Nature-inclusive design for the built environment

quickscan - the first four steps

We believe that nature-inclusive building leads to a healthier and more beautiful living environment, where people and animals live in harmony. Integrating vegetation, water and housing opportunities for animals, leads to more biodiversity, reduction of heat stress and numerous opportunities for people and animals.

We see opportunities to:

  • Reduce heat stress through more vegetation;
  • Keep out invasive species like oak processionary (great tit birds);
  • Let a building be an ecological bridge rather than an obstacle;
  • Maintain existing ecology;
  • Species-specific environmental benefits;
  • Symbiosis of plants and animals;
  • Retaining water in an area for longer, anticipating climate change.

We are happy to share what we have learned about contributing as architects to nature inclusivity in the built environment. Specifically how to deal with building-occupying species.

We turned our findings into roadmaps with the support of Vogelbescherming Nederland.

1. Inventory of spatial opportunities

Based on the orientation of buildings, it is possible to determine where birds, insects and mammals are likely to co-inhabit the built environment. We have developed an Animal Wind Rose to determine this during the design process of a building or area. By simply placing the (intended) building contour in the wind rose, it can be made clear per façade section which target species can be housed at which height.


Animals wind roses building-occupying bird, bat and insect species

example inventory slaughterhouse court

Example inventory for Slachthuishof project

2. Defining target species & talking to the (urban) ecologist

After taking inventory of the spatial opportunities, a discussion with an urban ecologist determines which species are actually present or may be present on site itself. These are the target species that can be included in the spatial design of the area.

waarnemingen v2

To find out for which species the current situation meets the "5Vs", consult with the urban ecologist. A relevant question for the urban ecologist is: What species occur in the area? For this question, a sighting map as seen in the image on the right can help to start the conversation. A walk through the area is also definitely recommended.

Other relevant questions are; What are the food sources in the area? Are there enough breeding sites in the area? Where are these breeding sites located? What role does the plan area/building play in the ecology of the immediate area? What role can it fulfil? (Consider, for example, a bridging function between green spaces)

3. Testing the 5Vs

For each species, there are a number of housing requirements that determine whether species occur in an area. These housing requirements can be summarised in (in dutch) 5Vs: food, reproduction, sufficient safety, connection to other populations and variation. Step 3 is to determine the 5Vs for the target species in your plan.

If the area meets the housing requirements of the bird in question then the species can be included as a target species in the spatial design.

If in doubt whether the questions have been adequately confirmed, consult the (urban) ecologist. Below is an example fill-in for a 5Vs table for the swift.

toetsen aan de 5V's

Example fill-in for a 5Vs table for the swift

4. Spatial requirements

Next is to determine the spatial housing requirements for the different target species. Each bird has specific spatial requirements for the nest box and the hole to enter the bird box (see figure)

Other spatial requirements when it comes to nest boxes:

- Number (in groups or solitary)

- Environment (shelter/vegetation/water/insects/light)

- Distance from windows and neighbours

- Species-specific requirements (e.g. house swallow likes to nest near birthplace)

(Source BNI Housing requirements birds and bats)

ruimtelijke eisen


Once the spatial requirements for the housing have been determined, a strategy can be chosen on how the housing relates to the architecture. Determine whether the housing is hidden in the architecture, is part of the architecture or, on the contrary, is a standout of the architecture.

voorbeeld toepassingen

Applications: hidden in architecture; part of architecture; standout

The fifth facade

Besides the façade, the roof also offers opportunities for nature-inclusive construction. A green roof can contribute by storing water, reducing the urban heat island effect and increasing biodiversity. Examples of green roofs are the sedum roof, grass and herb roof, energy roof, green roof garden and retention roof, all with their own benefits.
There is also the nature roof and the brown roof where increasing local biodiversity is key.

Let's work together!

Nature-inclusive building is relatively young and unknown in architecture, but it can have a tremendous impact on the quality of life in our cities. We are therefore happy to share our insights (acknowledgement of name is appreciated), so that colleagues working on this can share suggestions and new insights.

Fascinated? Suggestion? Mail us: