This week, Senior Landscape Architect Noor Itrakjy discusses nature-based solutions, and how they need to be integrated earlier into project design briefs, in order to combat climate challenges.

“If we don’t change the way we think, act, and design now, and prioritise nature-based solutions and habitat enhancement, the world as we know it will be lost forever.”

Globally, the horrific effects of climate change and biodiversity loss are becoming increasingly evident. People across the world are demanding action, and slowly but surely, governments are responding.

As a landscape architect, I’m passionate about providing an integrated and holistic view when designing, managing and planning for resilient spaces.  I push to include nature-based solutions on all the projects I’m involved in. But what are nature-based solutions, and what value do they bring in terms of climate resilience?

Nature-based solutions (NbS), as defined by Oxford University, involve working with nature to address societal challenges, providing benefits for both human wellbeing and biodiversity. Specifically, they are actions that involve the protectionrestoration or management of natural and semi-natural ecosystems; the sustainable management of aquatic systems and working lands such as croplands or timberlands; or the creation of novel ecosystems in and around cities.

It’s really important to drive change and extend nature-based solutions through every stage of the planning and design process, at every scale of development.  Over the last decade, there’s been a step change in policy initiatives pushing for green infrastructure, biodiversity net gain and natural capital.

Despite these policy drivers, however, there is still more that needs to be done to integrate nature-based solutions into our projects, informing clients and ultimately helping to restore a fractured planet.

Value engineering exercises often take place on projects; clients will ask us to reduce the number of trees, change specifications of green roofs, and remove planters. We must challenge these exercises, and work with clients to resolve cost concerns, developing low-maintenance solutions which do not compromise the original design intent, but enhance ecology, connect green corridors, and carefully integrate Sustainable Urban Drainage (SuD’S). We must embrace the challenge and use our energy to enthuse clients to include urban solutions such as rain gardens, street trees, green roofs and walls. We need to educate clients in the development of green spaces, and how they can help urban areas adapt to climate change impacts, such as flooding events and heatwaves, and tackle socio-environmental challenges such as poor air quality, biodiversity loss and human health and wellbeing.

At HLM, we’re responding positively to the climate emergency. From a landscape perspective, all our projects carry out the Urban Greening Factor (UGF) This is a tool that evaluates and quantifies the amount and quality of urban greeningthat a site provides, to inform decisions about levels of greening needed in schemes. The UGF is set out in Policy G5 of The London Plan, 2021, and is intended to be integrated at initial design stages of planning, with the aimto increase green cover through all developments. The UGF tool is also a referenced metric in the RIBA Sustainable Outcomes Guide, 2019.

We showcased our expertise in UGF, Biodiversity Net Gain and Natural Capital on the Circular Twin research and development project, a real-time redesign of an existing, recently constructed school. The project innovates a new process by which construction projects are designed and delivered with ambitious whole-life targets for embodied carbon and operational energy use.

The cross-discipline collaboration with Morgan Sindall and other partners puts carbon before capex. The aim is to find a more sustainable way of building for the industry, utilising the full potential of digital twinning and BIM, against the same functional requirements informing contemporary UK school design. By applying lessons learnt from past projects, challenging what constitutes business as usual for all project stakeholders, and enabling vertical collaboration through the supply chain, we have unearthed the potential for transformative approaches in the design and build process.

The Landscape team added value by:

  • Producing an Urban Greening Factor score on the baseline case, refining of baseline and radical alternative scenarios. We identified that just by relaxing the mowing regime and creating meadows, we can increase the UGF significantly.
  • Supporting on a Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) calculation of the Urban Greening Factor scenarios (authored by the ecologists);
  • Inputting into qualitative research into carbon sequestration;
  • Inputting into qualitative research into Natural Capital; and
  • Inputting into a comprehensive materials system comparison, seeking to find the most sustainable, innovative materials for hard landscaping.

The collaborative team utilised Morgan Sindall’s in-house calculation tool CarboniCa, which uses the latest RICS standards on whole life carbon assessment to measure the whole life carbon of our built environment assets. CarboniCa gave us the power to make informed real-time judgement-based design and procurement decisions with our supply chain, enabling us to find the silver-lining between the inherent cost-carbon trade off.

This project realised the dream of landscape architects being appointed at the initial design stages of a project – this needs to be extended to all projects. While our profession can play a role in both mitigation and adaptation, landscape architecture’s real strength is its ability to take an integrated, holistic approach. Landscape professionals can offer an alternative way, not only of tackling specific climatic challenges head on, but realising multiple secondary benefits at the same time, balancing outcomes for people and nature.

We need to do more now with regards to re-greening and re-wilding. I’m passionate about pushing those ideas forwards with clients and making a step change in the industry, exploring new avenues and having fun along the way. I’m keen for everyone in our team to join this journey; it needs to be at every project stage, to ensure that projects are successfully designed with nature in mind.

As landscape professionals, we’re perfectly aligned to create nature-based solutions that not only reduce carbon, but are also more resilient to climate risks. There’s an exciting future ahead for the landscape profession, and I am committed to driving this forward at HLM.

If we don’t change the way we think, act, and design now, and prioritise nature-based solutions and habitat enhancement, the world as we know it will be lost forever.

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