Andrew Grant: Bringing Nature Into Our Cities

How do we bring nature into our cities? What radical changes are needed for going green? Made famous by BBC Planet Earth, Andrew Grant’s pioneering project Gardens by the Bay is home to the world’s largest glass greenhouse and a wealth of biodiverse green infrastructure.

 

What was the motivation behind designing Gardens by the Bay?

To design a global garden for the 21st century.

 

What makes Gardens by the Bay so special?

It inspires people. It successfully merges human enjoyment and learning within a spatially and ecologically diverse landscape punctuated with unique heroic, futuristic structures and experiences.

 

David Attenborough featured GBTB on Planet Earth. He said ‘It could be possible to see wildlife thriving within our cities across the planet’. Do you think global communities are doing enough to make this happen?

Not yet but there have been huge shifts towards landscape and ecology-based city planning in some places. For example, Singapore is moving from its identity as a ‘City in a Garden’ towards a ‘City in Nature’ and London is about to become a National Park City building on its web of green and blue infrastructure. The issue is do we have time to allow the wider global community to change direction and to restore a balance between built and natural development.

 

What are the best things about working with nature?

It is a bottomless well of inspiration,

The diversity of life,

How nature changes & evolves over time,

The unpredictability of its colours, smells, textures, food, sounds.

 

What inspired you to become a landscape architect?

Not having the right qualifications to study architecture but then realising landscape architecture perfectly suited my interests and A levels. Beyond that being inspired by Ian McHarg’s Design with Nature and the life design work of Roberto Burle Marx and the writing of Geoffrey Jellicoe.

 

What are the wellbeing & public health benefits of bringing nature into cities?

Here are some:

Being in nature retunes and calms our bodies and mind.

Having easy and regular access to diverse nature extends our lives.

Seeing and sensing green living landscapes increases our capacity to learn.

 

What has our approach to infrastructure done to biodiversity?

The facts and figures are out there. We are in the midst of a mass extinction of species caused by human misuse of the planet. If we take infrastructure to be the physical manifestations of energy and power distribution, communication systems, transport links, food production and processing, and space for housing, manufacturing, working and leisure and collectively if this mass of infrastructure is called a city then it has caused the most massive impact on global and local biodiversity. Locally we obliterate habitat and globally we suck in resources from across the planet to sustain the processes by which we live causing even greater loss of biodiversity.

 

What are the challenges of bringing nature into public space?

At one level it is about understanding what type of nature we want to introduce. It could be said true nature is a self-regulating free form association of species and habitat where natural succession has the potential to take place, and where human impact is marginal if present at all. Such a definition of nature does not really sit comfortably within high density housing. However, at the other extreme is nature as a healthy, living, green and blue and diverse landscape where human management and interventions are crucial for its success. In the right form this approach can deliver a real sense and experience of nature in the very hardest and densest of city spaces.

 

Do you think blue/green infrastructure is more important than grey?

Healthy Green and Blue infrastructure derived from nature-based landscapes has the capacity to provide the fundamental needs of human life – Oxygen, Water and Food.  Much more important than providing a pavement across which to drive or cycle or walk. Nature based landscapes clean air and filter water. They provide habitat for a diversity of species and provide food and shade and shelter, they provide places play, to exercise and connect us with the seasons and weather patterns.

 

Does 21st century Green Infrastructure have the power to undo the damage of 20th Century Grey Infrastructure?

I think we are in a situation so dire that the global impact of the last 200 years of unrestricted growth and development will never be undone. What we can do is limit further damage and begin to restore and repair some of the natural fabric of the planet. In part this will involve the implementation of radical green infrastructure projects such as the creation of 1000’s of hectares of species rich woodlands and wetlands through planting and rewilding every year for the next 20 -30 years. If we manage this, it will be transformational of our landscape. It will be the 21st equivalent of the Enclosures but in reverse.

 

You’re based in Bath – what green spaces in the south west inspire you?

The landscape of Bath and its wider setting. Now called Bathscape in the context of a landscape strategy to protect and reimagine and renew the purpose and value of this 101 square kilometre World Heritage Site landscape to Bath and its residents and visitors.