WILDPOINTS: urban biodiversity network


Jacques Abelman, Celine Baumann  (celinebaumann.tumblr.com), YukaYoshida


The Wildpoints strategy creates a new form of urban green by actively seeking out new places for nature to colonize the city. The end result of found nature and design interventions adds up to an urban biodiversity network.

Discovering Wildpoints

The small presence of uninvited nature in the city – where wild grasses and plants come up through the cracks, providing food and shelter for insects, birds, and other small urban animals, are almost never created intentionally. They spring up at construction sites in disturbed soil, in quiet alleys where wind-borne seeds settle and thrive between bricks, or under bridges where mosses and ferns find the humidity and darkness they need.

These sites are reservoirs of genetic diversity as well as habitats for uncounted species. They are also moments of unexpected beauty that could become a new form of “wild” garden, to provide visual pleasure in otherwise sterile and mineral urban environments.  The Wildpoints concept augments the way nature already infiltrates the urban fabric by studying and replicating nature’s own strategies, augmenting the sites where nature can take hold through specific design interventions.  The result is an urban biodiversity network of micro-habitats that adds a living layer to the city.

 What is biodiversity in the city?

Biodiversity can have many interpretations. Three key elements of biodiversity are species diversity, ecosystem diversity, and genetic diversity. For instance, the green lawns of city parks or planters filled with one or two species of decorative plants are not biodiverse. For biodiversity to occur and become part of a larger ecosystem network in a given location, to actually become vital nature, we must look farther than traditional conceptions of green in the city.

We define biodiversity in the city as the network of urban biotopes where indigenous species of plants and animals thrive, and natural ecological processes occur with or without the influence of humans. We propose that by carefully examining the places where nature colonizes the city, in urban cracks and out of the way places, we can amplify nature’s potential to be present in the city. The accumulation of many small zones that can be considered pocket parks establishes a network through which an ecological web of relationships can be established.

4 New Biotopes for Urban Sites

 The foundation of the Wildpoints concept uses biomimicry as a design strategy. Biomimicry is the examination of structures and processes in nature in order to find inspiration for solving human problems. In this case the first part of the Wildpoints strategy is looking for places where nature is already colonizing locations in the city, and creating species richness and diversity with no help from humans. The second step is finding other locations with similar conditions but where nature is unable to take hold. The design interventions provides a growth substrate which is modular in nature, upon which plant growth can occur. Our initial research into exisiting Wildpoints shows four primary potential sorts of new urban biotopes.

The Wildpoints strategy intervenes in two ways to create a biodiversity network.

First, wild sites where local plants and animals are thriving and creating spontaneous habitats are located and researched to understand what conditions exist there to allow nature to colonize the city.

Second, other sites where similar conditions exist but where plants and animals cannot take hold are located. Lightweight natural fiber panels are placed on façades, on hard surfaces, or floated in the water and hold a layer of soil that will seeds to cling and germinate. The correct plants and seeds can be brought in from the wild sites in the city, and augmented with other indigenous species.

The lightweight modular panels can be cut and assembled in a variety of patterns. After several seasons the panels will be covered with vegetation that requires no maintenance, creating habitats for insects, birds, and other small animals.

Results and Benefits

The biodiversity network of found and new Wildpoints allows insects, birds, and small animal species to establish themselves in micro-habitats across the city. Because the territories of birds and animals will be extended through the network, as well as seeds being transported by animal and wind, the Wildpoints will continue to evolve in richness.

This new living urban layer will also have additional functions. Floating plants will play a role in keeping waterways clean. Climbing green will absorb rainwater and help to cool buildings. The accumulated affect of vegetation surfaces will help remove particulate pollution from the air, as well as producing oxygen and acting as a carbon sink.

For humans, the Wildpoint network will be a new way to experience nature in the city. The web of life and ecological cycles will gain a new visibility. Abandoned lots will give way to colorful meadow patches. Unused infrastructure and building surfaces will feature beautiful green surprises around unexpected corners, teaching, relaxing, and delighting.








beating blue heart

Ecologically Emergent Leisure Landscapes

One of the remarkable characteristics of The Netherlands, especially from the foreigner’s point of view, is the amount of carefully protected open green space surrounding densely populated urban centers. The Dutch are extremely keen on verdant fields with placidly grazing cows and sheep always being within a bike ride away from the city, and this is true in most cases. However, as space becomes an ever more precious commodity, the preserved status of these green zones is being called into question. In many cases these peri-urban areas are carefully managed by several partners in order to preserve their rural appearance, yet they no longer function as viable agricultural spaces for a variety reasons. In some areas soil has been too contaminated by dioxins, pcb’s, and other pollutants to allow food production. In other areas it is no longer economically viable. An enormous amount of energy and coordination is necessary for the maintenance of these spaces which appear to be agricultural but are in fact a kind of park landscape reminding inhabitants of their farming origins. As urban populations increase and diversify what future role will these once vital farmlands play?

The Krabbeplas initiative set out to investigate if these green zones could be “put back to work.” The task of the designers was to investigate meaningful re-purposing of place. The EELLs project point of departure was the desire to immerse visitors in the sensory pleasures nature has to offer by creating new outdoor leisure space, a lounge-in-a-field that creates opportunities to be in touch with sights, sounds, and smells of nature at close range as well as offering a window onto ecological cycles. The project was driven by the use of agricultural processes to create a flexible form of ecological architecture. Hay and straw from the site were stuffed into biodegradable plastic tubing and then arranged into different configurations to create temporay shelters and organic lounging spaces.

Perfect for events in the fields, the EELLs have another purpose. Once their use as outdoor furniture is complete, they can be left on site to begin another process. The straw filled tubes are soaked in water and innoculated with mushroom spores. Over the course of several weeks, the mushroom spores spread throught the straw while the bioplastics break down, bringing the growing fungi into contact with the earth. The fungi are then able to colonize the soil of the site. Studies have shown that the enzymes present in fungal mycelial networks break down complex molecules such as dioxin and pcb, metabolizing them into harmless substances. This form of bioremediation is called mycoremediation. The mycelial net, which can grow to the size of an entire forest in some species, does the work of purifying the polluted ground. The fruiting bodies it then creates that we call mushrooms remain safe to eat.

The EELLs project attempts to address new ways to enjoy agricultural green space, actively connecting users to ecological cycles and introducing the concept of bioremediation. From hay harvest to lounging and through to mushroom production and soil purification, pleasure and utility are combined in a new leisure landscape.

EELLs project featured in new book from BRACKET

from the website of  BRACKET:


Once merely understood in terms of agriculture, today information,energy, labour, and landscape, among others, can be farmed. Farming harnesses the efficiency of collectivity and community. Whether cultivating land, harvesting resources, extracting energy or delegating labor, farming reveals the interdependencies of our globalized world. Simultaneously, farming represents the local gesture, the productive landscape, and the alternative economy. The processes of farming a remutable, parametric, and efficient. From terraforming to foodsheds to crowdsourcing, farming often involves the management of the natural mediated by the technologic. Farming, beyond its most common agricultural understanding is the modification of infrastructure,urbanisms, architectures, and landscapes toward a privileging of production.

Check out the book, now available from ACTAR.

Right to Food: “Agroecology outperforms large-scale industrial farming for global food security,” says UN expert

Taken from http://www.ohchr.org the United Nations Human Rights site.

BRUSSELS (22 June 2010) – “Governments and international agencies urgently need to boost ecological farming techniques to increase food production and save the climate,” said UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Olivier De Schutter, while presenting the findings at an international meeting on agroecology held in Brussels on 21 and 22 June.

Along with 25 of the world’s most renowned experts on agroecology, the UN expert urged the international community to re-think current agricultural policies and build on the potential of agroecology.

“One year ago, Heads of States at the G20 gathering in Italy committed to mobilizing $22 billion over a period of three years to improve global food security. This was welcome news, but the most pressing issue regarding reinvestment in agriculture is not how much, but how,” Olivier De Schutter said .

“Today, most efforts are made towards large-scale investments in land – including many instances of land grabbing – and towards a ‘Green Revolution’ model to boost food production: improved seeds, chemical fertilisers and machines,” the Special Rapporteur remarked. “But scant attention has been paid to agroecological methods that have been shown to improve food production and farmers’ incomes, while at the same time protecting the soil, water, and climate.”

The widest study ever conducted on agroecological approaches (Jules Pretty, Essex University, UK) covered 286 projects in 57 developing countries, representing a total surface of 37 million hectares: the average crop yield gain was 79%. Concrete examples of ‘agroecological success stories’ abound in Africa.

In Tanzania, the Western provinces of Shinyanga and Tabora used to be known as the ‘Desert of Tanzania’. However, the use of agroforestry techniques and participatory processes allowed some 350,000 hectares of land to be rehabilitated in two decades. Profits per household rose by as much as USD 500 a year. Similar techniques are used in Malawi, where some 100,000 smallholders in 2005 benefited to some degree from the use of fertilizer trees.
“With more than a billion hungry people on the planet, and the climate disruptions ahead of us, we must rapidly scale up these sustainable techniques,” De Schutter said. “Even if it makes the task more complex, we have to find a way of addressing global hunger, climate change, and the depletion of natural resources, all at the same time. Anything short of this would be an exercise in futility.”
The experts gathering in Brussels identified the policies that could develop agroecological approaches to the scale needed to feed the world in 2050. They based their work on the experiences of countries that have pro-agroecology policies – such as Cuba or Brazil – as well as on the successful experiences from international research centres such as the World Agroforestry Center in Nairobi, and on the programmes of La Via Campesina, the transnational peasant movement, which runs agroecology training programmes.
“We can scale up these sustainable models of agriculture, and ensure that they work for the benefit of the poorest farmers. What is needed now is political will to move from successful pilot projects to nation-wide policies,” the UN Special Rapporteur said. In conclusion, he announced that he would ask the Committee on World Food Security – what should become in time the ‘Security Council’ for food security – to work during its October session on the policy levers to scale up agroecology. “This is the best option we have today. We can’t afford not to use it.”

Interview with Dennis Moet, author of Autarkische Wonen (Autonomous Living)

Dennis Moet is author of “Autarkische Wonen” and a number of other works dedicated to framing contemporary views on sustainability within urbanism and architecture. He currently works as a senior advisor on water, climate, and sustainability at ARCADIS (www.arcadis.nl.) I was recently able to ask him some questions about sustainability and urbanism in the context of the scenarios we were developing in Lab01 of the Rijksbouwmeester’s Research Labs.

A picture is worth more than a thousand words in this case, and our discussion focused on a schema Dennis recently completed in order to explain precisely his thinking on sustainability.

As a starting point in the discussion about sustainability it is crucial to communicate that it is not an add-on at the end of the design process, and is also not simply about reducing energy consumption, or using eco-friendly materials. It’s a systematic design approach that is conceptual rather than formal – a different way of thinking. It’s about flows, and connecting to them. All kinds of flows or cycles on a variety of levels and processes.

People are the living inhabitants of cities – now imagine the city as a living organism as well. Because you need food and energy inputs, so does the city.  The essence of the whole vision is here, in capturing the life of the city in ways we haven’t imagined before. In Dennis’ system there are clear inputs and outputs that relate to the technosphere and the biosphere. On that level we pretty much know what we need to do- it’s about energy, material resources, and food, essentially (this is exactly why I’ve chosen to work within landscape architecture).

This is not as straightforward as the human dimension. We animate the urban system with our myriad networks and relationships, from economics to therapeutics. What is the link between the resilience and structure of our social systems and their impact on a global scale? I’m not a systems scientist, but it would seem that urban social interdependencies heavily determine the material  flow and this opens up a new territory to explore.