Animal city: planning and design for wild ‘Amsterdammers’ – Houthavens

Urban Ecologists, Spatial Planning Department, Amsterdam Municipality

Thematic route link
The Wild city

The Houthavens is an area in the West of Amsterdam currently developed as a ‘climate neutral’ zone, of around 2700 houses as well as offices and other work spaces, which is due to be finished by 2022. The urban ecologists of the spatial planning department of the municipality of Amsterdam are involved in the development process to promote ‘nature inclusive building’ in this area.

The question is how to seek novel opportunities for developing nature in this area, which is close to the water of the IJ and includes both old and newly developed buildings. Given the current plans and developments, what would be possibiltities for not just adding ‘green space’, but to actively design for wild animals? Can this type of area be approached as if it was a nature reserve? What design interventions could be developed to cater to particular species that are (expected to be) present here? Can the area become a home also for animals such as beavers, stone martens, fish eagle, various types of fish, etc? And how to plan and design for the interfaces between these animals and humans? In that way not just catering to those wild creatures potentially present, but also with an eye for the ways in which local inhabitants could experience (traces of) urban wildlife.

Your commissioner has been actively involved in promoting the importance of urban wildlife. But generating design new interventions could help them make a case for this area and other places throughout the city. As an advisor will be involved landscape architect Thijs de Zeeuw. As a zoo architect he has worked on several new enclosures in Artis Zoo, most recently the new elephant area, but he has also set up a research project studying the potential of designing for urban animals in the wild.

There is a growing sense that urban spaces are becoming biodiversity hotspots. Through popular publications and films such as recently ‘De Wilde Stad’ (to which your commissioner contributed), the public has started to warm up to the idea that metropolitan areas are also natural areas and that wild animals are not necessarily out of place in the city.

In urban planning and design however, ‘nature’ still mostly features as ‘green space’ for humans. Parks, water and trees are valued for their aesthetic qualities or for providing ‘ecosystem services’ to us. The idea that urban ecologies can be valuable in themselves, and that animals too are rightful inhabitants of cities generates a range of questions for planners and landscape architects. What happens if we take animals seriously as city dwellers, as users of the spaces and infrastructures we design? In what ways could design interventions help us to live together and somehow appreciate each other’s presence?

In this Atelier project we will be designing new modes of cohabitation, perhaps aiming to reduce nuisance, provide fresh habitats, or even stage new meaningful encounters between humans and urban wildlife.

Atelier students team

Frida Frogsjö

Frida is a fourth year landscape architect-student Swedish University of agricultural Science. She wrote bachelor thesis on the ecology and design aspects of wetland forests and is involved in the making of masterplan for the Stockholm based architecture firm Cedervall Ar- kitekter.

Xinchang Tong

Xinchang had lived in the centre of one of the largest urban area for more than than twenty years and is totally curious about urban ecology! She studied landscape ar- chitecture at South China University of Technology and is now a first year MSc landscape architecture student at Wageningen University

Tatyana Dmitrieva

Tatyana worked on sustainable and green projects; vis- ited a lot of national parks, reserves, botanical gardens, zoos and natural areas in different countries. She studied Architecture at the Novosibirsk State Academy of Architecture and Fine Arts and is now a first year Master stu- dent in Spatial Planning, Wageningen University.

Ellen Schallmayer

Ellen wrote her bachelor thesis about water purification in combination with natural playgrounds. She has a BSc degree in landscape architecture from Wageningen University and is now a first year MSc landscape architecture at WUR.

Lisheng Jiang

Lisheng worked on urban green-space system plan for 1 year, observed land use change of a natural island through RS images and wrote a Bachelor thesis on green infrastructure network in urban space. He has a Bachelor of Science degree in landscape architecture from Shanghai Jiaotong University and currently studies MSc landscape architecture at WUR.


For reading

(in English):

Jacques Vink, Piet Vollaard, Niels de Zwarte, 2017, Stadsnatuur maken / Making urban nature, naiO1O uitgevers/publishers

Wolch, Jennifer. 2002. Anima urbis. Progress in Human Geography 26 (6): 721-42

Buller, Henry. 2014. “Reconfiguring Wild Spaces.” Routledge Handbook of Human-Animal Studies, 233.

Van Dooren, Thom, and Deborah Bird Rose. 2012. “Storied-Places in a Multispecies City.” Humanimalia 3 (2): 1–27.