NATUREHOOD: Biodiversity in the Backyard
KoozArch presents a series of extracts from the book 'Mission Neighbourhood – (Re)forming Communities', which comprises a body of research stemming from the 2022 edition of the Oslo Architecture Triennale. In this second excerpt, we share some highlights from the chapter 'Naturehood.'

The second in our series of extracts from the book Mission Neighbourhood – (Re)forming Communities, edited by Christian Pagh and Thomas Cook, the chapter 'Naturehood' sees several designers and practitioners adding critical perspectives to the concept of neighbourhoods as a scale and horizon for urban thinking, planning and management.

The built environment is one of the major sources of both CO2 emissions and loss of biodiversity. The future of cities must include nature in new forms and take the needs of other species seriously. Indeed, it might even be time to rethink what we mean by ‘urban’. Moving from today’s human-centred planning models to a realistic coexistence with nature is not only necessary for our survival as a species — it can also be the beginning of new, fairer neighbourhoods and local communities of care.

In this chapter, we look at environmentally sustainable urban development and how to support and develop biodiversity, circularity and food production on a neighbourhood scale. In order to succeed with a bigger green transformation, natural qualities must be embedded in our urban environment. Employing the made-up concept of nature + hood — naturehood — we point to the urgent need to consider how nature relates to our social and urban fabric, notably on a neighbourhood scale.

FROM GREEN TO GREENER. The City of Oslo works systematically to make nature an integral part of the urban experience. Here from the Ammerud neighbourhood in the Grorud district of Oslo. Through the municipal centre for urban ecology, Bykuben, the Oslotrær project is a city-wide initiative mobilising new partners to the mission of planting trees, at the same time as providing its youth with valuable work experience. Photo: Jan Khür.


The present biodiversity crisis is often framed as a struggle to preserve untouched nature. Yet, recent research shows that humans have shaped the earth for more than 12,000 years. As architect and researcher Matthew Dalziel writes in Multispecies Neighbourhoods:

As the social sustainability of our cities and ecological sustainability of our planet continue to reveal themselves as deeply entangled, we find ourselves in need of new imaginative tools for urban design. Multispecies Neighbourhoods therefore explores the food forest garden and the gardener, not simply as resources for greening our cities or providing respite from the concrete jungle, but as places and practices of knowledge that have a much wider application for human life than simple vocational gardening.

The developer as gardener, the planner as gardener, the architect as gardener, and of course the citizen as gardener, are all fruitful characters to imagine. These characters, one imagines, could provide local knowledge and site-specific care, could increase diversity, and celebrate symbiotic and sympathetic relationships, could engender the frugal and resourceful tendencies of circularity, nurturing a multiplicity of lifeways through a constant cycle of growth and decay. This type of urban actor might manage complexity without seeking to control it, might allow for chance and celebrate the unexpected.

Over the past decades, we have seen a huge uptake of interest in short-travel, organically produced food. Community supported agriculture projects (CSAs) across the world have shown that the wellbeing of humans and non-humans alike can be vastly improved by participating in making locally-grown food cultures. We are urgently in need of an agricultural revolution to help us to address anthropogenic climate change. By remembering the connections between agriculture and architecture and by extending our practices of local cultivation into the production of bio-based and bio-regional building materials, we can transition from a globalised and extractivist logic of construction, to a local and cultivated one. Bio-based building materials are not just low carbon alternatives to industrial products. The cultivation of these materials is a world making practice that moves us toward a multispecies way of being.

By thinking like a gardener in reimagining our material supply chain, we might also find that we think differently not just about the materials we use, but about the buildings, neighbourhoods, and cities we make and imagine with them.

- Matthew Dalziel

FOOD FOR THOUGHT. The architecture of food forestry was explored in Matthew Dalziel’s site-specific work built in the courtyard of the former Edvard Munch Museum in Oslo as part of the 2022 Oslo Architecture Triennale. Photo: Are Carlsen.


A basic action to put in place for the sake of biodiversity is simply to stop building in green areas. Turning green fields into grey ones, or untouched nature into monocropped farmland, is a major biodiversity killer. There is a real need to explore strategic and practical planning on a regional scale, integrating nature with neighbourhood qualities. Such an approach can be found in Exploring the Open Neighbourhood by Halvor W. Ellefsen from the Oslo School of Architecture and Design.

‘Open neighbourhoods’ are found in clusters across metropolitan regions, taking the form of vast and shapeless housing areas, alongside and in-between motorways and slip roads, logistical installations, ecosystems, and agricultural areas. They reside in the in-between city, or Zwischenstadt, an urbanised and fragmented landscape that makes up the everyday spaces of an ever-growing number of Norwegian and European citizens. Such peri-urban territories defy traditional urban scales, following a logic that if you can see your destination — you have probably driven too far. Their growth is fuelled by centralisation and the real estate prices of the urban core but they follow different growth patterns. Peri-urban areas tend to be car-based, with regional road systems, fragmented planning regimes and conflicting interests, all contributing to socio-geographic fragmentation and nature encroachment. [...]

By using the term ‘Open Neighbourhood’, we refer to the fluid and hybrid nature of peri-urban space, but also connect with the American sociologist Richard Sennett’s idea of the ‘Open City’ as a place for inclusion and participation. Referencing the chaotic and culturally congested urban cores of the European city, Sennett’s Open City ideal was not imagined for the peri-urban. However, his prescription for open cities as the ‘ambiguous, incomplete, and unresolved’ fits well with our strategies for enhancing the habitats of the Zwischenstadt: Ambiguous, in terms of its porous yet resilient edges that are boundaries more than borders. Incomplete, in terms of its moldable and flexible building mass and urban spaces. Unresolved, in terms of not being defined by preconceived narratives: the city should not be planned to provide meaning but be able to obtain meaning over time.

- Halvor Weider Ellefsen

PERI-URBANITY. Urban space in the Open Neighbourhood resides in the intersections between grey and green infrastructure, pockets of nature, regional attractors, and real estate developments. Photo: Marja Folde.


One of the most visible consequences of global warming is the increased intensity and frequency of extreme weather. In Neighbourhood as an Ecology, the City Architect of Copenhagen, Camilla van Deurs, shares how the Danish capital employs a wider green urbanism strategy — aiming to produce a cocktail of sustainable, diverse and walkable neighbourhoods. In this endeavour, remixing physical and social infrastructure plays an important role.

If the list of qualities a great neighbourhood should contain is that simple, then why is it so difficult to get it right? Across Europe, as in Copenhagen, standardised and monofunctional housing areas driven by ambitions of financial gain pop up, most of these with poor connectivity to the rest of the city and few good public spaces.

The underlying issue is often an inward-looking approach with little understanding of the neighbourhood it is — or should be — a part of. Could we even imagine seeing a plan for an area that pointed to the adjacent area as the best suited for waterfront views, or suggesting that the best place to locate noisy infrastructure would be on the site? Probably not.

Therefore, overall planning by the municipality or other overarching land agencies is crucial for the distribution of necessary functions and qualities — both desirable and undesirable. Municipalities must nurture the development of public facilities and institutions by intentionally planning and ‘planting’ them in developing areas. This requires cross-disciplinary and cross-agency collaboration, political will and budgets that prioritise public land ownerships and buildings in new neighbourhoods.

The public architectural policy of Copenhagen promotes holistic design by considering the entire neighbourhood as a cohesive plan, regardless of whether the task is to build new buildings, locate public housing, change facades, create new cycle paths, plant trees, or adapt to climate change. This holistic view resembles that of a biologist trying to recreate the ideal ecological conditions in nature to support a balanced ecology.

To create great neighbourhoods, the neighbourhood must be considered an ecology of interconnected and mixed functions. In this way, connectivity to the surrounding city can be ensured through great walkable public (green) spaces and experimenting with sustainable building and housing solutions. This is something the municipality or developer cannot do alone — it must be done together with all the involved partners and stakeholders. It takes an entire neighbourhood — and an entire city of neighbourhoods — to make the ecology work. In the city, we are dependent on each other.

- Camilla van Deurs

THE FUTURE IS GREEN. The Courtyard of the Future project in the Climate Quarter of the Copenhagen neighbourhood Østerbro, here seen in the street of Askøgade. The garden serves as a social and recreational space and celebrates water as an attraction, at the same time as it has the capacity of handling massive rainwater. Photo: Troels Heien/Københavns kommune.


Many people are positive about greener and more biodiverse cities. So just why is there still so little nature in the cities? On a pragmatic level, it must be made more attractive for developers to invest in nature in their projects in the long term. On a systemic level, we need to develop the language of the value of natural assets and qualities and include them in our economical models. For instance, asks Hanne Johnsrud of Bykuben, how do we account for the value that trees create and not only the expenses?

Collectively, urban trees form the backbone of green infrastructure. The urban forest consists of all the trees in the city, including street trees and woodlands, individual trees in gardens, park trees, or trees on the banks along the rivers. The approach taken by the public tree-planting initiative Oslotrær — translating as ‘Oslo trees’ — connects two perspectives: on the one side the individual and local contribution of planting and maintaining trees; on the other side, the strategic approach to planning and maintaining urban green infrastructure as an environmental, economic, and sociocultural resource for the city.

The simple act of planting a tree is an invitation to engage with your surroundings, to participate and take ownership. Who owns the land and who benefits from the effects? What are the present and possible long-term future uses? Who gets to decide what tree, and who is going to take care of it? Planting a tree requires ‘cathedral thinking’, as you are contributing to something where you may not be around long enough to witness the result.

The call for 100,000 trees to Oslo is a call for action: to give priority to trees when developing the city and its neighbourhoods. This requires bringing attention and priority to trees in municipal projects, residential developments, community initiatives, private gardens, and commercial properties. All of these represent opportunities to strengthen the city’s biodiversity and attractivity, as well as its ability to adapt to increased temperatures or rainfall, each context demanding the participation of a broad range of stakeholders.

Planting a tree in the city means a fight for space, above and below ground. As the city grows and space becomes even more scarce, the fight becomes louder. What does a neighbourhood need? Space for schools or housing, parking, or cycling, pedestrians or outdoor seating? Important interests with strong proponents and economic implications. In this fight for space, trees have been lacking a voice.

- Hanne Johnsrud

PLANTING TREES IN THE IMAGINATION. Trees that are used in temporary spatial interventions have planned destinations. Species, sizes, and shapes are all important when selecting trees that can create the instant impact and high performance that these projects require. Photo: Jan Khür.


Lina Streeruwitz and Bernd Vlay, founders of Austrian architectural practice StudioVlayStreeruwitz, demonstrate the possibility of rethinking nature. Their project Freie Mitte transforms a large post-industrial site in the historic centre of Vienna, Austria. Rather than ‘tidying up’ the site, the project preserves the untamed habitat, allowing the ecological wilderness to take centre stage as the common public space and heart of the new neighbourhood.

In 2011, the city of Vienna launched an international competition to fill up this gap with a half-million square metres of new buildings. When our office — Studio-VlayStreeruwitz — decided to join the competition, we quickly realised that we needed to fight to preserve the otherness of this unique area! On our first visit to the site, we encountered an immense quality in this beautiful and different space: an inner wilderness right in the middle of the city — free, wild, and central at the same time! Freie Mitte, the name that we gave to our project, literally refers to these qualities which we wanted to preserve and take care of — a ‘free centre’ that is free because it is not colonised by urban growth — the city of Vienna ends at the outer borders of the Freie Mitte.

Freie Mitte was at first the proverbial ‘hot potato’ that no one wanted to be responsible for — the wilderness seemed a real threat! It took a decade to alleviate this fear: first, a ‘wilderness look’ became an international trend, from New York’s High Line to Berlin’s Prinzessinnengarten, also reducing the required maintenance cost of landscape design. Secondly, the increased awareness of the need for biodiversity and green cooling, giving a new relevance to the ideas of the Freie Mitte. Thirdly, the paradigm shift in how we see our role as humans, as we look for new terms of coexistence with nature and other species. These shifts rehabilitated wilderness, liberating it from the cliché of wasteland romanticism.

In 2021, city politicians ceremoniously opened the first part of the Freie Mitte. After 20 years of experimenting with as-found-resources, the Freie Mitte enables the surprising return of public space as a real promise, as originally envisioned by neighbourhood pioneers. For the first time in Vienna, a space like the Freie Mitte — with its transhuman ecology, wild presence, and provocative scale — is recognised as an acceptable and even desirable inner-city public space, a completely new kind of neighbourhood.

- Lina Streeruwitz & Bernd Vlay

UNDER CONSTRUCTION. May 2023: Freie Mitte in the making. Some parts are already finished whilst others are under construction. The city silhouette of Vienna can be seen behind the construction site. Photo: StudioVlayStreeruwitz.


The architecture profession has long been associated with the design of buildings as singular, attention-seeking objects — especially over the past decades of the ‘starchitects’. In An Ecosystem Within an Ecosystem, founding partners of Danish architectural practice EFFEKT, Tue Foged and Sinus Lynge, reflect on how we can reconnect man-made neighbourhoods with the natural environment, arguing that our connection with nature is more intimate than we recognise.

Adopting an ecosystem perspective in architecture leads to new ways of thinking about buildings, neighbourhoods and landscapes, by considering their relation not only to humanity but also to other species, resource flows and materials over time and space. In the words of Gregory Bateson, the English anthropologist, author and philosopher; if nature’s language is made up of relationships, the key questions when building from an ecosystem perspective are these: What kind of relationships does a building create with its surroundings? How does an architectural intervention contribute to the wider context of the neighbourhood — and beyond?

Looking into this perspective more concretely, we begin to change our views on buildings and uncover numerous interconnections and relationships. At the most obvious scale, this involves our direct physical relationship with the surroundings, to which it seems we have become increasingly blind: We breathe 11,000 litres of air and process 550 litres of oxygen every day; our daily food intake originates from plant photosynthesis, which converts sunlight into chemical energy; the water we consume is sourced from the Earth and filtered through the ground. Even our bodies are mobile ecosystems, incorporating (literally speaking) a significant portion of non-human cells. In other words, our connection with nature is much more intimate than we seem to recognize.

Seen through this lens, buildings and neighbourhoods become dynamic entities that can contribute to resource management and sustainable behaviour patterns. Rainwater, waste and energy transformation, as well as circular material cycles, can be used to achieve regenerative and self-sustaining urban communities. Furthermore, if we examine how our current food production functions, for example, it quickly becomes apparent that the consumption taking place within each home results in a huge ecological footprint that extends far beyond the cities. It is crucial to establish a connection between building projects, urban projects and our overall land use to understand how food production has degraded landscapes on a significant scale. These intricate relationships with the surrounding environment and physical context compel us to reach far beyond the traditional domain of architecture to address the fact that every building, neighbourhood, and city is an ecosystem established within the framework of a larger ecosystem — the nature from which we source the resources and energy we need in order to live and to function.

- Tue Foged & Sinus Lynge

RUN, FOREST. Nature Village is a vision for a residential development that transform a field in Denmark into a forest-neighborhood with more than 200 homes. The project seeks to demonstrate how sustainable housing can be combined with ambitious afforestation, increased biodiversity, and circular resource thinking in peri-urban areas — and as a bi-product create healthy and connected neighborhoods. Photo: EFFEKT.

This edited extract of the chapter ‘Naturehood’, taken from the book Mission Neighbourhood — (Re)forming Communities (The Danish Architectural Press: 2023) is the second of three sections to be published by KoozArch in partnership with the Oslo Architecture Triennale. The next extract will be published in June, bringing further insights on the neighbourhood scale.

Cover image: Anne Valeur


Christian Pagh is Director and Chief Curator of the Oslo Architecture Triennale and has dedicated his curatorship to exploring the concept and reality of neighbourhoods. With an academic background in philosophy and modern culture, he has led a variety of projects within urban planning, strategic design and placemaking in both the public and the private sector.

Thomas Cook is Head of Development of the Oslo Architecture Triennale and has previously worked within urban development in the public sector and
through the small-scale community initiative of a neighbourhood café. Educated in architectural history and urbanism, he regularly writes about urban culture as a freelance writer.

Matthew Dalziel is an architect, researcher and gardener working across the fields of architecture, agriculture, and art. His practice Atelier Dalziel makes biocentric buildings, landscapes, and artworks to live in and feast on. He is
a PhD fellow at The Oslo School of Architecture and Design where his PhD is titled ‘Architectural Imagination after Human Exceptionalism’.

Halvor Weider Ellefsen is an Associated professor at The Oslo School of Architecture and Design (AHO), runs the urbanism and architecture consultancy firm Studio Ellefsen, and is part of the research group Norwegian Urbanism.

Camilla van Deurs is the Chief City Architect for the City of Copenhagen since February 2019. Before this Camilla was a partner at Gehl Architects. She holds a PhD in Urban Design with a focus on public space and urban housing.

Hanne Johnsrud is a landscape architect and project leader for Oslotrær at Bykuben, the City of Oslo’s Centre for Urban Ecology.

Bernd Vlay is an architect and urbanist. He teaches at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, is president of Europan Austria and Head of StudioVlayStreeruwitz.

Lina Streeruwitz is an architect and urbanist based in Vienna, where she runs her own architectural practice, StudioVlayStreeruwitz.

Sinus Lynge is an architect and co-founder of EFFEKT Architects. He manages a number of award-winning projects within architecture, urbanism and research — all centred around social coherence and vibrant city life, as well as intelligent solutions to energy consumption and sustainability.

Tue Foged is an architect and co-founder of EFFEKT Architects. He creatively directs award-winning, community-centred projects with clear value foundations, tangible visions and broad local anchoring and support — spanning strategic planning, masterplans, architecture and landscape design.

10 May 2024
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