What is Building with Nature ?

Currently, half of the world’s population lives in deltas, and in 2050 this number is expected to go up to 70 percent. Inhabitants of these deltas depend on the wide variety of natural resources and services that oceans, lakes, and rivers offer.

However, the urbanisation of deltas comes with challenges such as land subsidence, sand mining, biodiversity loss, depletion of aquifers and loss of natural processes. These challenges are aggravated by climate change. As temperatures rise, the sea level goes up, and natural dynamics change. With population growth, it becomes ever harder to deliver on all Sustainable Development Goals.

How can we sustainably address these challenges while developing and strengthening nature and biodiversity?

A shift in thinking

A shift in thinking is required to face these challenges. Recognition grows that social, economic, and environmental dynamics are fundamentally interlinked, as are development and growth opportunities.

Building with Nature is a design approach that harnesses the forces of nature to benefit environment, economy and society. The approach results in resilient, multi-functional, innovative designs tailored to the local context delivering across the Sustainable Development Goals.

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Start from the natural system

Building with Nature takes the natural system’s functioning as a starting point. Designs that follow the Building with Nature-philosophy provide resilient solutions that reduce the impact of climate change. Building with Nature-solutions are often adaptable to changing circumstances such as sea-level rise. They are also able to store carbon dioxide, for example in mangrove forests and salt marshes. And because they enhance the natural system they increase local biodiversity.

Harness natural processes

Building with Nature harnesses natural dynamics. Ecoystems and natural processes are part of the solution. The main principle is to work with nature, instead of against nature. The designer uses natural processes, like currents and wind, and uses natural materials such as vegetation, sand, and mud. This creates flexibility in the design, making Building with Nature solutions adaptable to changing conditions, such as rising sea levels.

Multi-functional designs

In densely populated coastal areas safety often relies on dikes and dams. These traditional defenses are mainly mono-functional. Building with Nature designs combine flood protection with other functions. The added values, such as recreation, biodiversity and improved water quality, benefit society and the economy. Because of their multi-functionality, multiple stakeholders are needed to successfully design, implement, manage, and monitor Building with Nature solutions.

Start from the local context

Standard designs for Building with Nature do not exist. Every situation is different. Designs need to start from the local functioning of the ecosystem and the needs of stakeholders involved. Interaction with these stakeholders, including local communities, is key to successfully implementing and optimizing any Building with Nature solution.

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Enablers for Building with Nature

Based on 12 years of experience in pilots worldwide, EcoShape has identified six essential enablers that determine a successful Building with Nature implementation.

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Where to start?

There are five steps to follow when implementing a Building with Nature solution. Whether it’s about improving the naturalness and resilience of flood defenses, aiming for sustainable port development or ecosystem restoration. The first step in any successful Building with Nature project is to understand the natural, social, and economic system. The five steps together guide a design process that can be followed in any phase of the project.

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Nature-based Solutions

What is the relation between Building with Nature and Nature-based Solutions? Nature-based Solutions are actions to manage and restore ecosystems by tackling social and environmental challenges simultaneously. Building with Nature is an approach to realize Nature-based Solutions by embedding natural processes in hydraulic engineering, considering the natural, social, and economic system. The Building with Nature approach can help to scale up the implementation of Nature-based Solutions.

Sustainable Development Goals

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) underline the urgency to act. SDG’s are the seventeen key topics the United Nations defined to make the world a better place by 2030. The SDGs below link Building with Nature, such as climate action, life below water, sustainable cities, and ending extreme poverty. They solve the challenges in deltas where people’s livelihoods often depend on their immediate natural environment. We need solutions that deliver positively across the Global Goals.