The Magpie Anthology

Making Space for Wildlife

The urban world we have created for the world’s expanding population is often a poor habitat for humans, let alone biodiversity! This can and must change – and sharpish…

Something’s gone wrong. We have forgotten how to build places to live, work and play that are more than just containers to suit a budget. That’s not to say that there aren’t exhibition pieces out there purporting to be the new organic, the new aesthetic, just take a look over London’s comedy skyline!

And so at one end of the scale there are volume house builders churning out bland and dreary places that express no interest in the people who will actually live in them, and at the other, super-sterile glass and metal monsters that making absolutely clear their designers’ belief, that there is no neighbourhood of consequence until they have laid their hand upon it.

But quietly, in the academic fringes of the construction and engineering industries, a new movement is gathering, the world of nature-based solutions. How can we cure the toxic urbanity of new housing estates? By designing for people and wildlife simultaneously. How can we adapt to climate change in the places that we live and work? By merging built and natural landscapes. How can we help tackle the growing problems of isolation, anxiety and depression, personal and community wellbeing? By making wildlife encounter an everyday experience of city-living and an experience to share with others. How can we combat the collapse of biodiversity in the wider countryside? By fully utilizing the extraordinary diversity and complexity of the urban realm to create and sustain habitats for wildlife, building dense ecological networks for wildlife.

This is the realm of Artecology – rewilding our built environment in a patchwork of architectural pattern mixed with biologically favourable texture, connected across the whole volume of the city space by stepping stones of foodplant landscaping, from green roofs and walls to city parks and gardens. Sounds fanciful? It couldn’t be more practical! Here are some examples:

  • Working with a civic and business partnership In Newcastle to remake a city centre public space that had lost its identity and acquired instead a host of antisocial problems. The solution was a huge sculpted graffiti wall decorated with moss (glued on with potato paste) to create a living design that linked with new planting for colour, form and wildlife appeal. The theme of the graffiti and the garden was a small butterfly expanding its range northwards and anticipated next in Newcastle. The place is called The Gate, the butterfly The Gatekeeper, and the team of young people that made it happen became of course The Gatekeepers. It all fits!
  • Helping a school in the New Forest to build a new learning zone to Artecology principles, using small constructed habitats. Micropools moulded with folded origami patterms to create maximum surface texture for pondlife, hard landscaping perforated with designed holes and crevices for nesting solitary bees and overwintering moth pupae, sculpted gutters feeding rain gardens.
  • Sending 40 artificial rockpools to Ireland for a research project into bringing biodiversity to the urban coast, buying time for wildlife squeezed out by sea-level rise.
  • Experimenting with ‘biodust’ mixes to speed up the growth of bryophytes and lichens on concrete tiles, testing patterns and designs to see which work best at trapping aerial plankton and kickstarting small built ecosystems.

All of these projects use the simple Artecology principle of making more interesting places for people that are more useful places for wildlife, because mutual gain is the key to progress. If we can move towards an architecture and a building palette that can be safely colonized by the natural world, deepening the ecological value of the built environment, then we can patch our urban realm with biodiversity and build new networks into the city ecosystem. In doing this we will create public spaces that are designed for shared experience, that differentiate and diversify the sameness of ‘grey infrastructure’, that concentrate design effort on even the smallest things because they become functioning parts of the new biological and social network, and that offer inspiration, respite, recreation, remembrance and more to people in their daily lives.

Words: Ian Boyd

Pictures: Supplied by Artecology


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