Author Archives: Mathias Lehner

Less pavement, more biodiversity and ecosystem services

“Next to limiting urban biodiversity many ecosystem services are decreased by sealing urban surfaces. Petrification enhances the urban heat island effect which has a negative effect on people’s health. Sealing surfaces also has a negative effect on air quality eg. when it comes to fine dust. The absence of greenery has a negative effect on health, recovery and human well-being. And, of course, application of pavement reduces the permeability of the soil. The accelerated drainage of rainwater leads to overloading of the sewer system”, states the Steenbreek Foundation.

The Steenbreek Foundation (‘breaking the stone’) is greening the environment together with municipalities, water boards and provinces by e.g. replacing unnecessary pavement in private and public space with a diversity of greenery by involving residents and entrepreneurs. Also, extra ponds and wadis are constructed with as a result water can enter the ground more easily.

More info?
Operation Steenbreek was established in 2015 to act against the trend to harden private gardens by four city ecologists joining forces together with Entente Florale Nederland, the University of Groningen, Wageningen Environmental Research and Van Hall Larenstein University of Applied Sciences. Prominent events are the National Garden Week, Soil Animal Days, Nature Work Day, National Green Day and various Knowledge Meetings in collaboration with Elba | REC. Image (c) 2017

Soil & species: ecosystem services delivered underground

Let’s pay some more attention for the soil in cities! Next to the function of soil species in the eco system of being food for other species, and contributing to natural control, their more important role is the delivery of ecosystem services that are relevant above ground, too: soil structure, soil fertility, water infiltration, development for vegetation – and biodiversity.

There are more than 34.000 species living in the Dutch soil of which 28% – some 6000 species depend strongly on the ground as habitat. A part of them lives part of their life circle (facultatively) in the soil, but many also remain there during their full life circle (obligatory).

In the city of Amsterdam a large amount of the nationally present species can be found. There are eg. 14 species of all ants (30%), but of others species sometimes more than half of alle species can be found in the city. Mapping evidence shows that of some species there are even more examples in the urban areas than in the more rural parts.

Want to know more about all species in The Netherlands?
Check the Dutch Register of Species. This blog is based upon a presentation by Prof. Dr. Matty Berg from the Faculty of Science, Animal Ecology using data from the VU university Amsterdam and the Rijksuniversiteit Groningen.

Well-being of patients benefits from ecosystem services

(c) Paul Ott, published by

In the outskirts of Graz, the second city of Austria, green atriums, Co2 neutral building materials, prefabricated timber modules and – most of all – a succesful combination of architecture and landscaping make the Josefhof Health Centre an architectural gem that contributes to the well being of its ambulant clients in the primary care clinic and one hundred stationary patients.

Commissioned by the insurance company for railways and mining and designed by architect Dietger Wissounig Architects the horizontally structured healthcare building is situated in an orchid meadow typical for the area. Its stacked roof landscape can be viewed from the rooms and feature extensive greenery. Looking at the ecosystem services provided the benefits are a microclimate in the immediate vicinity to the rooms, improved sound insulation and pleasant views cheering up the patients. In addition this design strategy extends the life of the roof skin claims the architect.

This post is based upon an article by Leoni Spies published on

The urge for Biophilic Urban Acupuncture

Paley Park NYC (c) Terrapin, Flickr, Wally Gobetz

The theory of Biophilia teaches us that humans long to (re)connect to nature, and that it improves our wellbeing. Positive impact on self-esteem and mood has been shown to occur in the first five minutes of experiencing nature (Barton&Pretty, 2010). Especially in cities expanding and densifying, there is a need to design places to connect people to nature. Everybody who has visited New York on a hot day and spent some time in Paley Park or one of the other pocket parks might recognize this effect. In the current corona period it becomes even more evident that we need to connect to nature, and therefor have to actively design our cities to bring nature in.

The consultants of Terrapin Bright Green set out a strategy for small and feasible interventions:  Biophilic Urban Acupuncture (BUA). Just as the practice of acupuncture is aimed at relieving stress in the human body, the goal of urban acupuncture is to relieve stress in the built environment. BUA is the theory that threads and nodes of biophilic interventions in specific urban places can help improve people’s moods, connect people to place, and help improve mental health.

BUA has higher levels of effectiveness in dense cities versus suburban places due to the ease of pedestrian mobility. Smaller BUA interventions should be placed in locations throughout the city which, in a web-like structure, users with different destinations will experience biophilic experiences no matter where they traveling to.

This blog is based upon a text by Jonce Walker, urban planner and sustainability professional, published online by Terrapin Bright Green, a small New York sustainability consulting firm founded in 2006.

Nice to know: Terrapin is also the name for a species of turtle that can live in both fresh and saltwater.

Mooring post facade habitat

Housing Cooperation De Warren starts with a new housing project on IJburg (Amsterdam) that ‘structurally supports and improves biodiversity‘. Next to a large green roof the ‘piéce de résistance’ is the more than 1 meter wide wooden outer shell of the building made of reused mooring posts featuring outdoor spaces for the human inhabitants and shelter for a large variety of plants and birds.

Architect Boris Zeisser of Natrufied Architecture designed the ultra-collective apartment building De Warren on the new Centrum Eiland in IJburg. Next to 36 social and mid-market rental apartments there are 800 sqm of collective spaces inclusing a theater, yoga space, makerspace, offices, meeting rooms, kidsspace and a music studio. The design is the result of four workshop days with all the future residents.

The building will be made of biobased materials. The structure is drawn up from CLT (cross laminated timber), flax insulation and recycled wooden finishes. Reusing building products from demolished buildings is being researched. The building will be completely energy self-sufficient and ‘rain proof’.

New public life in the city

Due to the measurements taken in the current Corona period public life in cities has decreased. Wild animals have sensed these peaceful urban areas and are discovering formerly unchartered parts of our cities. A new form of public life evolved subsequently.

Reuters shared footage of deer resting and fouraging in a park in the East of London in the beginning of April. Also, Reuters reports of a wilde bear inspecting a temporarily empty cable car station in the metropolitan area of Istanbul. Earlier in the week wild goats have been spotted eating flowers from the window sills in residential areas in North Wales, as have been wild peacocks. In Chile, finally, the third wild cougar has been filmed (and caught) in the capital of Chile, Santiago, reports BBC/Reuters.

National Garden Check App

In times of Corona many people are improving their home, and, if they have one, their garden. Just in time with Spring having arrived and the nice weather the new Dutch National Garden Check App has been launched. It easily guides you through a number of questions about your garden, that help improve quality of life for all species. For example: how do you deal with the soil? How do you control unwanted insects and plants? What kind of garden fence do you have? Based on the answers, a score is calculated, from A (very good) to G (work to be done!) And tips are given. You can use it for a greener and finer garden where people and animals like.

Check out the App online for free.

City border lectures, 31st of March

In a series of four lecture evenings the Amsterdam architecture centre Arcam explores the city’s borders. What is the role of environments where nature can thrive and inhabitants can recharge? Should we make greener buildings to draw the landscapes deeper into the urban fabric? This evening highlights the role that microbiology, biomimicry and mini-habitats can play, and we focus on biospheres in which humans, animals and plants live together.

Next to a lecture by’s research director, architect and teacher at the Academy of Architecture Amsterdam, Mathias Lehner there will be contributions by Lydia Fraaije, Biomimicry, and Edwin Gardner, Studio Monk. After the presentations there is room for debate and discussion. The event is a in collaboration with the Van Eesteren Museum.

Date: March 31, 2020
Time: 8 p.m. – 10 p.m. | 7.45 pm walk-in
Location: Van Eesteren Museum, Noordzijde 31, 1064 GV Amsterdam
Ticket price: Regular € 12.50
Language: Dutch
Sign up online.

This lecture program is part of the design study “The City Edges Lab” on new typologies for the city edges, with Amsterdam as a test case, a joint initiative of ARCAM and BNA Research and is supported by the municipality of Amsterdam and Ymere and co-financed by the Surcharge for Top Consortia for Knowledge and Innovation (TKIs) of the Ministry of Economic Affairs. The Hogeschool van Amsterdam, the Amsterdam Academy of Architecture and the Hogeschool Utrecht collaborate as knowledge partners.

Perspectives on nature-inclusive building

With’s ‘First Guide to nature-inclusive design’ in its second edition, a Dutch version available soon and interest abroad in a German edition it is clear that building for biodiversity is more than a trend but here to stay. With good reasons indeed.

Watch the five video’s on nature-inclusive building produced by Dutch Foundation Het Overzicht from Zwolle where different stakeholders speak about the value of this approach: inhabitants, a project developer, an architect and’s Maike van Stiphout as a landscape architect.

The videos (Dutch with Dutch subtitles only) are also featured on