New centre aims to put nature at the heart of urban design

Professor James Hitchmough speaks at the launch event on 8 March

A new research centre that aims to bring a unique multi-disciplinary approach to ecologically-informed urban design and planning launched yesterday (8 March 2017).

The Centre for Designed Ecology, based in the University of Sheffield’s Department of Landscape, aims to establish the concept of ‘designed ecology’ as the basis for using nature-based solutions to re-shape urban development and promote ecological function and human well-being.

The launch event featured three keynote speakers – Chris Baines, Catharine Ward Thompson and Wolfgang Buttress – chosen to reflect the elements of nature, people and art within the concept of Designed Ecology.

Naturalist Chris Baines reflected – from both personal and professional perspectives – on the importance of urban wildlife. Catharine Ward Thompson, Professor of Landscape Architecture at the Edinburgh School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture, examined the wide-ranging health benefits of green spaces. Artist Wolfgang Buttress – known for his 17-metre high Hive installation at the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew – discussed the role of his work as an artist in communicating public messages about the fundamental importance of nature.

Designed Ecology is a research-informed, evidence-led, and design-centred approach to applying ecological ideas and concepts to create healthy cities and livable places. It takes a fresh new perspective on ‘Green Infrastructure’, combining a focus on urban social, environmental and economic sustainability, with a core concern with aesthetic quality, human satisfaction, and richness of experience. Integrating viewpoints and insights from pure science, social science, arts and humanities, and engineering, the Centre for Designed Ecology aims to place the advancement and promotion of richly vegetated urban environments at all scales and contexts as the key to sustainable urban futures.

Professor Chris Baines Professor Catherine Ward Thompson Wolfgang Buttress

The Centre, which is directed by Professor Nigel Dunnett - well known with colleague Professor James Hitchmough for innovative approaches to urban greening, and for the internationally-renowned landscapes at the 2012 London Olympic Park – draws together experts across research and industry.

As well as generating new knowledge and information, being a focus for the application of theoretical ideas and concepts in practice, and influencing policy, the Centre will also provide consultancy. The CfDE website profiles research projects and case studies that incorporate and highlight the concept of Designed Ecology.

Dr Audrey Gerber, coordinator of the Centre for Designed Ecology says that designed ecology aims to bring a whole new perspective to green infrastructure and the delivery of ecosystem services in cities – one that takes full account of the highly modified urban environment, ongoing global environmental change, and the changing needs of our diverse urban communities.

Director of the Centre for Designed Ecology Professor Nigel Dunnett said: “the Centre for Designed Ecology addresses the imperative for a new approach to creating richly vegetated, ecologically functioning urban environments that create healthy cities and liveable places. The twin challenges of climate change and rapidly increasing urbanization call for innovative, novel and radical new approaches to urban greening. In order to succeed on a much wider scale than is currently the case, successful urban nature-based solutions need to work on a technical level, to deliver the wide range of environmental benefits that are associated with vegetation and biodiversity in cities. But, crucially, they must also work at a social and human level, creating beautiful places that meet the needs of individuals and communities.”

The contribution that plants make to people’s health and wellbeing is well documented, and research is now extending the scope to target how quality and quantity of greenspace can have a greater impact on urban populations.

The Centre for Designed Ecology has been created to bring together two essential elements: the social and the technical, to investigate, apply and promote new directions for ecological ideas and concepts in the urban landscapes of the future. Members of the centre are a multidisciplinary team including University of Sheffield academics the Department of Landscape, Civil and Structural Engineering, APS and Urban planning.

For more information and to discuss potential collaborations with the Centre for Designed Ecology, please contact Dr Audrey Gerber.