Environmental Design in Focus: four designers, four questions

At Benoy, sustainable design is a key element of any project we work on: we care about the people and places we design for, and want to help shape sustainable urban environments for future generations. Here, we ask four of our designers to share what urban greenery means to them and why it matters.

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What are the benefits of urban greening?

Fenia Lenta, Urban Designer, Benoy London

Developed cities across the world account for ~75% per cent of global carbon emissions. As we continue to shape the urban environment through new developments and urban regenerations, it is more urgent than ever that we explore greening benefits. A carefully designed green built environment can positively impact economic, social and environmental aspects, and mitigate climate change. A green city promotes rich biodiversity and reduces pollution and flooding risks. Green planting can also help create pleasant urban microclimates, cooling the city in the summer.
From a human perspective, green environments have a positive effect on people’s health and wellbeing, inspiring healthier choices and greater physical activity. This improves quality of life and enhances placemaking. In this way, greener environments offer development opportunities, bringing extra value and economic prosperity. Last but not least, green spaces reinforce social ties and encourage social cohesion. Caring about the natural environment and designing towards a greener built environment should be our great mission as designers. By realising green benefits and the urgency of change required, we can be inspired to make the right decisions to inform our design, not only for our clients but also the betterment of our communities.

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What are a few future visions of how greenery may benefit the cities we live in?

Jamie Webb, Head of Benoy EMEA

Greenspace is vital in an urban environment and the quantity and quality of space required for city living should dictate and directly influence the size, shape and positioning of buildings. Whether it is formal, informal, subterranean, big, small, public or private – open space provides opportunities for relaxion and play. 

Anti-pollution: Greenspace mitigates pollution and noise, creating microclimates that encourage a variety of coexisting habitats, while strategic tree planting provides carbon sequestration. Rather than a passive role, urban greening will need to take a pro-active role in reducing pollution and facilitating improved air quality and environments.

Integrated green neighbourhoods: The key is to ensure our cities provide a range of spaces, not just a single park through which multiple citizens are funnelled. Spaces should be varied, sequential, connected, offering a diversity of interactions and experiences. Above all, these space should provide networks of walkable public realm; vital ingredients for cities of the future, which aim to decouple mobility from cars and mass transit, enabling more sustainable everyday patterns of movement, life and work. Post covid we will be spending more time locally, and hence connected green networks and neighbourhoods will become increasingly relevant and important.

Jamie Webb headshot

Why might greenery be left out of urban design? What can we do to overcome this?

Ollie Harris, Associate Director, Benoy Interiors London

There is no doubt of the many benefits of biophilic design within our interior design projects. From the simple aesthetic enhancement through to the positive effects on physical and mental health. It’s something we as a team truly believe enhances many of the spaces we create. However, some clients are averse to the inclusion of greenery, and on top of that not all great spaces warrant planting.

The predominant barrier is maintenance. The requirement for regular care, results in additional cost. Finding ways to assure the client that there is value in them investing in biophilia, can be a challenge. Healthy, flourishing planting looks amazing however if ill-maintained it becomes an eyesore. One alternative, is the use of imitation planting. Advancements in quality mean that visually, in the correct locations, compromise can be minimal, however, quality still comes at a cost.

One question we ask, is if we have natural light available to allow plants to thrive. Of course, grow lights are an option, however, to align with our sustainability goals, we’d prefer to be more selective in where we place greenery, if at all. 

In circumstances where planting is not possible or suitable, we look to other routes to achieve similar results. Natural materials, digital media and biomimicry to simulate elements of nature and its processes, are all design tools we use to create immersive destinations with physiological benefits.

Oli rectangula

What does biophilic design mean to you as a designer?

Villian Lo, Architect, Benoy Newark

Biophilic design is not a new school of thought. In fact, the concept was first mentioned in the forties and the use of it only started to gain momentum in the eighties, especially in the field of social psychology. The term biophilia originates from the Greek meaning​‘a love of life’. In essence, it refers to the transcending notion of connecting people with nature.
With the fast-growing awareness of sustainability, well-being, healthy living, and resilience, the definition of biophilic design is also fast-evolving. Meeting the ever-changing needs and requirements of building occupants, reconnecting our mind and body with the innate power of the natural world, bringing the nature to the space we create, and achieving the sense of harmony in a somewhat chaotic world we are living in through a thoughtful selection of material palettes and building technologies, a creative implementation of building codes and standards in our design process, and a careful consideration of the environmental ramifications of our design decisions are perhaps the keys to biophilic design.
Our perception of biophilia no doubt will continue to evolve in response not just to the needs of human beings but also to that of the natural world.

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Fenia hi res
Jamie Webb headshot
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Villian hi res