Our team was thrilled to sit down with the industry renowned Daniel Rebel of Daniel Rebel Landscape Architects to find out all about his journey through landscape architecture, highlights of his career and future plans.
What lead you to a career in landscape architecture?
I grew up in a rural environment and was exposed to various biomes in the places where we stayed as a child. My parents immigrated from The Netherlands seven years before I was born. They worked on a missionary station in the remote northern part of Limpopo (then Vendaland). That gave me exposure to unspoiled landscapes like the areas around Lake Fundudzi – a sacred landscape to the indigenous population. At the same time, we often travelled to Europe to visit relatives. That gave me exposure to western cities and lifestyles. From the onset of my Iife, I was exposed to various natural and cultural landscapes. In later years, when I started my school career, we moved to the then Kwa Ndebele where my parents continued working as missionaries. The Bushveld biome, local communities as well as the large-scale productive agricultural landscapes, shaped my awareness of what landscape is all about. Only after high school did we move to Pretoria, where I was exposed to what South African cities are about.
Although I only learned about landscape architecture during my final year at high school, I was always aware of the interaction between social and natural landscapes. I always had a strong appreciation of the beauty of natural landscapes, and the almost unimaginable power in the creation of it all. My social and environ-mental awareness, together with my passion for design and holistic process thinking, led me to my career in landscape architecture.
Tell us about your younger years in the industry?
During my studies at the University of Pretoria, I interned at landscape architectural practices during the holidays to gain technical experience but also to earn much needed pocket money. After graduation, I was offered a position at Uys and White Landscape Architects where I gained invaluable experience and knowledge as an upcoming landscape architect. After several years, I joined Uys and White as partner and built up a large portfolio of iconic commercial and public landscapes. During early 2014, I realised I need-ed a more specific, focused brand and founded DRLA. It has gone from strength to strength over the past seven years.
Who were some of your professional icons as a young landscape architect?
I received most of my training from two pioneer South African landscape architects – Prof. Ben Farrell and Prof. Willem van Riet. The design ethic and planning process I learned from Prof. Ben Farrell, later also Lucas Uys, shaped my design approach to a large extent. The valuable technical skills I learned from Neville White helped me to become a good all-round landscape architect.
How would you describe your design aesthetic?
In very short I shall say: sound, accountable, integrated and minimalist. Informed by local conditions and inspired by natural materials arranged in a perfectly balanced way.
Having studied environmental planning along-side landscape architecture, would you say that you have a passion for public space de-sign? And how does this environmental understanding effect your landscape architecture projects?
My understanding and knowledge of environmental processes is integral to my design approach. I do not practice environmental management per se. My focus is on public space design in a holistic way, in both the public and private realms. My passion lies in the interface between natural, built and social environments. Public space and urban landscape design is where the various spheres meet and where there should be sustainable harmony.
That is where I (and other landscape architects), are committed to playing a major role in making a positive difference in this planet we all depend on.
What are some of your industry highlights? And what are some of your proudest projects?
That is not so easy to answer but I would say some of my most memorable projects would be – amongst others – Eye of Africa estate, Mall of Africa Park, DIRCO headquarters, Jewel City Precinct, Castle Gate precinct and Deloitte headquarters.
My involvement in the Waterfall City precinct during the past 10 years has been, and still is, a noticeable highlight in my career. It allowed me the opportunity to collaborate with so many professions and to involve landscape architecture in all the master planning, concept development and detail design phases of streetscape design, public spaces, and private landscapes. I have made so many good design friends and learned so much from the expertise of other professions. It is certainly something I am extremely grateful for.
What are some exciting developments we can expect to see your name attached to moving into 2022?
We had a challenging year during 2021 as an aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, but we are positive and optimistic about the future. Some exiting upcoming projects for this year are Irene Link mixed use precinct, Barlow Park retail and residential precinct and some high-density urban neighbourhoods. We are also working hard to integrate biodiverse landscapes in light industrial parks.
With COVID-19 leaving its lasting mark on the industry, how do you think the pandemic will translate into landscape design moving forward, and what trends do you expect to see emerging through the pandemic?
With all the trouble the pandemic brought to our societies, there are remarkable positive changes that came along. Exploring and practising different ways to work have resulted in oneself being a lot more flexible in terms of where you work and how you manage your time.
We have also realised that we need less office space and can achieve more with a smaller carbon footprint – digital meetings versus in-person meetings is just one very practical example. It allowed us to become more balanced and more productive. Ultimately, it will result in more compact cities with more access to open spaces and more contact with nature – a great opportunity for landscape architecture.