How much of what we know about nature in relation to our cities and architecture is real? Are we plagued by clichés and assumptions that shape our work, but in reality are ineffective tools or can lead to problems? This week we seek to answer these questions, and learn a little more about how we can best use nature in our work. To do this, we review three different scales in which we work with nature and biodiversity, observing commonly raised errors, as well as important points in the development of each scale.
Small Eden Gardens
On the most human scale, we find ourselves with the possibility of working with gardens, whether in homes, small parks, offices, or public buildings. A garden always becomes a space that gives freshness and humidity to the building, in addition to the possibilities it offers as a backdrop, contrast element, or relationship space. Common sense tells us that, in the case of designing one of these gardens, the flora – and the fauna – that we will use must be local. This is so to avoid creating problems between different species, as well as the security that comes with working with species that will not have problems living in those places.
We do not usually consider the impact that the design of a good garden can have on the urban environment, even if it is the small garden of a home. We have to be aware that this garden becomes the potential home of future animal species. Birds, rodents, insects, small reptiles…. Everyone becomes a potential tenant, and everyone helps maintain the biodiversity of the place. It is important not to want to get rid of any of these animals or plants, because if any of them are missing, we can seriously damage the balance of this urban nature. It is also important not to use invasive species for the same reason. Thus, if we create complex and “indigenous” gardens, we are helping to promote life.
In this case, we zoom in to see how we can work with nature in the interior of our cities. It was usually taken for granted that a green corridor would be understood as a series of streets that enjoyed a dense wooded area. However, this idea could not be further from the truth. A true green corridor should not be defined as an area with abundant vegetation. A green corridor must be able to distribute and communicate different green spaces in the city. This communication allows the different species – be they flora or fauna – to move between the different spaces, thus promoting greater biodiversity in the city. On the one hand, to generate as closed a cycle as possible for the species that inhabit these areas, so that it is much easier for them to survive on their own. This generates cities that coexist better with nature, softening the impact of them, and offering us spaces with more pleasant temperatures, and that have a higher quality than those of our hard squares.
Green city corridors can also help us to improve pedestrian connections or public transportation. Thus, different parks are connected through this corridor, which is equipped with an infrastructure that allows the movement of people, and serves as a base for nature, in addition to generating interesting areas of stagnation. The result is a more complex city, respectful with the environment, pleasant and beautiful.
We must be critical and avoid simple solutions where trees are simply planted to soften the harsh appearance of our streets. There may be cases where such overplantation of trees can cause problems for other flora or fauna, just as invasive species cause problems for native species. Thus, when selecting the biodiversity of the site, it is as simple as stopping to observe, and choosing what already exists. Neither add nor remove: Repeat.
Breaking down barriers: The paths of our cities
Without necessarily changing the scale, we can meet other corridors that have a very different entity. These are the corridors that are in contact with masses of still unspoiled nature, and that will suffer from the action of man. Other cases may be those that appear when a large mass of nature is separated, in two smaller areas, after a large communication infrastructure has been built, such as a road or a railway line.
The key is still to maintain the biodiversity of the area, the difficulty lies in the complexity of maintaining the pre-existing nature. The concept of “Ecotone” appears to help us. This term is defined as the area where two ecosystems relate and interact. When we look at nature, we see that when there is an encounter between two ecosystems, there is no abrupt change between them, but that part of the species of one ecosystem, and part of the species of the other ecosystem, coexist in an area. It is also important to understand that, depending on the ecosystem, this distance of relationship that is the Ecotone varies. We can have an ecosystem that needs a 30m and a 50m ecoton. In this case, the distance we should project with is the one that limits us the most: 50m.
Returning to the cases of work, if we find ourselves in the situation where we are going to project a new area to be developed for a city, on a virgin natural mass, the ideal thing to do is to try to maintain the connection between the natural borders. This serves as a basis for generating natural networks in future expansions, in addition to softening the impact that the intervention may have on native flora and fauna. In the case of roads that separate natural masses, the solution is to allow permeable points, where a series of safety and comfort guidelines must be met with the species that must use this corridor. It is not enough to open a small bridge under the road, it is necessary to know the needs of each species, and to work according to these limitations, deciding if you want to make a pass exclusively for animals, or if it can also help the passage of plant species.
If anything is clear after this brief review, it is the importance that nature can and should acquire in our projects, which is not just a backdrop or stage on which to put architecture. Understanding what that means, and working with it accordingly, consulting experts if necessary, will lead us to generate more interesting and sustainable cities, making us feel better about doing much more complex and responsible work.