5 questions for Scape Design founder Phil Jaffa

(Mediterranean Resort & Hotel Real Estate Forum)

Philip Jaffa, founder and director of Scape Design, will be a featured speaker at the Mediterranean Resort & Hotel Real Estate Forum, which will be held in Tarragona, Spain, from Oct. 16-18.

Scape Design is a landscape architectural practice specializing in the design and detailing of high-end landscape projects for the hospitality industry. With the company, Jaffa has worked on the Mandarin Oriental Bodrum—the hotel group’s first resort in Europe—as well as the Laucala Island Resort in Fiji and the Fairmont Taghazout Bay, slated to open during the first quarter of 2019 in Morocco.

Ahead of the conference, Jaffa spoke about the major trends in landscape design and what's on the horizon.

1. What brought you to the world of resort landscape design?

In the early 90s, I worked for what was arguably the top commercial landscape practice in the UK, Derek Lovejoy Partnership. We designed a lot for the public realm, as well as out-of-town retail outlets around the UK, which were a growing trend. International work was certainly not the norm. 

Around the same time, leading U.S. hospitality architectural practices like WATG, RTKL and others, opened London offices to support the fledgling markets of Dubai and the wider Middle East. They looked for landscape architects to team up with for these projects, but there was no one in London, and probably the whole of the UK, who had experience in that part of the world. Inevitably, they wound up at Lovejoy’s door since they were the most renowned guys in the business. Having said that, there weren’t many in the office that jumped at the opportunity to work overseas. For me, it was simply a choice. The work seemed so glamorous in comparison to other projects, and it fueled my desire for travel. Only a few years earlier I had completed a gap year traveling through China and Asia, which seems so common now, but back then most post-education students went straight into the world of work. So, I threw myself in with a handful of the Lovejoy staff and never looked back.

Three years later, I followed my dream and moved to the Middle East for an extended period. In 2000, I returned to London to open my own studio, Scape Design, having spotted a trend no other European landscape architecture practice had tapped into: the newly developing resort market in the eastern Mediterranean. Through Scape, we seized that opportunity and have since helped open more than 20 resort properties across, Turkey, Cyprus, Greece, Malta and Croatia. That in itself is fantastic, plus as our reputation grew, so did our marketplace. Now our portfolio is now truly worldwide, with projects spanning 32 countries as far afield as Fiji, Morocco, Hong Kong, Azerbaijan and St. Lucia.

2. What would you say are the major trends to watch in resort landscape design in the Mediterranean? 

We are in an age with a growing demand for luxury hotels. For the discerning guest, great design and an array of hotel facilities is the expected norm. Increasingly, these guests are also searching for more meaningful experiences that are original and offer cultural integrity. Most of all, they desire connections: to the natural world, to other people within communities, and ultimately, to reconnect with themselves. My main message is that through intelligent design and tried-and-tested processes, we can deliver all three.


A post shared by Mandarin Oriental, Bodrum (@mo_bod) on

In 2014, work was completed on the Mandarin Oriental in Bodrum. It has since won European Hotel and European Spa of the Year 2015, and in 2016, was highly acclaimed at the Landscape Institute Awards in Great Britain. While it was a great honor to be selected as the landscape designer for this leading Asian brand’s first European resort, what truly made a difference in the project’s international success was the good fortune of working with a visionary developer who understood the benefits of a major investment in quality landscaping. For all who visit the resort or see the finished scheme’s photos, it appears as if the project has been open for many years and built within a pristine, mature landscape in harmony with the magnificent surrounds of the Turkish countryside.

We worked long hours to create designs that respected the existing terrain, preserved olive groves and native flora while also ensuring natural wood and stone materials were used to creatively cement the work to the earth. However, none of this could have been achieved without the building contractor’s sensitive approach to equally value and respect the natural beauty of the site in the same way as we had envisaged. The result is a stunning array of landscaped spaces that are true to the Mediterranean essence of the site and offer guests opportunities to be enthralled, entertained, relax or just “be.”

3. What other trends do you see coming to the region in the year(s) to come? 

My belief is that the creation of a new resort destination is essentially be led by the conditions of the landscape—offering the best possible orientation for each building according to climate, light and views, whilst also ensuring ease of operational flow. At the same time, we also create spaces that facilitate an emotional exchange, that fulfill that authentic desire to experience destinations in more meaningful ways and that bring communities together through shared experiences. In a world where we love to share our stories, a well-designed resort has the potential to create loyal guests because it can fulfill this fundamental human requirement for connection with the natural world, and offer spaces for our enlightened emotional states. 

4. What are the main areas developers need to pay particular attention to when planning their projects? 

From a developer’s standpoint, delivering emotional engagement is simply not enough; the need to generate profit is implicit when a project is commissioned. With so much competition, pressure is mounting to fill each resort development with spaces that also offer financial returns. There may also be requirements to build - and sometimes cram in - touristic villas that are sold to fund the development of the resort. Both are understandable since developers wish to maximize profits whilst differentiating themselves in the marketplace. Hence the site planning also needs to achieve the best balance between short-term revenue gain and longer term reputational advantage, with the aim of increasing the marketability of each project. 

5. What is the main message you would like to share with the audience at MR&H?

Without question, today’s guests and residents crave ever-increasing levels of quality and experience. We can nourish this desire at the intersection of design, technology and service, and in doing so awaken each guest’s imagination by creating journeys, telling stories and building deep emotional connections to every property we create. The designs should always be playful, calming, easy to use and provide an overriding sense of luxury that celebrates the individuality of every guest. We create world-class environments that offer these discerning customers unique places and spaces to congregate, contemplate and meditate.