Architects, planners, and designers are being urged to transform the built environment by learning from nature. 

Regenerative Design: Towards living in harmony with nature gives built environment professionals the practical steps they can take to break away from this ‘take, make, waste’ cycle and instead begin to reverse ecological damage and regenerate planetary and social health.

The report shows the urgent need for a shift towards regenerative design – a holistic approach where humans don’t just reduce the damage done to nature but actively work to restore and replenish it. It aims to inspire action by showing the ways designers around the world are already implementing these principles: from a building in Harare, Zimbabwe, which is designed like a termite mound to stay cool without air conditioning; to a facility in Saudi Arabia using algae and animals to clean wastewater.

It also demonstrates how legislation can help rediscover the principles Indigenous and traditional communities have followed for millennia. For example, the Whanganui River in New Zealand receiving legal recognition as a living entity, allowing action to be taken in court against those that harm it.   

The authors warn there is a massive challenge to reach the scale of change that is needed for the built environment industry to halt and reverse its negative impact on nature, restore the damage done, and deliver positive outcomes for people and the planet. 

Arup is calling for all professionals involved in shaping the built environment to learn the guiding principles in the report, which are illustrated with innovative examples from around the world: 

Nature-led: place-based design that enhances and emulates nature 
The Eastgate shopping centre in Harare, Zimbabwe: can maintain a comfortable temperature with no conventional air-conditioning or heating. Instead, designers mimicked the ways African termites use an intricate system of ventilation to keep their mounds cool, drawing in cool air at night to keep the building cool during hot days. 
Systemic: using materials, resources and relationships that restore, protect and replenish 

The Demolition Protocol in Singapore: is ensuring materials from demolished buildings are recovered and re-used. Concrete is now made using demolition waste and metals are being recovered using magnets and sieving techniques.  

 co-creation and collaboration that ensure inclusivity and social justice 

The Whanganui River in New Zealand (Aotearoa): has received recognition as a living entity, allowing legal redress against those that damage it. The law also recognised the Indigenous peoples as stewards of the land, demonstrating how an equitable approach can help protect a natural asset.   

Click here to explore the regenerative design report