“Nature-based solutions” is a term given to design solutions that are based on natural principles. These solutions help societies address problems from urban city scale to individual houses, in a sustainable way. They use or enhance existing natural procedures in the region, and Nature supports the actions.

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Here are ten examples where Nature-based sustainable solutions were used for cost-cutting in architecture:

MASTERPLANS

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1. Copenhagen Strategic Flood Masterplan

Location: Copenhagen, Denmark
Year of completion: 2014
Architects: Ramboll Studio, Dreiseitl

A cloudburst took place in Copenhagen in the year 2011. 150mm of rainfall left the city inundated with water that reached a height of up to 1 meter. The city turned towards a blue-green masterplan to combat future flooding, which integrated climate adaptation solutions and existing grey infrastructure. A significant difference between the new and old masterplans was the strategy to relook at Lake Sankt Jørgens. The new masterplan reduced the total lake level from +5.8m to +2.8m, which gave rise to new 40,000m³-cloudburst storage. The development of lakefront allowed people to access an otherwise abandoned area. A 2.5m diameter tunnel was built to flush the water from overflowing lake into a nearby harbor. This strategic masterplan safeguards Copenhagen from flooding while providing a high-quality urban environment.

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Copenhagen Strategic Flood Masterplan ©Atelier Dreiseitl
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Copenhagen Strategic Flood Masterplan ©Atelier Dreiseitl
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Copenhagen Strategic Flood Masterplan ©Atelier Dreiseitl

2. Sponge Cities

Location: Wuhan, Xiamen, Kunshan in China
Year of completion: Ongoing
Developers: Chinese government

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A Sponge City is a city envisioned to act as a sponge to rainwater that allows any water to be absorbed and filtered through the ground. The water then reaches urban aquifers and increases the water level. It allows the inhabitants to extract water through urban wells that can be easily treated and used for city water supply. For the sponge city to function to its full potential, the urban region consists of continuous open green spaces, porous landscapes, and water recycling techniques. Ponds, permeable roads, filtration pools, and stormwater infiltration are a few nature-based principles used in the design. The advantages of such sponge cities are the availability of cleaner groundwater, reduced risk of floods, a lower burden on existing drainage systems, and enriched biodiversity. The city also offers healthier recreational spaces for the city to function.

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Sponge cities ©www.worldfuturecouncil.org
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Sponge cities ©www.theguardian.com
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Sponge cities ©www.theguardian.com

3. Groene Loper

Location: Maastricht, Netherlands
Year of completion: 2018
Developer: National Department of Public Works

The national motorway leading to Maastricht splits into two, creating a tunnel and a path above, at the city’s periphery. Local traffic is rerouted into the tunnel, and the path is converted into a meandering green corridor, called the Groene Loper. The corridor runs from north to south of the city, with 2,000 trees, a pedestrian walkway, and a cyclist path. The green cover improved the ecological and recreational value of the land significantly, along with providing a better life for the people in the city.

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Groene Loper ©www.west8.com
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Groene Loper ©www.west8.com

4. Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park

Location: London, England
Year of completion: 2015
Architects: EDAW consortium

Initially planned for the 2012 Olympics, the park weaves a vibrant area in the heart of East London. It allows users to work, study, play, and visit various destinations that include parklands, playgrounds, and waterways. The park was based on four main environmental themes – Energy Conservation, Carbon Reduction, Waste Management, and Water Conservation. The community gardens are well equipped with green roofs, solar panels, and rainwater harvesting. 

The park was also aimed at improving poor soil and water conditions in the area. With an increase in biodiversity, the park also plays a vital role in carbon sequestration and improving the overall quality of life. The risk of floods in the city has reduced remarkably due to the nature-based solutions used in the park. It has reduced the need to invest in grey infrastructure to avoid flooding and energy production.

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Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park © The New York Times
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Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park © Hargreaves Jones
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Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park © Hargreaves Jones

5. Stuttgart green ventilation corridor

Location: Stuttgart, Germany
Year of completion: 2014
Developers: Office for Urban Renewal

Stuttgart’s location is such that due to its mild climate, low wind speeds, and substantial industrial activity, it is prone to poor air quality. Hence, based on the climatic factors and population in the city, the municipality drafted a new strategy. A substantial barrier of vegetation was created around the development, and connected green spaces were placed to facilitate air exchange. Valleys that served as a source for clean air were cordoned off to allow clear passage of air. All the trees with a trunk circumference of 80 cm or more were protected with a preservation order. These Nature-based solutions helped mitigate the urban heat island effect and led to increased biodiversity and carbon sequestration.

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Stuttgart green ventilation corridor ©www.panorama.solutions.com
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Stuttgart green ventilation corridor ©www.panorama.solutions.com
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Stuttgart green ventilation corridor ©www.climate-adapt.eea.europa.eu

INDIVIDUAL PROJECTS

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6. Bosco Verticale

Location: Milan, Italy
Year of completion: 2014
Architects: Boeri Studio

The Vertical Forest is based on replacing a conventional facade with a living, breathing one. The project consists of two towers, providing a home to around 800 trees and thousands of plants. This screen of vegetation acts as a climatic barrier filtering sunlight and helps with carbon sequestration. A large amount of green cover attracts a plethora of fauna, which in turn forms an ecosystem. The microclimate created around the liveable space leads to environmental sustainability and reduces the operational cost of running the building.

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Bosco Verticale ©Archdaily – Paolo Rosselli
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Bosco Verticale ©Archdaily – Paolo Rosselli
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Bosco Verticale ©Archdaily – Paolo Rosselli

7. One Central Park

Location: Sydney
Year of completion: 2013
Architect: Jean Nouvel

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The facade of one of the high-rise buildings in the Chippendale forms a lush green new-age canopy. The public park makes use of modular trellis and is home to over 250 species of Australian flora. The variety in the collection changes hues through the seasons, inducing a dynamic facade that comes to life. 

The central park’s garden spreads on a 64,000 sq m land and provides a comfortable public space and hosts an open-air cinema, occasional markets, and music festivals. The combined effect of green cover and the green facade has led to improved air quality, reducing the necessity of artificial air conditioning. It has also helped in restoring the biodiversity in the region and has provided an added advantage of good aesthetics to the building.

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One Central Park ©Archdaily – Murray Fredericks
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One Central Park ©Archdaily – Murray Fredericks
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One Central Park ©Archdaily – Murray Fredericks

8. The Algae House

Location: Hamburg, Germany
Year of completion: 2013
Architect: Arup

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The Algae House incorporates living algae in its design, making it the world’s first “bioreactor facade.” The building’s one side of elevation consists of large glass panels, which hosts tiny, growing algae. A continuous supply of nutrients and carbon dioxide is provided through a thin sheet of water that runs through the building’s surface. The algae benefit the building in two ways – by filtering harsh sunlight in summers and by providing a source for biogas. When enough algae are available, it is harvested and used as biogas to be supplied to the building.

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The Algae House ©www.dezeen.com
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The Algae House ©www.dezeen.com
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The Algae House ©www.niggli.ch/

9. FPT University

Location: Ho Chi Minh, China
Year of completion: Ongoing
Architect: Vo Trong Nghia architects

The design is based on providing a sustainable environment. It takes into consideration the well-being of students and the staff. The project is characterized by large green spaces, ranging from tree-covered rooftops and balconies to plant-filled courtyards. The form is inspired by a mountainous landscape and has a central courtyard around which functions are staggered. The vegetation starts from this central space and extends into circulation spaces, walkways, and balconies. The outdoor garden also acts as a visual barrier and screens the courtyard from roads. The use of green reduces the building’s carbon footprint and mitigates the need for air conditioning.

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FPT University ©www.designboom.com
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FPT University ©www.designboom.com
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FPT University ©www.designboom.com

CITY POLICY

10. Living Roof and Walls Policy

Location: London, England
Year of execution: 2008
Developers: London Plan, Deputy Mayor of London

The green roof policy urged citizens to create vegetated rooftops with terraces and gardens. The design could lead to accessible roof space, improvements in building resilience, and in-house food growing practices. The policy aimed to improve the buildings’ thermal performance, which led to less investment and dependency on external energy sources. It would also reduce the urban heat island effect, lead to sustainable urban drainage systems, and aid in energy efficiency. Ten years later, in 2019, the policy was termed as a success with green roofs covering a whopping 1.5 million m² in London alone.

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Living Roof and Walls Policy ©www.landscapearchitecture.org.uk/
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Living Roof and Walls Policy ©www.ansgroupglobal.com
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Living Roof and Walls Policy ©www.ansgroupglobal.com
Author

Poojitha Yathiraj is a young architect who loves to unearth stories hidden in the built fabric and weave them through literature. With an inclination to collocate art and science, she believes that architecture is more than mere walls and hopes to create meaningful spaces, both through words and bricks.

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