What is happening?
The report from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) finds that „nature is declining globally at rate unprecedented in human history and the rate of species extinction is accelerating, with grave impacts on people around the world now likely.“ IPBES performs regular assessments of knowledge on biodiversity and ecosystems services and their interlinkages at the global level. Addressing the invitation by the Conference of the Parties of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), a global assessment of biodiversity and ecosystem services was prepared in 2019. The results of the IPBES Global Assessment are alarming. According to this Report, around 1 million animal and plant species are threatened with extinction, which is more than ever before in human history. Since 1900 the average abundance of native species in most major land-based habitats has fallen by at least 20%. More than 40% of amphibian species, almost 33% of reef-forming corals and more than a third of all marine mammals are threatened. There is a tentative estimate that 10% of insect species are threatened.
The loss of biodiversity is a direct result of human activity and constitutes a direct threat to human well-being in all regions of the world (IPES 2019).
In the Report, the five direct drivers of change on nature with the largest relative global impact so far, are: (1) changes in land and sea use; (2) direct exploitation of organisms; (3) climate change; (4) Pollution and (5) invasive alien species.
There has been progress to conserve nature thought implementing certain policies. Nevertheless, the Report finds that global goals for conserving and sustainably using nature and achieving sustainability cannot be met by current means, and goals for 2030 and beyond may only be achieved through transformative changes across economic, social, political and technological factors.
The Report highlights the importance of adopting integrated management and cross-sectoral approaches that take into account the trade-offs of food and energy production, infrastructure, freshwater and coastal management, and biodiversity conservation.
In order to understand and address the damage to biodiversity, we need to understand the history and global interconnection of complex demographic and economic indirect drivers of change. These include increased population and per capita consumption; technological innovation, which in some cases has lowered and in other cases increased the damage to nature; and, critically, issues of governance and accountability. Current negative trends in biodiversity and ecosystems will undermine progress towards 80% of the assessed targets of the Sustainable Development Goals. Loss of biodiversity is therefore shown to be not only an environmental issue, but also a developmental, economic, security, social and moral issue as well.
The findings include that three-quarters of the land-based environment and about 66% of the marine environment have been significantly altered by human actions. On average these trends have been less severe or avoided in areas held or managed by Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities. Here it should be noted, that urban areas have more than doubled since 1992.
In urban areas, the Report highlights the promotion of nature-based solutions; increasing access to urban services and a healthy urban environment for low-income communities; improving access to green spaces; sustainable production and consumption and ecological connectivity within urban spaces, particularly with native species (United Nations 2019).
Urbanization and Habitat Loss
Biodiversity refers to the variety of species, the genetic variation within them and is also concerned with habitats. As pointed out before, the average abundance of native species in most land-based habitats has decreased, whereas human population has more than doubled since 1970 and urbanization is ever-growing (United Nations 2019). Half of the world’s population is living in urban areas and the urbanization is expected to reach 68% by 2050. This leads to an extension of urban areas in diverse natural environments. Moreover, the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem integrity undermines climate actions.
There are certain benefits provided to humans by the natural environment, including aspects like clean air, pollination, physical health or extreme weather regulation. With everyday life dependent on ecosystem services, which are in turn supported by biodiversity, the latter’s impact on humans in urban environments becomes apparent. As a result, decision-makers, urban planners, and architects are becoming more aware of how nature in cities impacts well-being and represents an intrinsic aspect in developing a sustainable and healthy urban life (Cutieru 2022).
Effects of Architecture and the Construction Industry on Biodiversity Loss
Construction projects, such as commercial developments, housing estates, infrastructure or public-sector projects, all have the potential to damage natural habitats, threading wildlife and species. Damage might occur where a habitat is removed to make way for a new development.
This directly affects plants and sessile animals in these areas and leads to alteration or reduction in biodiversity. Mobile animals, such as birds and mammals retreat into remnant patches of habitat.
Construction can also lead to fragmentation, which means that native habitats may become divided into separate fragments during construction. The extent and connectivity of remaining habitats are reduced and species may or may not be able to survive as a result. Fragmentation then leads to an altering of the distribution of populations, the migration rates among populations, or the size of local populations. Fragmentation does not always pose an absolute barrier to movement, but rather subjects animals to greater mortality as they try to cross the contrasting habitat.
Further, the noise of the construction activities might disturb fauna resulting in their relocation and thus reducing the biodiversity of an area. Another problem is the pollution of watercourses. On construction sites, soil, waste concrete, toxins or fuels can accidentally be spilled during storage or delivery and enter watercourses. These pollutants can impacts aquatic habitats, plant life, invertebrate and all life stages of fish.
The planning of the construction plays a major role trying to prevent these negative effects. Poorly timed construction can have a negative impact on a wide variety of species, e.g. nesting bird. Also, bad planned location is problematic. As far as possible, construction should take place in areas where it will have least impact on biodiversity (Sustainable Inclusive 2018).
Challenges for Architecture
This poses difficulties that have to be solved by architects and engineers. Architecture is a discipline that through its practice has a profound impact on all fields of sustainability. The economic development of a country will lead to urbanization, with the construction of many industrial, business and residential facilities, and also the economic development of one country will lead to a desire for a larger and more luxurious housing unit. It follows that the growth of the economic status of a social apparatus also increases the demand for land and construction materials, which affects the global ecosystem. The challenge of sustainable design is to find technological and design solutions that guarantee the prosperity of this ecosystem (Veselinovic 2018).
Architecture has a huge impact upon ecosystems and biodiversity. There are certain factors which are often interconnected. Firstly, by choosing the materials used in construction- their sourcing, assembly and disposal. Then, the decision about the resources needed to sustain buildings in use, like energy and water. Architecture makes decisions regarding roofs, walls, landscape and importantly about adverse affects of buildings in terms of air and water pollution. Lastly, decisions about the conservation and rehabilitation of existing structures (Edwards 2010).
Biodiversity, quality of life and global warning are directly connected. Architects have a key role to play alongside their actions to reduce energy consumption. However, unlike CO2 emissions, the science and knowledge of biodiversity in a building context is less well developed. Yet, society is moving towards a richer understanding of sustainability where green roofs, planted facades and construction materials from recycled waste or bio-crops are serious attempts to address ecological diversity.
There is a growing focus onto biodiversity, which is also shown in certifications for buildings. For example the LEED rating system, which is the most widely used green building rating system in the world. It provides a framework for healthy, efficient, carbon and cost-saving green building. They are addressing climate change and meeting ESG goals, in order to reduce contribution to global change and, importantly, protect and enhance biodiversity and ecosystem services (LEED n.a.).
What is Architecture?
Architecture is the art and technique of designing and building. It fulfills both practical and expressive requirements; meaning it must be both useful and aesthetic. These two ends of architecture cannot be completely separated, and the relative weight given to each can vary widely. Every society has its relationship to the natural world and to other societies and the structures they produce reveal much about their environment, including climate and weather, history, ceremonies, artistic sensibility, as well as many aspects of daily life. There are certain characteristics that distinguish a work of architecture from other built structures: (1) The suitability of the work to use by human beings in general and the adaptability of it to particular human activities, (2) the stability and permanence of the work’s construction, and (3) the communication of experience and ideas through its form. As the social function of buildings change, these characteristics are also fluent. The types of architecture are established not by architects but by society, according to the needs of its different institutions. Society sets the goals and assigns to the architect the job of finding the means of achieving them. Society has a role in determining the kinds of architecture, and the role of the architect in adapting designs to particular uses and to the general physical needs of human beings (Scruton n.a.).
How can Architecture be a Chance for Biodiversity?
Architecture and construction industry can have a devastating impact on biodiversity. But the artistic impact of architecture on the environment can in turn be beautiful. Before the expansion of human population, cities were quite small and their impact on nature was limited, thus having less impact on biodiversity. Architecture is both the process and the product of planning, designing, and constructing buildings and other physical structures. Architecture and buildings are inseparable parts of a city. In modern cities today, the domination of buildings against natural environment is undeniable. Before modernization and urbanization, cities were built more aligned with nature; they were co-existing. With the emergence of modernization, the growth of urbanization resulted to the situation where modern homes and high rise habitats replaced gardens.
Before urbanization began, there were many cities that had city—nature relationship e.g. in Old Iranian cities like Isfahan and Shiraz; Kilwa coastal towns in what is now present day Tanzania, Teotenango, Mexico, as other few examples. When the urbanization was happening in Europe during and after the time of the Industrial Revolution, Sir Ebenezer Howard in England brought the concept of Garden Cities onto the table.
This concept was based on the creation of a series of small cities that would combine the rural and urban environments. This concept is frequently reinterpreted today to purpose urban planning solutions that attempt greater integration between urban areas and green spaces. Certainly, it is important for architects to study and understand these concepts in order to preserve biodiversity (Moreira 2021).
Architects can contribute to the environment to reduce the diminishing rate of biodiversity in the world by the following criteria:
Green/Sustainable Architecture also called ecological design, is a philosophy of designing buildings to comply with the principles of social, economic and ecological well-being, which is aimed at reducing the consumption of natural energies and to use natural materials in buildings construction. Such architecture achieves two important goals at the same time. Firstly, it reduces pressure on natural energy resources, and secondly, it promotes and increases the efficiency of architectural systems.
Environment inclined site analysis: You can’t build or design a good building without understanding their relationship with the natural systems and the surrounding environment. Architects need to associate their inventive minds with buildings that are related to the climate, social, topography culture and tradition of a particular environment.
The temptation to create up-to-date designs which assails ancient architecture sometimes prevents an architect from complying with best practices. For example, in the past, people of the humid tropical regions build their huts with reeds and grass that allows air to pass through the walls. As a result of the need to keep up with modern trends, they begin to use more sophisticated materials like cement block and roof topped with iron sheets, causing the houses to become unbearably hot and stuffy.
Culture and tradition
Modern Architects are taught to think of the words “culture and tradition” as a pre-historical way of life, which leads modern architectural ideas to drift away from being culture oriented. It can be fruitful and inspiring to look back at older buildings and the relationships they had with the environment. The goal should be to incorporate culture into modern architecture designs.
Architects can assist at every stage with designs constructed with the consideration of environment, health and nature in mind. They can shape the environment physically, they have the ability to influence how people live, whether they walk, cycle or drive, whether they recycle and how much energy they use. Architects need to become the new design leaders as protectors and creators of biodiversity (Ashawa 2017).
At the same time, recent studies show that cities are more important to biodiversity conservation than was previously thought, in several cases supporting an array of plants and animals, some of which have larger populations and higher productivity in urban environments than in rural landscapes.This prompts a deeper understanding of what biodiversity in urban environments means and how can architecture and urban design actively contribute to it. With the extinction of species and urbanization over natural land continuing, cities become an essential factor in sustaining biodiversity (Spotswood E., Beller E., et al. 2021).
United Nations (2019): UN Report: Nature’s Dangerous Decline ‚Unprecedented‘; Species
Extinction Rates ‚Accelerating‘; Accessible at: https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/blog/2019/05/nature-decline-unprecedented-report/ (viewed 21 June 2022).
IBPES (2019): Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services; Accessible at: https://ipbes.net/global-assessment (viewed 21 June 2022).
Cutieru, A. (2022): Biodiversity in Urban Environments; Accessible at: https://www.archdaily.com/974707/biodiversity-in-urban-environments (viewed 21 June 2022).
Sustainable Inclusive (2018): What Effect Has The Construction Industry On Biodiversity?; Accessible at: https://sustainableinclusivebusiness.org/focus-areas/what-effect-has-the-construction-industry-on-biodiversity/ (viewed 21 June 2022).
Edwards, B. (2010): Biodiversity: the new challenge for architecture; Accessible at: https://www.thenbs.com/knowledge/biodiversity-the-new-challenge-for-architecture#:~:text=Architects%20impact%20upon%20biodiversity%20in,use%20(energy%2C%20water%20etc) (viewed 21 June 2022).
Veselinovic, P. (2018): The Impact of Architecture on the Environment; Accessible at https://www.energetskiportal.rs/en/the-impact-of-architecture-on-the-environment/ (viewed 21 June 2022).
Scruton, R. (n.a.): architecture; Accessible at https://www.britannica.com/topic/architecture (viewed 21 June 2022).
Ashawa, A. (2017): Biodiversity and Architecture; Accessible at https://www.ashawaconsultsltd.com/biodiversity-and-architecture/ (viewed 21 June 2022).
Moreira, S. (2021): What Are Garden Cities?; Accessible at https://www.archdaily.com/961275/what-are-garden-cities (viewed 21 June 2022).
LEED (n.a.): LEED Rating System; Accessible at https://www.usgbc.org/leed (viewed 21 June 2022).
Spotswood E., Beller E., et al. (2021): The Biological Deserts Fallacy: Cities in Their Landscapes Contribute More than We Think to Regional Biodiversity; BioScience, vol. 71, issue 2, pp. 148-160.