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Sergio Lima Opens Landscape Architecture's Fall 2017 Speaker Series

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Photo by Alex Madison.

Tucked away on the third floor of The Cannery in Fisherman’s Wharf, students of the School of Landscape Architecture (LAN) at Academy of Art University got a first-hand look into the complexity of international landscape design and its significance to the people around it.

Sergio Lima, a professional landscape architect and an instructor for the Academy’s LAN program, opened up about working on two major projects in Dubai at the first installment of the Fall 2017 Speaker Series on Oct. 12.

Acting as a bridge between the professional and academic world, Lima shared insight into the inspiration, process and soon-to-be final designs of the Al Wasl Plaza and the foot of the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa.

“I wanted to show students the possibilities of landscape architecture and how it becomes reality out of the academic world,” Lima said. “I hope to give them something to aspire to and a sense of what they can reach.”

Lima is a senior associate at SWA, a landscape architect firm in San Francisco known for its innovative projects around the world, including the California Academy of Science in San Francisco with a two-and-a-half-acre green roof, a project Lima also worked on.

During the lecture, Lima spent most of his time talking about the Al Wasl Plaza, an open space at the center of a roughly 45,000 square-foot public space in Dubai. The space is roofed by an intricate, domed trellis which will act as an enormous projection experience for visitors combining innovative technology and design.

Commissioned by the United Arab Emirates, the site will serve as the location of the next world exposition, Expo 2020 Dubai. The international exposition will serve as a platform for more than 200 countries to collaborate and share accomplishments in human ingenuity.

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Photo by Alex Madison.

This is a very exciting and innovative project,” Lima said. “It was a challenge and interesting to resolve all the issues with the best solutions.”

Lima was the plant designer for the plaza, which includes parks, fountains, restaurants and spaces for public performances. Students listened and took notes as Lima explained the complexity behind designing landscape for a public space with a maximum occupancy of 10,000 people in an indoor environment with less than 40 percent sun exposure, as the dome panels block a large portion of the sunlight.

Strategically, Lima chose about 65 percent native plants for the project, adding an educational element to the consumers’ experience. Choosing native plants also tied into the expo’s theme of “Connecting Minds, Creating the Future.”

The idea of connection played a central role in Lima’s design decisions, from its unity to the user’s connection to nature. The theme of connection also stems from Dubai’s long-standing history as a central pub of the Arabic world and for being a country comprised of about 85 percent immigrants. The name Al Wasl in fact means “connection” in Arabic.

“Connection is a big part of the history of Dubai,” Lima said.  “It is a welcoming place where people from all over travel to and through.”

The plaza will play an important role after the expo as well, providing a space for public use, something not common in Dubai. As Dubai has been known to reach triple-digit temperatures during its summer, the plaza will create an outdoor environment in the comfort of a cooler indoor temperature.

As Lima’s presentation came to a close, the floor was open for audience questions. Students, many of whom are currently taking Lima’s class, asked where the soil was imported from, how multiple companies collaborated to complete the project and about handicap accessibility.

A current student of Lima’s, Le Fang, was one of the most curious audience members of the night. When asked what she took away from the lecture, she first answered by saying how amazed she was with Lima’s contributions to such a momentous project.

“It’s definitely amazing. I see him every day as my teacher, but to see this huge project he is working on outside of school shows me a different side of him,” said Fang, a third-year LAN student.

She also talked about the value of Lima’s insight as a senior landscape designer.

“It’s important to see how it will be in the real world,” Fang said. “His work inspires me.”

Another third-year LAN student Katerin Luguetta said Lima’s presentation exposed her to the wide variety of work she will one day be able to use her degree for.

“I believe that after getting some experience, I could have the opportunity to work anywhere in the natural world.”