Towards a landscape approach for designing sustainable urban environments

Designing with natural and social-cultural processes

'Landscape-based urbanism utilizes understanding of the landscape system and its social, cultural and ecological processes ~ landscape logic ~ as the basis for sustainable urban planning and design'

Sustainable urbanization

Urbanization is one of the biggest challenges of this century, alongside biodiversity loss and climate change. Urbanization comes at the expense of fragile ecosystems that protect and provide us with food and water, not to mention the associated increasing vulnerability to flooding, drought and social inequality. For sustainable urbanization we need a landscape-based approach to urbanism that considers the biosphere as the context for social and economic development and takes the landscape first.

Landscape as the basis for social and economic development. Image: © Stockholm Resilience Centre


Landscape-based urbanism is an approach in which the landscape is the basis for designing future-proof urban environments. Designing with nature, people and history is at the core of Landscape-based urbanism. Understanding landscape systems and their associated ecological and cultural logic is the starting point for spatial design across scales. By using landscape logic, we can build nature-inclusive and climate adaptive and ensure a healthy and safe living environment for everyone.

Biodiversity and urbanization. Map created by Steffen Nijhuis, TU Delft using data provided by: UCSD, Natural Earth, ESA, WWF, UNEP-WCMC, CEPF, Mittermeier et al., 2003, Seto et al., 2015, UN-DESA


• Takes the processes and functioning of nature as the foundation for planning and design. Abiotic factors such as climate, elevation, soil and water determine urban development opportunities, and ecosystems’ restoration, management, and rehabilitation are employed as formative powers

• Learns from landscape history and vernacular practice and makes use of indigenous and traditional ecological knowledge

• Employs knowledge-based spatial design as an integrative, multi-scale and transdisciplinary approach and exploits the power of digital design technologies

• Develops resilient and adaptive spatial frameworks: robust landscape structures for the coherent development of a region (long-term strategy) and at the same time setting the scene for local projects (short-term intervention)

• Creates and regenerates living landscape systems in which (bio)diversity, cultural history and multi-functionality lead to sociologically and ecologically inclusive and water sensitive urban landscapes

Landscape-based Urbanism as a co-creative process for generating knowledge and ideas. Image: © Steffen Nijhuis, TU Delft

Landscape-based urbanism is an international research and design perspective affiliated to Delft University of Technology, Faculty of Architecture and The Built Environment, Department of Urbanism, Section Landscape Architecture and developed by Prof. Dr. Steffen Nijhuis 

Landscape-based urbanism contributes towards the following Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs):