Rising sea levels, melting glaciers: the effects of climate change are becoming increasingly visible around the globe. And they are irreversible. The publication Building with Nature: Creating, implementing and upscaling Nature-based Solutions, edited by Matthijs Bouw and Erik van Eekelen, showcases projects that harness natural forces to counter the effects.
For engineers, scientists and landscape architects all around the world, climate change and sea level rise represent increasingly crucial issues. Natural dynamics are intensifying towards the extremes, necessitating the constant maintenance and improvement of traditional coastline protection systems, which mainly function to counter those processes. In recent years there has been a shift in approach to flood resiliency and land protection. We now devise strategies to adapt interventions to natural dynamics instead of counteracting them, thereby meeting long-term objectives for multiple disciplines.
The book Building with Nature: Creating, implementing and upscaling Nature-based Solutions illustrates how this shift in approach is applied in the real world. It presents in a clear and comparable way many interventions on coastal areas, which have been implemented by EcoShape, a consortium of contractors, engineering firms, research institutes, NGOs and governmental authorities. Over the last decade, EcoShape has conceptualized, implemented and analysed ‘Building with Nature’ projects in several countries, demonstrating not only a wide variety of approaches to flooding problems but also the capacity to build nature-based solutions, create sustainable flood protection systems, and cultivate resilient and ecologically rich living and working environments. It is therefore the ideal approach to climate change adaptation and mitigation.
Building with Nature is edited by Erik van Eekelen and Matthijs Bouw, programme manager of EcoShape and founder of ONE Architecture design office respectively. The elaboration of this book involved many parties, from scientists and professors to engineers and architects. The wide range of disciplines among the contributors has yielded a remarkable and interesting book that explains complex issues such as erosion and sedimentation patterns and tidal dynamics, and explains how to make use of them. It includes interviews with scientists and features photographs and statistics to show how efficient the shift in approach is in achieving goals for people, planet and profit.
The book first explains what the ‘Building with Nature’ approach is in general terms and, through a five-step development strategy, what mindset is required to develop interventions of this kind. It starts by understanding the system from physical, ecological and societal points of view. One can then identify alternatives that ‘harness nature proactively to make optimal use of value generating processes’ while promoting trans-disciplinarity. Each alternative is then evaluated and tested in control areas to assess its potential, to refine the solution and to prepare for implementation on a large scale.
One project illustrated in this book clearly explains what the ‘Building with Nature’ concept means and what specific approach is intended: the Sand Motor, located off the coast near The Hague in the Netherlands. For hundreds of years we have been protecting our coasts by mitigating their erosion through nourishment that reinforces beaches and dikes. Such interventions are always temporary because wave and tidal action distributes sediment along the shoreline, resulting not only in a constant decrease in efficiency but also in the disruption of local ecosystems. By analysing and understanding wave and tidal action as long patterns of erosion and accretion, one can deploy the ‘Building with Nature’ approach to exploit natural dynamics and to strategically disperse sediment that is mega-nourishing. The dispersion stimulates dune formation, reduces landscape disturbance, creates new ecosystems and contributes to the reinforcement of recreational networks. Through wave and tidal action, the sediment from the mega-nourishment is redistributed over decades along the shoreline, supporting a more natural landscape development. It appears clear that interventions of this kind are mostly specific and strictly bound to characteristics present in the project area. The book acknowledges these features in its six main chapters: Sandy Coasts (A), Muddy Coasts (B), Lowland Lakes (C), Rivers and Estuaries (D), Cities (E) and Ports (F).
Every chapter opens with a fictional perspectival section of the landscape to illuminate the concepts of ‘Building with Nature’ that could be applied in that particular area. Each concept is then explained with examples and photos. The same section is drawn in various diagrammatic ways to highlight particular features of the area. Ecological benefits are illustrated in terms of biodiversity, dynamics and area developments, leading to an analysis of what the area represents for people as a place to live, work and visit. By considering resource flows not only in terms of natural dynamics but also in terms of society, policy development and stakeholder and government involvement, the authors offer a comprehensive overview of the many intertwining aspects affecting that location. The subsequent solutions are schematized efficiently to explain the evolution of the intervention. Each solution is supported by scientific evidence, references and a list of locations. The chapters end with interviews with various experts, from university professors and engineers to members of community groups. The wide range of countries in which the projects are located and the ethnicities involved show how ‘Building with Nature’ should include both decision makers and local people.
The main chapters are structured in the same way, making the book easy to understand and the projects easy to compare with one another, since the same style of representation is maintained throughout. The book ends with an experience-based schematic overview of stakeholder involvement and with a description of successful interventions linked to the chapters previously presented.
As a landscape architect, I was surprised by the clarity of the topics addressed in this book. It should certainly be of great help in advancing the paradigm shift on flood protection not only among decision makers, designers and engineers but also among students. The structure of the book is direct and efficient, and the form of presentation, with photos, diagrams and images, is clear and effective. The result is a complete range of interventions, all possessing unique qualities, which are easy to understand even where they concern complicated topics. They allow the reader to comprehend issues on a scientific level through data, diagrams and empirical evidence, and on a human level through interviews, resulting in a multifaceted overview of ‘Building with Nature’ and its implementation on the ground.
I honestly wish this book had been published some years ago, because it would have been extremely useful to me in elaborating my master thesis, since I faced very similar topics and issues of representation. I have no doubt that Building with Nature: Creating, implementing and upscaling Nature-based Solutions will become a standard reference work for future developments. The way it structures, illustrates and explains these issues allows them to be understood by professionals from various disciplines as well as by students from various cultures and backgrounds.