and sunset, when the silhouettes of their artwork compliments the cement factory skyline and the site’s infrastructural spaghetti against a blood red sky, you can feel the theatrical impact of the design on its surrounding.
Another typical Orange Identity can be found at the beach residence of HRH Prince Sultan bin Fahad in Obhur Jeddah. The Orange Twins designed the landscape for this 43.000m2 private resort which is currently being implemented under their supervision. In this project we can find a combination of tropical landscape architecture with predominantly earth elements such as natural stone pavement and wooden lighting, combined with modern architectural touches such as the use of gabions and wood for fencing and recycled telephone poles for privacy and edge treatment.
When reviewing the variety of their projects and designs and yet the consistency of intertwining a modern and international approach with years of local experience and awareness of local cultural and physical context, Landscape ME is excited to see what the future holds in store for the Orange Twins and Orange Identity.