The design framework of nature-based solutions (doctoral thesis)




July 26, 2022

The Design of Nature-Based Solutions: Learning from Practices of Regenerative Transformation


Nature-based solutions (NBS) have gained popularity within mainstream sustainability research agendas due to efforts to coordinate global responses to urban sustainability challenges. Their potential is promising: by applying an ecosystem services approach inherent in NBS to urban development, they simultaneously provide social, economic, and environmental benefits, and they help operationalize regenerative urban development. Urban NBS are diverse in scales and forms (from green belts to urban parks at the macro scale or rain gardens at the micro scale). As NBS, these green solutions are portrayed as means to the use of the urban environments’ capacity to deliver ecologically sound and socially desirable outcomes not only with but for nature. Still, at present, urban NBS are often temporary, fragmented, and used in an ad-hoc way. One of their major criticisms is that realizing NBS in practice can be detached from their theoretical promise. As a result, NBS can deliver below their actual potential, limiting their contribution to the challenge of urban transformation. Delivering below potential is intricately connected with the way urban spaces are designated and designed, reflecting user practices, culture, and lifestyle, and the understanding that NBS must serve humans and the natural environment alike. This dissertation explores the mutual interplay between NBS and the ‘designed’ features of the urban environment: how NBS can be amplified through strategic design considerations and enhance the ‘urban’ with human well-being as its integral part. I examine the design of NBS to understand the consequences of applying specific design frameworks and argue that a broad range of design factors affect their application and potential impact on regenerative urban transformation beyond sustainability. I apply Mang and Haggard’s (2016) ‘three lines of work’ tool to construct a holistic design framework that represents critical dimensions that influence the creation and implementation of NBS for urban transformations. It was intended to guide design projects to develop regenerative synergies within their immediate and larger context. The ‘three lines of work’ comprise the ‘spheres of influence’ of a design project exerted across three dimensions: 1) the motivations behind the actions (design approaches), 2) the capacity and capability of the community to deploy the project (design processes), and the contribution to the regenerative capacity of living systems (design outcomes). Through a multidisciplinary case study analysis, the research highlights the role of design in conceptualizing, adopting, and implementing urban NBS and how the critical design dimensions influence these efforts in making their regenerative potentials happen. Qualitative, empirical evidence is gained from nine case studies in three cities (Győr, Hungary; Milan, Italy; and Melbourne, Australia). Through this assessment, I demonstrate the relevance of the interconnected design dimensions for embedding NBS into urban environments, thus, affording a transformed urbanity with different experiences, usages, and actions. Furthermore, by exploring the design framework of NBS, I provide a systematic and critical reflection on current urban design-based placemaking practices. I argue that a radical repurposing of the urban space is necessary where streets, buildings, homes, and open spaces can be redesigned into regenerative, living ecosystems.

Central European University | Department of Environmental Sciences and Policy



Prof. László Pintér, CEU

Prof. Katalin Szende, CEU

Dr. Alexander van der Jagt, Heriot-Watt University

Thesis file and related publications

Electronic record of the thesisCEU Library

Open access publication: Boros, Judit, and Israa Mahmoud. “Urban design and the role of placemaking in mainstreaming nature-based solutions. Learning from the Biblioteca degli Alberi case study in Milan.” Frontiers in Sustainable Cities 3 (2021): 635610. – Link to publication

Public lectures and presentations about the research

07.2023 – ‘The design framework of nature-based solutions’ presentation at the UIA 2023 Copenhagen World Congress / Climate Adaptation Science Track

06.2023 – ‘From urban spaces to nature-based places’ presentation at the Building for Revival Conference by Építészfórum and ABUD

10.2022 – ‘Biophilia & Regenerative Design’ guest lecture at the Urban Design for Health and Wellbeing course at Heriot Watt University

07.2022 – poster presentation of the thesis at NBSI Nature-Based Solutions Conference, University of Oxford

10.2021 – ‘Nature-based solutions for resilient cities’, online presentation at MARUF 21 (Marmara Urban Forum)

07.2020 – ‘More-than-human-centered-design’ online talk at UX Budapest Meetup

04.2020 – ‘Urban design thinking’ online workshop for CEU Community Engagement Office

04.2020 – ‘Strategic integration of nature-based solutions’ guest lecture at the Urban and Environmental Design Studio Master course at Politecnico di Milano

11.2019 – ‘The Design of Nature-based Solutions’ @ Centre for Urban Research, RMIT, Melbourne, Australia

06.2019 – ‘Re-design the City’ workshop for CEU Community Engagement week @ Budapest, Hungary

05.2019 – ‘The Design of Nature-based Solutions: Milan cases’ @ Budapest, Hungary

The Design of Nature- Based Solutions: Learning from Practices of Regenerative Transformation

I presented this poster virtually at the 2022 NBSI Nature-Based Solutions Conference organized at the University of Oxford. It summarizes the aim, methods, conceptual framework, results and main contribution of my doctoral research.