Green roof in urban area

Building with Nature

In the UK alone it’s estimated we’ve lost half of our biodiversity since the industrial revolution. From January 2024 developers in the built environment sector will be required to increase the biodiversity of their sites by at least 10% under the new Biodiverstiy Net Gain (BNG) legislation. So, we are going to see a huge growth in the conversations about how to achieve this and hopefully in both the amount and the quality of green infrastructure in new developments. The Building with Nature (BwN) Standard can help developers surpass the planning requirements when it comes to delivering high quality green infrastructure in residential developments. This not only reduces planning uncertainty but can also help deliver wildlife enhancement and underpin nature’s recovery. Luckily we’re Building with Nature qualified and can help projects gain certification.

Vernacular materials

Vernacular materials

As technological innovation has grown, our direct connection to materials has significantly decreased, and our supply chains have lengthened – resulting in a more sizeable gap between us and feedstock and virgin materials. But is regression the new progression? The concept of vernacular materials is clearly not new, and requires knowledge of the locale – surrounding resources, local skillsets, and fabrication methods. Vernacular materials, their raw form, the way they are produced and distributed, will change dependent on what region they are being used in. 

Lo-tek by Julia Watson, published by Taschen, explores areas around the globe that still rely on the direct resources and skillsets around them to build local infrastructure in a way that is regionally sustainable – largely in areas with years of rich, Indigenous knowledge and innovation. The last few years have seen more speculative projects pop-up, and we are seeing a rise in companies that specialise or work within vernacular making and methods such as Material Cultures and Local Works. There is still a lot of learning (and un-learning) to be done to make vernacular approaches accessible to larger sites and projects in the built environment, but it’s something we will hear and see more of in 2024 as pressure regarding planetary health and our responsibilities as designers and makers increases.

SUGi pocket forest on South Bank London

Urban greening

In the current context of both the climate and nature twin crises, biodiversity and ecological restoration are going to be vital parts of the many solutions needed to hit our global targets. 

One method that’s proved to be one of the most effective, particularly in urban areas, is the Miyawaki method – developed by the Japanese botanist and plant ecology expert Professor Akira Miyawaki. On land which has been degraded by agriculture or construction, the Miyawaki method creates forest cover quickly because of careful soil preparation and strategic tree planting. Sometimes referred to as pocket forests, often they can be smaller than a tennis court, making them a great addition to densely populated urban environments. It’s believed that Miyawaki forests grow 10 times faster, are 30 times more dense and contain 100 times more biodiversity. 

SUGi Project, an NGO that are on a mission to create greener cities and urban areas, create forests in urban areas. SUGi use the Miyawaki method to deliver nearly 200 forests worldwide and have projects in the UK and further afield across six continents. Their inclusive approach to afforestation has benefits on biodiversity, carbon removal, and also local communities.


Repair is everywhere

In her 2023 book, Broken: Mending and Repair in a Throwaway World published by Ludion, Katie Treggiden explores whether repair is the future of design. Over the last year, repair really does seem to be everywhere. From Sojo (a clothing alterations and repairs start-up) partnering with some of fashion’s biggest names such as GANNI and Selfridges, to the likes of TOAST launching their own collection of repaired garments, to the hundreds of repair cafes opening across the UK and the world. 

The right to repair movement – advocating that products should be easy to repair – had huge wins in the EU and the US in 2023, with the EU Parliament adopting right to repair laws with a large majority. The laws aim to increase incentives for a circular economy by making repair a more attractive option than buying new. We hope to see a ripple effect where repair and other circular principles are baked into design practices from the very beginning. And we think it’s safe to say that for 2024 and beyond, repair is here to stay.

Beach and cliffs

Embracing chaos

Nature can be messy and chaotic. And yet, we as humans seek to bring order to this chaos through neat solutions and measurable changes that improve our lives. A few months back at this year’s London Build Expo this came up in conversation: nature is messy, unpredictable, and often imperfect. So, how can we best represent the chaos and unpredictability of life as something to celebrate rather than mitigate?

We see the need for this balance in our design practice too. We often get asked about the quantitative data that proves that a building or space is more healthy, inclusive or sustainable. And sometimes this quantitative data does exist. Reflecting on one of our workplace projects in particular, we were reminded that we can’t always rely on quantitative data to prove a point. This workplace had relatively good temperature, humidity levels, lighting, and air quality – yet when we spoke to the occupants they didn’t want to be there, didn’t feel it represented their values as an organisation, they struggled to focus and felt it lacked space to socialise and come together. For us, this case study acts as a good reminder that not all success measures are measurable. Humans, much like nature, are also messy, chaotic and unpredictable at times. Which is why a qualitative, human-centred and, ultimately, life-centred approach to design is so important.