Ecological design models for New Zealand urban areas

I think there is a  need to move ecological design in NZ beyond the twin poles of revegetation on the one hand and garden design with natives on the other. I have been thinking about how to do this and, during my ‘sabbatical’ at University of Sheffield, saw how effective a tool was the modelling of ecological design on wild communities but without the automatic adherence to the ‘indigenous’ plant menu.

To do ecological design in urban areas we need to look for vegetation communities in the wild of New Zealand that are adapted to similar climate, microclimate and ground conditions to those found in the design site. What makes it more interesting and, in fact, more achievable is when those conditions are extreme – drylands, wetlands, nutrient poor lands, eg gumlands etc.


Gumland ferns and sedges and shrubs – could be the basis of a design assembly for impoverished clay soils. (click to enlarge)

We are more familiar with the various wetland conditions found in many urban stormwater management systems and how these can be used to develop diverse wetland communities. Much urban landscape exists in close proximity to hard materials – concrete, asphalt, brick, etc.- Rather than remove all this and replace with topsoil at great expense can we use the pioneer vegetation of locations like Rangitoto lava beds? In the unique and distinctive Rangitoto vegetation can we see inspiration for city landscape.


Rangitoto vegetation

Vegetation colonizing Rangitoto in the most extreme conditions of drought, exposure and salt water but showing strong design qualities. (click to enlarge)

Rangitito echoes the harshness of much of the urban environment. Another wild ecology that is located in inhospitable conditions and offers ideas for design is that of dune-lands.


Established wild dune land ‘meadow’ with rich visual qualities. (click to enlarge)


Dune  as basis for design on a roof in France. (click to enlarge)

the  Ecological design is about designing with plant communities rather than plant species. The basic unit of design is the community or ecosystem (the community plus its physical environment). It is the way we put these together that can create the diversity  and intensity of vegetation and habitat that we need and enjoy in urban areas.

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