The size of each element in the ‘strategies for designing urban ecosystem services’ diagram was determined through the Kumu program automatically in relation to the amount of direct connections to it. This means the more relationship links an element has, the larger the element circle appears on the diagram. By analyzing the sizes of the elements, it is possible to see which ecosystem services have larger numbers of design strategies attached to them, and which ecosystem services have fewer existing design strategies associated with their creation in a built or urban setting. The diagram displays potential relationships between elements. These relationships can be direct or indirect, which means that certain elements are connected via one or more other elements. For instance, the ecosystem service ‘soil building’ is indirectly related to the ecosystem service ‘decomposition’. This can be explained due to the connection via the ‘soil building’ subcategory ‘renewal of soil fertility’ and the ‘decomposition’ subcategory ‘biodegradation’.
Analyzing the diagram based on numbers of connections to each element shows that regulating services have the highest amount of connections to design strategies, concepts and technologies (143 connections) while provisioning services have 112 connections. The ecosystem service ‘purification’ showed the highest amount of connections (93 connections) to design strategies, concepts, and technologies among the regulating services, followed by 82 connections to the ecosystem service climate regulation.
Among provisioning services, most design strategies, concepts and technologies (66 connections) were found for the generation of fuel and energy. The provisioning ecosystem service of fresh water was revealed to have the second most connections to design strategies, concepts and technologies (39 connections). This demonstrates that design strategies, concepts, or technologies that generate provisioning ecosystem services are among the most well-known and developed and are already often integrated into sustainable built environment design. This is not surprising given that these ecosystem services are a familiar and integral part of traditional forms of human economic systems [22
]. They are tangible, and easily understood.
The type of ecosystem services with the least amount of connections (both direct and indirect) to known design strategies, concepts, and technologies in the diagram was supporting services (109). Supporting services include ecosystem services like ‘soil building’ or ‘nutrient cycling’ and directly support provisioning services. The only exceptions to the low number of known design strategies that relate to supporting ecosystem services were ‘soil building’ which is directly and indirectly related to a total of 84 design strategies, concepts and technologies, and ‘habitat provision’ which reveals 71 connections to design strategies, concepts and technologies. Latter relationships are mostly direct (53 connections) and link to many of the vegetation-related concepts such as living walls, green roofs, community gardens, and urban wildlife corridors etc. Habitat provision was actually the ecosystem service with the highest amount of direct relationships to known ecosystem services design strategies.
Ecosystem services and sub categories with the least amount of known design strategies associated with them were: provision of genetic information; fixation of solar energy; and control of invasive species. This can be explained because the nature of these ecosystem services relies heavily on communities of living plants, meaning unless plants themselves are integrated into buildings or urban contexts it is difficult for buildings or infrastructure to produce these ecosystem services. Earlier research has shown that if the ecosystem service of habitat provision in urban settings is thought of as a bundle of ecosystem services, including the provision of genetic information, biological control, species maintenance, fixation of solar energy, and soil building, that these ecosystem services can be more readily integrated into urban contexts [22
The ecosystem subcategories of greenhouse gas (GHG) mitigation (38 connections), and climate adaptation (35 connections), which both relate to the regulating ecosystem service of climate regulation, were the largest categories in terms of associated design strategies. This may be a result of current effort in the building and urban design communities to devise strategies for design that addresses climate change.
Among the design strategies, concepts, and technologies, ‘revegetation’ had the highest amount of connections to ecosystem services. With a total of 98 direct connections ‘revegetation’ relates to many case studies, other design strategies, concepts and technologies, as well as to ecosystem services subcategories and categories. Applying the design strategy ‘revegetation’ in an urban environment can directly or indirectly generate up to 17 different ecosystem services including the provision of habitat, food, fuel and energy, purification and prevention and moderation of disturbances and extremes. This suggests, not unsurprisingly, that the inclusion of green space and living infrastructure into cities and buildings will be an important part of achieving ecosystem services based ecological performance goals in urban settings. Other design strategies with large numbers of connections (meaning they have the potential to contribute to more than one ecosystem service) included urban agriculture and carbon sequestration technologies.
An analysis of the case studies in the diagram and their potential to contribute to urban ecosystem service generation revealed ‘Baubotanik Nagold Tower’ in Germany and ‘Workplace 6’, in Australia were the case studies which produced or contributed to the largest number of ecosystem services. Both have 20 connections to ecosystem services. Therefore, the design strategies or concepts behind these case studies represent potentially effective integrated solutions in the process of creating or evolving regenerative cities in the future. Among the ecosystem services that the case studies contribute to or generate are more common ones, such as the provision of fuel and energy, fresh water, and habitat provision, but also less common ecosystem services, such as biological control and the provision of biochemicals were targeted.
Examining the, ‘strategies for designing urban ecosystem services’ diagram shows that there are existing design strategies that relate to the emulation, production, or support of every ecosystem service investigated. This suggests that ecosystem biomimicry based on the idea of emulating ecosystem services does not have to rely on new, or un-tested technologies or design ideas. Rather, what is required is an ambitious re-imagining of the overall goals for ecological performance and strategic effort to design buildings or urban spaces that produce multiple interconnected ecosystem services. Provisioning ecosystem services tend to be directly reliant on regulating and supporting ecosystem services [67
]. It is important therefore that ecosystem services design does not ignore regulating or supporting services, although these are more difficult to quantify, and indeed to understand and design for [22
]. The diagram showed that fewer design strategies were associated with the provision of supporting ecosystem services. This suggests that future research and effort should be made to devise and test design strategies that produce or contribute to supporting ecosystem services more readily.
That a greater understanding of ecology and systems design is required on the part of design teams is implicit with an ecosystem services approach to architectural and urban design. Increased collaboration between fields that traditionally seldom work together such as architecture or urban design, and biology or ecology would be required. The built environment varies greatly between different climatic, economic, and cultural contexts, and systems that are appropriate to specific places will therefore also vary greatly. Although each differing geographic region will have to evolve its own unique system over time, knowledge of how to create or evolve such systems can be transferred, particularly through ecosystem services design visualization tools such as the ‘strategies for designing urban ecosystem services diagram’.
A whole-system ecosystem services generation approach to built environment design is a suitable solution for a longer-term response to climate change and biodiversity loss, because it addresses many of the underlying issues with current urban environments that are in need of re-evaluation [68
]. In this case, issues relate to the fact that the majority of human urban settlements are dependent on fossil fuels to heat, feed, and transport people in a linear system which creates pollution leading in part to climate change. This system also causes the degradation of water ways, air quality, soil, and human health while at the same time consumes non-renewable resources in such a way that they cannot be re-used. A whole-systems pluralistic ecologies approach to built environment design acknowledges that human developments and therefore humans are not in any way separate from the ecosystems they exist in [21
Mimicking aspects of living organisms can produce innovations that address sustainability issues in some cases, but without an understanding of the ecological context of these organisms, such innovations can too easily become simple technological add-ons or substitution materials in conventional buildings. Such solutions also miss an opportunity to examine the possibility of systemic socio-ecological change in the built environment and to re-evaluate the nature of the relationship between people, their built environment, and the ecologies they exist in.
Positive integration with ecosystems leading to a regenerative rather than damaging effect on them in urban contexts may contribute to maintaining biodiversity and the ecosystem services that humans are dependent upon for survival, particularly as the climate continues to change. Such a concept goes beyond encouraging a basic understanding of ecological processes over time. Instead, it is the thorough integration of quantifiable biological ecological knowledge into architecture and urban design for the purpose of altering how buildings fundamentally function in relation to both ecosystems and to each other. Buildings, and indeed whole cities, should be expected to become active contributors to ecosystems and social systems, rather than remaining unresponsive agents of ecosystem degeneration.