Has green gone mainstream?

Here’s some food for thought…….The following commentary blog was posted on the World Design Summit’s ‘Designing the Future’ website –  world design summit taking place over 10 days in Montreal in October, 2017. The event is described as, ‘an international gathering of diverse disciplines with a common focus: how design can shape the future.’ 

“Green has gone mainstream. But as green walls, rooftop farms, and tree covered skyscrapers become the norm in cities around the world, critics ask if these developments are simply the latest face of ‘greenwashing’. Environmental advocates such as Naomi Klein have long warned of corporations that attempt to mask questionable records by emphasizing green elements. Klein has challenged industrialists who partake in flashy, eco-conscious campaigns but do little to alleviate the impact of their businesses on the climate. Many companies spend more money convincing consumers that they are green than they do on actual green initiatives; some corporate green initiatives actually harm the environment.

Urbanists worry that greenwashing has spread to urban design and architecture by literally covering up buildings with plants. The vertical farms, plant-covered towers, and eco-villages that once seemed far-fetched are now not only possible but all the rage. Bringing greenery into the city may reduce emissions and improve air quality, but it does little to address the deeper causes of urban and environmental stress. Greening initiatives increase the economic value of places, risking displacement of economically vulnerable residents. Does a greenroof on top of a superstore help uninsured workers? What difference does a green tech-campus make if it requires hundreds of parking spaces?

One architect who questions greenwashing is Alejandro Aravena, director of the firm ELEMENTAL in Chile. At last year’s Venice Architecture Biennale, Aravena exposed the wasteful side of design by exhibiting 90 tons of detritus from the previous year’s event. He also tackles underlying challenges, by collaborating with communities to empower them to design affordable and sustainable housing for themselves. In this age of tree-covered skyscrapers, Aravena’s commitment to modest and even monotonous design stands out.

Questioning greenwashing demands that designers ask whether the green city must be a luxury for the privileged and whether sustainability initiatives accelerate inequality. Designers in all disciplines must look beyond rhetoric and aesthetics to evaluate the impact of environmental design. How can we, as designers, reconcile our role, which is closely linked with the market economy and over-consumption, with environmental and social awareness? Designers invested in truly sustainable practice are encouraged to submit a proposal for the topic “Questioning Greenwashing” at the Congress for the World Design Summit.”

The article is not attributed to any particular author but it would be interesting to hear your thoughts?  What’s your opinion in relation to #greenwashing? The article is illustrated by Stefano Boeri‘s proposals to build “forest cities” in Shijiazhuang, China plus an image of Bosco Verticale, Milan although the latter is not credited – (neither  design is referred to by name in the article). Both designs incorporate vegetation on the outer construction with the twin towers of Bosco Verticale – constructed with a $2.5 billion public-private investment as part of the redevelopment of Milan’s Porta Nuova district – housing 800 trees between 9 and 30 feet tall, over 4,000 shrubs, and 15,000 ground cover plants including vines and perennials.

The summit focuses on 6 key themes including ‘Design for Earth’ and 108 topics including ‘Questioning greenwashing’,

“Designers are sensitive to environmental issues and announce their willingness to conform their practices. However, beyond appearances and words, critical scrutiny is essential. How can we, as designers, reconcile our role, which is closely linked with the market economy and over-consumption, with environmental and social awareness?”

To read Naomi Klein’s, ‘The hypocrisy behind the big business climate change battle’ . Source: The Guardian, Sept, 2014.

naomi klein

Call for empirical evidence for climate resilient urban planning.

Regulating urban surface runoff through nature-based solutions – An assessment at the micro-scale.  Zölch,T, Henze, L, Keilholz, P & Pauleit, S.  Environmental Research, Volume 157, August 2017, Pages 135–14.

Key findings

  • Runoff after heavy rain events accounts for approx. 95% of total precipitation in highly sealed urban areas.
  • By enhancing water storage capacities green infrastructure reduces runoff by max. 14.8% compared to the baseline.
  • Green roofs and trees both show to be effective but due to different functions.
  • The reduction of runoff is larger with higher shares of green cover in the case area.


Urban development leads to changes of surface cover that disrupt the hydrological cycle in cities. In particular, impermeable surfaces and the removal of vegetation reduce the ability to intercept, store and infiltrate rainwater. Consequently, the volume of stormwater runoff and the risk of local flooding rises. This is further amplified by the anticipated effects of climate change leading to an increased frequency and intensity of heavy rain events. Hence, urban adaptation strategies are required to mitigate those impacts.

A nature-based solution, more and more promoted in politics and academia, is urban green infrastructure as it contributes to the resilience of urban ecosystems by providing services to maintain or restore hydrological functions. However, this poses a challenge to urban planners in deciding upon effective adaptation measures as they often lack information on the performance of green infrastructure to moderate surface runoff. It remains unclear what type of green infrastructure (e.g. trees, green roofs), offers the highest potential to reduce discharge volumes and to what extent.

Against this background, this study provides an approach to gather quantitative evidence on green infrastructure’s regulation potential. We use a micro-scale scenario modelling approach of different variations of green cover under current and future climatic conditions. The scenarios are modelled with MIKE SHE, an integrated hydrological modelling system for building and simulating surface water and groundwater flow, and applied to a high density residential area of perimeter blocks in Munich, Germany. The results reveal that both trees and green roofs increase water storage capacities and hence reduce surface runoff, although the main contribution of trees lies in increasing interception and evapotranspiration, whereas green roofs allow for more retention through water storage in their substrate. With increasing precipitation intensities as projected under climate change their regulating potential decreases due to limited water storage capacities. The performance of both types stays limited to a maximum reduction of 2.4% compared to the baseline scenario, unless the coverage of vegetation and permeable surfaces is significantly increased as a 14.8% reduction is achieved by greening all roof surfaces.

The authors conclude that the study provides empirical support for the effectiveness of urban green infrastructure as nature-based solution to stormwater regulation and assists planners and operators of sewage systems in selecting the most effective measures for implementation and estimation of their effects.


Urban green infrastructure as nature-based solution to regulate surface runoff becomes increasingly important, as climate change and urbanisation alter the urban water balance. The present study assessed the performance of two urban green infrastructure (UGI) types, trees and green roofs, on relevant hydrological processes, especially surface runoff. The two measures were applied in scenarios of different greening quantity and for heavy rain events of different intensities as projected for the future. This scenario approach revealed that both trees and green roofs contribute positively by interception, evapotranspiration and infiltration. Differences in their performance showed to be dependent on the greening quantity, share of permeable surfaces leaf area index (LAI) and finally, intensity of the rainfall event. Generally, their effectiveness remains low under heavy rain events, unless a significant proportion of the case area is greened to provide sufficient water storage capacities (Artmann, 2014).

For urban planning the presented results have practical implications for the selection of UGI types to reduce surface runoff volumes and in consequence reduce discharge loads, the sewage system has to handle. An effective nature-based solution increases the storage capacities within the area of interest as much as possible, while using open spaces that have not been used previously and/or while providing benefits to other areas of urban planning. Trees increase the storage capacity mainly by intercepting and evapotranspiring rainwater, their infiltration capacity is limited to the tree pits. But trees can normally not be implemented in large quantity in dense urban areas due to their requirements of open space. Green roofs on the other hand, provide storage capacity mainly by retaining rainwater in their substrates and can be implemented at larger scale on previously unused roof surfaces.

Furthermore, both types are multifunctional and can provide co-benefits for urban planning. The approach represents a first step in allowing planners as well as operators of sewage systems to estimate reductions in runoff volume when locally implementing UGI measures. These estimations could be further improved by integrating additional stormwater management practices and the drainage system in more detail into the modelling setup. Thus, conducting a larger systematic study of UGI scenarios would allow for including e.g. more UGI types, different species and LAI values as well as planting conditions. Such a study could enhance the provision of empirical evidence for climate resilient urban planning.


In March 2013 the Landscape Institute published an updated Mission Statement, ‘Green Infrastructure: An integrated approach to land management’. The document was described as,

“An opportunity to showcase a range of successful strategic GI work and completed
projects. The aim is to give public and private sector bodies, clients and natural and built environment professionals fresh insights into the benefits GI can bring by creating multifunctional landscapes and show how people can collaborate to deliver it.”

Social innovation and nature-based solutions.

Balian E, Berhault A, Eggermont H, Lemaître F, von Korff Y, Young JC. (2016).
Social innovation and nature-based solutions. EKLIPSE/EPBRS/BiodivERsA Joint
Foresight Workshop: Brussels, 6-7 December 2016. Workshop Report.

EKLIPSE, the European Platform for Biodiversity Research Strategy (EPBRS )and the ERA-NET BiodivERsA jointly organised a foresight workshop in Brussels in December 2016 on “Social innovation and nature based solutions: What research is needed to face future societal challenges and emerging issues?”. The aim of the workshop was to feed the identified emerging issues and research priorities into current and future debates on research & innovation policy and priorities at EU level (e.g. in Horizon 2020 work programmes and in the BiodivERsA Strategic Research and Innovation Agenda, future R&I framework programmes), at Member State level as well as at international level (e.g. Belmont Forum, Future Earth).

The sessions addressed the following questions:

  1. What are important emerging issues/societal challenges to which nature-based solutions could be a response to? These should possibly have a big impact 10 or 20 years from now in their respective area.
  1. What specific social innovation approaches exist and could be used to support the effective implementation (i.e. simultaneously providing environmental, economic & social benefits) of these NBS for tackling these emerging issues (or formulated in another way: what has to happen socially so that these NBS can be put into place in order to respond to the challenges)?
  1. What are the research needs to support the realization of these NBS and social innovations?

Several priority societal challenges common across the themes are related to increased pollution, and over exploitation of natural resources as a consequence of urban intensification, human population increase and a disconnect between people and nature. In addition, some emerging issues identified in some groups are related to the loss of social cohesion and the challenge of immigration.

A strong focus was placed on systemic approaches and the need to have more green and blue spaces developed by communities using participatory approaches to best fit a wide array of needs and uses. For example: urban gardening and farming could represent ways to create more social links (cohesion), promote local production and represent educational and leisure areas. Groups also faced several challenges in clearly framing the concept of NBS (environmental benefits are as important as economic or social benefits; hence, solutions inspired by nature but not providing environmental benefits cannot be considered as NBS), and in going beyond general statements towards concrete proposals.

With regard to social innovation and NBS, one key suggestion was the importance of not separating approaches but to work in an integrated way. This refers to using NBS for social innovation and vice versa. It also relates to integrating new economic, social, educational and nature-based approaches. The ideas were related to some main topics:

  • Education and capacity building (e.g. Society-nature-environment courses in school curricula – bringing nature to the kids in all school activities).
  • Bottom-up, participatory and new governance approaches including government authorities (e.g. Urban labs to encourage co-development and ownership).
  • The need for integrated use of green spaces for both environmental and social purposes.

Two key aspects emerged in terms of main research recommendations:

  • The urgent need for research on assessing effectiveness of NBS especially in terms of co-benefits (environmental, social and economic). This should include research on criteria for measuring effectiveness especially on the long-term (sustainability of NBS), but also trade-offs and synergies between impacts and benefits.
  • Research on holistic/systemic and trans-disciplinary processes to be both used by and catalysed by NBS in land, water, city planning and management.

Detailed research priorities presented in the results show also the importance of exploring further how to transform legal, psychological, social and economic contexts for NBS.

Top 20 research priorities across all themes:

  1. How can NBS provide social co-benefits: what are the conditions/requirements?
  2. More experimental research and evaluation of pilot studies of using NBS and social innovation together
  3. Multiple values (monetary and non-monetary) of green infrastructure development and investments especially in context where you have multi-functionalities
  4. Understanding how to achieve systemic change in urban planning to embody NBS
  5. Effectiveness of NBS on social cohesion / temperature decrease / health increase / co-benefits etc.
  6. Storm water/flood management: research how to develop holistic systematic approaches for watershed management from upstream to downstream with engagement of local actors throughout the process
  7. Research into success factors of local governance of green space
  8. An evidence base of understanding linkages between biodiversity and NBS (in urban areas)
  9. How can transdisciplinary research help overcome institutional barriers within governments (sector-thinking)?
  10. How to design (or re-think) spaces to include different and multiple needs from different communities? (Physical / mental / physiological / environmental)
  11. How can the involvement of people in NBS be fostered to ensure social co-benefits?
  12. Awareness of perception and acceptance/understanding of NBS in populations
  13. How can regulations support the social co-benefits of NBS?
  14. Explore funding models to support active lifestyles and de-acceleration in green spaces (e.g. from health organizations: social securities / insurance companies etc.)
  15. Under what circumstances social entrepreneurship could deliver social co-benefits of NBS?
  16. Innovative governance for integrated water catchment management (and learning from best examples)
  17. The effective use of citizen science to measure change in green infrastructure and effectiveness of NBS
  18. Investigate human barriers to consumptions of more ecological food items (sea weeds / insects etc.)
  19. Identify economic and social case for developing managed aquaculture (to increase food production)
  20. How to ensure that technological development does not run ahead of social innovation?

As a conclusion, participants recognised that social innovation (SI) was particularly difficult to include in the discussions of the workshop because the proposed SI definition was related to modifying relationships, especially in institutions. In addition, several participants highlighted the lack of social scientists in the workshop to properly address social innovation questions. All discussion results should be considered with these limitations in mind.

Workshop participants highlighted a high potential for NBS to address environmental and social challenges such as loss of social cohesion, health, social inequity, loss of connection between people and nature, and inadequate governance models. Proposed NBS for example relating to mixed green and blue spaces in cities were also seen as multi-functional tools to reach many concurring benefits including educational, psychological, social and economic.

However, there are also limitations for NBS and these are not always understood in the same way. Finally, NBS are not very well known as a concept by the wider public (though many NGOs may already be working on similar approaches under different names) and they would need more political and economic backing if they are to be used more widely.

Symposium: Dwelling in the Periphery

2017 Grad Exhibition Invitation

‘Dwelling in the Periphery’  – a symposium about peripheral potentials, incorporating presentations from architects, artists, authors, planners,economists and more – will take place at  2.00pm in Studio 8, Kingston School of Art, Kingston University, Knights Park Campus, Kingston upon Thames, KT1 2QJ on Wednesday 14th June.

For further details: c.brannan@kingston.ac.uk

Thames Estuary

The following text is taken from Kingston University’s Architecture + Landscape Summer 2017 exhibition catalogue:

P1020236Image: Rory Johnson


TUTORS: Pat Brown, Vladimir Guculak, Ruth Olden

CRITICS: Fenella Griffin, Richard Woolf, Helen Neve, Alax Seitl, Christoph Lueder, Judi Farren Bradley, Dimitris Grozopoulos, Pablo Feito Boirac, Leah Fusco


  • MLA Year 2: Ruth Chittock, Rory Johnson, Khadijah Khan, Camilla Piccolo, Haojie Qin, Stefan Tebbenhoff
  • PGDip Landscape Architecture: Sigita Paplauskaite
  • MA Landscape & Urbanism: Yiying He, Karamjot Kaur Kang, Arsia Mesbah, Utkarsha Patil, Karvy Bharat Yadav


The Thames estuary has been part-shaped by London’s human history of trade, navigation, industrialisation, militarisation and tourism. It evidences the relations that Londoners have extended to a regional water ecology and associated landscape – sometimes affirmative, and at other times troubling. But the estuary is no mere residual landscape: it is also an entity in its own right and must be understood on its own terms. This landscape has distinct spatialities, temporalities and agencies of its own, and it is rich with resources for reimagining the relationships that London has historically extended to it. Is this not the entrance to London?

Images: Stefan Tebbenhoff

Collectively we have worked towards understanding the elements of the estuarine landscape: its tidal waters, mud, darkness and light, marine ecologies, military ruins, estuarine communities, shipping and associated industries, dialects, abandonment and disturbed ecologies. This picture comes into focus following a sustained period of investigation of shoreline scavenging, stargazing, soil sampling, personal accounts from the field, archival research, public engagement and mapping.

Sigita modelImages: Sigita Paplauskaite

This collective archive of the region is the primary resource for thinking about possible futures of the estuary’s urban edges, marshlands, islands, ruins and postindustrial communities. Sites have been selected in the estuary, and site-responsive briefs have been written, motivated by the very real problematics of site and region. Research questions have been posed with an eye to environmental futures and cultural prospects, and these have been answered through fieldwork. The resulting design projects respond to a host of different challenges and opportunities: how to frame the relationship between the tide, the landscape, light and darkness; how to link postindustrial heritage and the Thames estuary’s distinctive marshland ecologies; how to reanimate post-industrial infrastructure with recreational programmes; how to introduce a bathing and wellness culture in the estuary, by re-appropriating former sites of waste? Many possibilities hold in this shifting landscape.

Images: Yiying He

With the waters of change lapping at the estuary’s post-industrial limits, the challenge of acknowledging the agency of London’s peripheral landscape is more urgent than ever. The landscape professional’s ability to capture complex material worlds by listening well through field work and design thinking is an essential role for our times. By putting these skills to work in the estuary, we find that this peripheral landscape is no mere putty in London’s hands. Mud, darkness and tidal waters persist here, estuarine communities dwell here. These are all agencies that present an important prompt to place-based thinking and new forms of environmental engagement. And they must be present, co-author even, in the task of future thinking.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Images: Ruth Chittock

Images: Haojie Qin

Join Landscape at the Summer Show 2017

Final Invitation _edit

Kingston University Summer Show 2017

Saturday 3 June – Friday 9 June 2017

Venue: Knights Park campus, Grange Road, Kingston upon Thames, Surrey KT1 2QJ

The 2017 Summer Show for Kingston School of Art is a great celebration of our students’ achievements.

Private view

  • Saturday 3 June, 1.00pm – 7.00pm

Public view

  • Sunday 4 June, 1.00pm – 5.00pm
  • Monday 5 June – Thursday 8 June, from 1.00pm to 7.00pm
  • Friday 9 June, 1.00pm – 5.00pm

Practice Private View

  • Wednesday 7th June, 6.00pm – 8.00pm (by invitation only)

For further information about this event: c.brannan@kingston.ac.uk


Urban Green Space Interventions and Health: Review of impacts and effectiveness.

Urban green space is a necessary component for delivering healthy, sustainable and liveable cities. Green space interventions deliver positive health, social and environmental outcomes for all population groups – particularly among lower socioeconomic status groups. There are few other public health interventions that can achieve this.

The recent World Health Organisation’s report Urban green space interventions and health: A review of impacts and effectiveness. Full report (2017) notes that interventions on green space in urban settings can help address public health issues related to obesity, cardiovascular effects, mental health and well-being. However, knowledge on their effectiveness in relation to health, well-being and equity is incomplete.


The World Health Organisation (WHO), in 2016, published an evidence review on the health impacts of urban green spaces.  Urban green spaces and health – a review of evidence (2016). This report summarizes the health benefits, discusses pathways to health and evaluates health-relevant indicators of urban green space. Such indicators enable local authorities and urban planners to assess in which urban areas green space accessibility should be improved, and to establish respective planning decisions.



What are the most effective ways to deliver urban interventions on green spaces, and how can we guarantee that the environmental, social and health benefits are maximized while potential side effects are prevented or reduced?  WHO has compiled:

  • available research evidence on urban green space interventions and their impacts;
  • local green space intervention case studies and lessons learned;
  • existing Impact Assessment experiences on green space planning.

Results indicate that urban green space is necessary to deliver healthy, sustainable and liveable cities. Interventions to increase or improve urban green space can deliver positive health, social and environmental outcomes for all population groups, particularly among lower socioeconomic status groups. There are very few other public health interventions that can achieve all of this, and especially the impact on active lifestyles, mental well-being and social interaction is frequently highlighted as a key benefit. Yet, there is a need for better inclusion of health and equity outcomes in studies on green space interventions, and an improved monitoring of local green space management and related health and equity impacts. It is equally important to note that there is little evidence available on the unintended side effects of urban green space interventions.

Urban green space interventions seem to be most effective when a physical improvement to the green space is coupled with a social engagement/participation element that promotes the green space and reaches out to new target groups. Evidence shows that multidisciplinary and cross-sectoral collaborations help to ensure that urban green space interventions deliver on multiple outcomes and provide a variety of functional opportunities that attract different population groups.

Urban green space interventions need to be planned and designed with the local community and the intended green space users thus ensuring benefits for the local residents and the delivery of interventions that serve the needs of the community – especially in deprived areas.

As green space interventions need to be considered as long-term investments, they need to be integrated within local development policies and frameworks (e.g. urban masterplans, housing regulations, transport policies, sustainability and biodiversity strategies). This requires continued political support within local government, and the general understanding that urban green spaces go beyond environmental or ecological objectives and also deliver social and health benefits that increase the quality of life and well-being of all urban residents.

Urban Green Space Interventions and Health: A review of impacts and effectiveness – Report Conclusions

Green space should be available to all residents as a part of their daily surroundings. This applies to both small-scale and large-scale green spaces, irrespective of categorizations into private or public spaces or functionalities. Be it the remote view of green space within the neighbourhood, the passive exposure to green space by having a walk by the river or taking a break in a park, or the active use of green spaces through e.g. play, leisure or gardening – all kinds of urban green space should be promoted through urban planning and governance across all sectors

Multidisciplinary and cross-sectoral collaborations will help to ensure that urban green space interventions deliver on multiple outcomes. Urban green space interventions are most effective when a dual approach is adopted where a physical improvement to the environment is coupled with a social engagement/participation element promoting the use of the green space.

Urban green space interventions need to be situated within the overall context of the urban area and integrated within the relevant strategies, frameworks and plans (e.g. urban masterplans, health and transport policies, sustainability and biodiversity strategies). Good design, implementation and maintenance of urban green space interventions will mitigate any potential adverse outcomes from the intervention and maximize their benefits.

Urban green space interventions need to be planned and designed with the local community and the intended green space users. This will ensure the derivation of benefits for the local community and will aid the delivery of interventions that serve the needs of the community – especially in deprived areas.