Design Challenge: Strelitzia Nicolai

Tropical Forest metal design

I have the pleasure of working with a prominent landscape architectural firm on a custom project, and want to share my experience as it represents what I love about my job, and the unexpected challenges I face daily.   

My task was to design some custom panels with banana leaves, to sit in a grove. Since the owner is from Cambodia and loves tropical plants, I started to dig through my own photos from a recent trip to Cambodia, and research the significance of Banana leaves in that culture.  It’s fascinating….the banana leaf is used in the cuisine and symbolizes so much.  Sharing with you an excerpt of why Cambodia made the Banana leaf their National fruit:

“The reasons for choosing Chek Pong Moin as a national symbol due to this banana provides a great benefit to Khmer society and also wants to show this valuable natural heritage to others. There are many advantages of this banana such as:

  1. Banana is the most effective in many therapeutic such as Constipation, Gastritis, Enteris, vomiting, lack of blood, obesity, heart disease, and some other diseases. 
  2. Ripe Banana could be eating or served as deserts. While the flower and unripe banana are used as the vegetable for cooking or eating according to the custom of the people.
  3. Its peel can also eliminate pains, rash or swelling when getting stung or bite from the insects, by just apply on the spot where the wound.
  4. They take the banana tree to feed the animals such as pigs, cattle, duck and so forth. The leaves are used to pack foodstuffs and make as Baysei in curtained ceremonies in Hinduism and Buddhism.
  5. Its trunk is a source of Amino acids powder.
  6. Furthermore, Cambodian farmers can harvest banana to sell to support their living.  “

I came up with two design options, one in repeat, and one in a non repeating pattern which hops from one panel to another continuously.   I never submit a design, even preliminarily until I feel good about it myself, but for these, I had been overworking them a bit and felt it was better to stop, get feedback before proceeding with the tedious technical task of making the patterns “work” in metal.  I’m so glad I did! 

During my conference call with the Landscape architects, I learned that they have decided to pivot to Bird of Paradise plants, and move away from Banana leaves…..so back to the drawing board!  I am currently struggling with capturing the Bird of Paradise plant in an illustrative non repeating manner so have asked the architects to give me some drawings of theirs that I can tweak.  I believe it’s important to stop while you’re ahead, and recognize your limits. In this case, Bird of Paradise was simply not working for me, so we’re pausing and pivoting and working through this design challenge together.  

I love this job because I am learning so much.  Who knew I’d ever learn about and pay attention to the specific variation, Strelitzia Nicolai, of this Bird of Paradise plant!