Author Archives: Mathias Lehner

Melbourne Urban Forest Fund to activate private land owners to increase Quality of Life

In reaction to the impact of climate change the City of Melbourne wants to double the tree canopy cover, increase the amount of green iconic lanes, improve biodiversity and enhance urban ecosystems, such as tempering urban heat islands. The Municipal measures are taken in the public realm. The 75 % privately owned land in the city is targeted with an innovative approach: The Urban Forest Fund.

The UFF aims to build PPPs to deliver additional greening. The Fund was created after extreme heat periods in the summer of 2015 that seriously threatened public health. Today ‘habitat grants’ are available for up to to 50% of the costs made by the applicant for contributing to the Urban Forest. For the 2018 the Fund’s website shows 7 projects realized by now, ranging from green walls and canopies to a sky farm co-funded with 300.000 AUD.

“Trees, plants and green open spaces are essential infrastructure in our city, helping to cool the environment, reduce pollution, support biodiversity, boost the economy and improve health and well-being. At a time when Melbourne is experiencing rapid population growth and increasing impacts of climate change, the green elements of our city are more important than ever” states the Municipality.

Looking at a city from an animal’s perspective in Nijmegen

Many animal species are now more common in the city than on meadows and fields. The city is therefore of ever greater importance for the lives of people and animals. This can generate tension as was shown when a foraging wild boar on the green outskirts of Nijmegen was shot immediately. But how can we learn to relate to nature, and profit from its benefits? How can ecologists, architects and residents help to accommodate our flora and fauna co-inhabitants ?

A first step is to understand the urban ecosystem: seeing the city through the eyes of the animal. The most recent podcast ‘Stadsgenoten’ produced by the Nijmegen Architecture Centre. Together with city ecologist Jochem Kühnen they stroll through Nijmegen and look through the eyes of an animal. The swift to be precise. People share the same place of residence with this species but experience it very differently.

During the one hour exploration walk listeners are assisted by two experienced professionals. Architect and specialist in nature-inclusive design and co-initiator of, Mathias Lehner, discusses the topic with program director Green Metropolis Harry Boeschoten of Staatsbosbeheer.

Listen to the 64 minutes podcast on Sound Cloud here (Dutch only) and download the walking route here.

Wild Amsterdam: Delta Plan for Biodiversity Recovery leading to Natural Richness

How to make Amsterdam the most biodiverse and wild city in 2025, when the city celebrates its 750th anniversary?

This visionary question was discussed with experts in the packed Artis Zoo Sea Lion Auditorium in the 2019 conference ‘Wild Amsterdam’. The conference featured top level speakers such as Louise Vet, biologist and in 2018 named ‘greenest thinker’ of the Netherlands. The event was moderated by’s research director Mathias Lehner.

The thoughts, ideas and results of the conference have now been transformed into a Delta Plan that aims to recover biodiversity in the city. The compact Delta Plan mentions 10 points with concrete goals, such as making Amsterdam a Park City with in each park the least 1000 species. And what do you think about drinking water quality in the Amstel river? Or a designated area for ‘wilderness’ in each of the city districts?

Curious about the visions presented? Download the Delta Plan here.

On Monday 8th of June, 20:30 hrs the Delta Plan will be presented to Laurens Ivens, Alderman of Amsterdam. He will receive the Manifesto from our partners Thijs de Zeeuw and Joost Janmaat during the presentation the long awaited Green Vision (GroenVisie) for the city in a free online broadcast from Pakhuis de Zwijger. Join in!

The Wild Amsterdam Delta Plan is a joint initiative by Nature Optimist, Partizan Publik, De Gezonde Stad and Artis together with, and with support of the Amsterdam Municipality.

June 5th, Dead Duck Day

As Katapult Magazine from Germany shows in their recent publication ‘102 Green Maps to Save the World’, most birds in their home country die because they cannot comprehend the concept of a glass window, making architecture and cities a potentially dangerous environment for our flying friends. Of course adovcates the design of more bird friendly architecture – which, as research shows, is possible. See our earlier post about the NYC approach towards this topic.

June 5th is an appropriate date to ask attention for this topic, as it is Dead Duck Day, referring to a day of the life of Kess Moeliker of the Natural History Museum in Rotterdam in 1996, which was the day of the death of a male duck that hit the fassade of his office. Normally this day would be memorized with a public meeting, but due to covid-19 the ‘ceremony on site will involve only Kees, the stuffed duck and a bottle of beer’.

Don’t forget to watch the hilarious 2013 TEDex talk on the subject, Mr. Moeiliker’s scientific publication for which he as awareded the Ig Nobelprize. Picture below (c) Natuurhistorisch Museum Rotterdam.

Villa connects people and nature by ‘forest living’

Vo Tron Nghia architects realized a villa in Ha Long, Vietnam, that despite of the small plot features lush green co-living on every floor due to a substanstantial, and spiralling layer of trees and access routes wrapping the 6 story patio house. “A house that will connect people and nature”, says the architect, to “become part of its landscape” with a concept which allows that “people can live in a forest”.

“Ha Long Villa aims to be a space where people return to living surrounded by nature” claims the office, “It is one of the prototypes of “House for Trees”, which is a series of residential projects. The aim of the series is to bring green spaces back into the city, and to design as much greenery as was present in the original landscape to provide a healthier life to people living in the city.”

Find out more on the tropical architeture of the architect at VTN’s website.

Thinking and designing the city as an ecosystem

Today designers and policy makers are facing urban challenges that cannot be solved by thinking traditonally in only local, punctual or linear interventions. Causes and effects, architecture and the environment but also humans, plants and animals are interrelated. These relations can be approached afresh with system thinking.

Applying this thinking Mathias Lehner of nextcity taught a design course at the Academy of Architecture Amsterdam with inspiring results. The tasks for the Master Students of Architecture, Landscape and Urbanism was not only to design a new neighbourhood on a given location, but to design it with a systematic approach that took into account stakeholders. Moreover it included time: What happens in between the design phase and a future re-use of the realized project?

The students focused either on energy, food, water or an other dimension of their interest. See above Vyasa Koe’s work that integrates local fish breeding in the urban plan and below Augusto Rodrigues’ design that focuses on the changing energy system of the new neighbourhood.

A sunny afternoon: the city seen as ecosystem

Within its 2020 program ‘A sunny afternoon: the city seen as ecosystem” the Architecture Centre Nijmegen (ACN) focuses on nature and biodiversity in the city. Nextcity contributes to this program with an audio tour and looks at the city ‘with the eyes of an animal’. Recorded today via Zoom Mathias Lehner of nextcity walks with Harrie Boeschoten of Staatsbosheer and ecologist Jochem Kuhnen and they let the audience discover unknown aspects of the city, while inspiring the listeners with the ideas of ‘The Green Metropole’ and the “Next City”.

Follow ACN on their website or subscribe to their newsletter and be the first to listen to the audio tour or, even better, make an inspiring stroll through the centre of Nijmegen while listening. Conveniently the tour starts at the train station and guides you during the one-hour-tour to river De Waal.

Some of the lectures held by ACN within their 2020 program have been recorded, and are freely available online. Watch philosopher Matthijs Schouten, author Piet Vollaard and social ecologist Riyan van den Born and look at nature inclusive building from various perspectives. All online content is available in Dutch only.

Private online park addresses the longing for quality of life by engaging with nature

The Chinese Devolution architects noted that formerly public parks in China are becoming more and more privatized for a smaller ‘gated’ community of surrounding neighbours only. This ‘cutting off’ public quality of life sparked the idea for their 2017 ‘Devolution Park’ project:  a design of extreme privatization that can only be ‘visited’ online, e.g. on your individual cell phone, via the surveillance cameras installed.

Notably the park is located on the 27th floor of a residential tower which can house up to 300 families. It is an indoor installation in the mono functional building located in the new high-density residential area in Xiamen. Its temporary realization was possible because the apartment was acquired for investment purposes and therefore empty.  

Read more about the project on archdaily. Photographs copyright by Xiaodong Xu.

Ever listened to a biophony? “A healthy landscape is best seen with the ears” *

Because of covid-19 many human activities are more silent which makes the voices of nature resound on an unprecedented scale. The initiative Dawn Chorus took this year’s exceptional spring as a starting point to map the soundscapes performed by birds on a global scale in a citizen science project.

Recordings will be included in a scientific database for biodiversity research. Dawn Chorus project is planned to take place every year and thus provide comparative data. Birds are important biodiversity indicators. This group of animals is researched well and may reflect the “state of health” of a habitat and. the condition of the other species occurring in an ecosystem.

Dawn Chorus may eventually provide valuable information about the diversity of species, the behavior of the birds, as well as the effects of climate change and habitat change on the populations.

Read more about the Dawn Chorus Project.

* Bernie Krause, Soundscaping pioneer. See his 2013 TED talk here.

No barriers between inside and outside – an old idea for nature inclusive design with new relevance?

Plein Air school in Suresnes, France

Architect, real estate developer and sustainability expert at the Ryerson School of Interior Design Lloyd Alter draws a parallel in his April 2020 blog between today’s corona crisis and the beginning of the 20th century when children were sent out into schools in the open air because of the risk of tuberculosis. Alter says there is a similar situation now: kids need fresh air and sunlight, but also a bit of separation. What if we re-adopt these ideas, learn from the past and reinterpret them today?

In 1904 in Germany the first ‘Waldschule’ opened. Later famously the Plein Air school in Suresnes (Beaudouin and Lods), and of course the Openairschool in Amsterdam (Duiker) 1927. Teaching in nature was to believed “to help build independence and self-esteem in urban youths” and even an International Bureau of Open Air Schools was set up.

Can the past downsides – high maintenance and an educational climate that demanded control and avoided distraction – be ovecome? What if the principles were for example rethought for homes for the elderly? Visiting granny with no barrieres between inside and outside makes a 1,5 m social distance a burden that can be overcome.