The recent storms that battered southern England may become increasingly frequent. In order to cope we need to move from a human centric view of design towards co-habitation between the environment and humanity
As the South of England is battered by the worst storm in 25 years causing wide spread disruption with power shortages and fallen trees, the question is whether we are set to see more storms like this due to climate change and if so can we learn to work with nature to create more resilience cities?
There is no doubt that there is increasing understanding within industry and society that the environment is a substantial valuable resource that should be respected and incorporated into our built environment. Further to this is the need to consider the resources that are used and the ecological footprint of towns and cities. Though we have begun to reduce waste and cut carbon a step change is needed if cities are to become living systems to support the population and adapt to their needs. More focus is need on water, biodiversity, food and how we design and manage these aspects in the built environment.
The principles of ecological engineering may enable us to go beyond the current focus of sustainability on and look at adaptation. Ecological engineering brings together ecology and engineering, and combines the basic principles from both sectors. It also incorporates economics and natural sciences to design and use ecosystems as the interface between technology and the environment (Gnanakan, 2012).
“The key difference from the current approach is to move away from a human centric design towards a co-habitation between the environment and humans.”
One of the fundamental principles of ecological engineering is that it adopts a systems approach to the design of developments and places. The key difference from the current approach is to move away from a human centric design towards a co-habitation between the environment and humans. Through this approach a healthy environment can be achieved, which will help to sustain human life and help improve quality of life through increased access to open space, improved air quality, reduction in the urban heat island (UHI), reduction in waste and increased biodiversity.
Ecosystems are complex systems, much like cites. It is the ability of the ecosystems to change, adapt and grow according to forcing factors and internal changes that is most important. The principle of creating flexible networks with the potential to adapt to new situations is an approach that is needed for urban environments. This will enable them to minimise the impact of future extremes in climate that result in overheating, flooding, drought and subsistence.
Engineering is key to this as it provides the technological solutions that are needed now and in the future for developing more adaptive living environment. As we experienced by the recent storm nature is a powerful force that we have no control over but instead of resisting it we should look to it to nature to provide us with solutions for our cities.
Louise chairs the 2025 Group and sits on the Construction Industry Leadership Council