What is Building with Nature ?

Currently, half the world’s population lives in deltas, and that is expected to rise to 70 percent by 2050. The delta inhabitants 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, the depletion of aquifers and the loss of natural processes. These challenges are aggravated by climate change. As temperatures rise, the sea level goes up and natural dynamics change. As the population grows, it becomes ever harder to deliver on all Sustainable Development Goals.

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

A shift in thinking

A shift in thinking is required to face these challenges. Recognition is growing 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 that deliver across the range of the Sustainable Development Goals.

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Start from the natural system

Building with Nature adopts the natural system as the basic premise. 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 can also capture and 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, with ecoystems and natural processes as part of the solution. The guiding principle is to work with nature, not against it. Designers use natural processes like currents and wind, and natural materials such as vegetation, sand, and mud. They introduce flexibility to 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 depends on dikes and dams. These traditional defences are mainly mono-functional. By contrast, Building with Nature designs combine flood risk management with other useful functions, delivering added benefits such as room for leisure, biodiversity and improved water quality. Which is better for society and the economy. This multi-functionality brings in multiple stakeholders for the successful design, implementation, management and monitoring of Building with Nature solutions.

Start from the local context

There are no standard designs for Building with Nature. Every situation is different. Designs need to be based on the local ecosystem and the needs of stakeholders. Interaction with these stakeholders, including local communities, is key to the successful implementation and optimisation of every Building with Nature solution.

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Enablers for Building with Nature

On the basis of twelve years of experience in pilot projects worldwide, EcoShape has identified six essential enablers that determine successful Building with Nature implementation.

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Where to start?

There are five steps for the implementation of a Building with Nature solution, whether the focus is on improving the natural character and resilience of flood defences, 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. Taken together, all the five steps together outline a design process that can be followed in any phase of the project.

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Nature-based Solutions

How are Building with Nature and Nature-Based Solutions linked? Nature-Based Solutions are steps to manage and restore ecosystems by tackling social and environmental challenges simultaneously. Building with Nature is an approach for the realisation of Nature-Based Solutions by embedding natural processes in hydraulic engineering while taking the natural, social, and economic systems into account. 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. The SDGs are the seventeen key topics defined by the United Nations to make the world a better place by 2030. The seven SDGs below – climate action, life below water, sustainable cities, and ending extreme poverty – are linked to Building with Nature. They address the challenges in deltas where people’s livelihoods often depend on their immediate natural environment. We need solutions that deliver across the range of the Global Goals.

'Repairing ecosystems will solve at least 9 of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals'
– Floris Groenendijk – Arcadis