Huri Te Ao Hoahoanga - School of Future Environments
Aotearoa New Zealand
  PhD, BDes (Int Arch).  Author of Regenerative Urban Design and Ecosystem Biomimicry  
Auckland University of Technology

Te Wānanga Aronui O Tāmaki Makaurau

Dr Maibritt Pedersen Zari 

Associate Professor

PhD Thesis

Ecosystem Services Analysis for the Design of Regenerative Urban Built Environments
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand


Humans must mitigate the causes of, and adapt to climate change and the loss of biodiversity, as the now inevitable impacts of these changes become more apparent and demand urgent responses. The built environment cannot solve these issues alone. Because it contributes significantly to these problems however, and because it is the main site of cultural and economic activities, it could potentially make a contribution to addressing these problems.

Typical built environment focused responses to climate change and biodiversity issues are inadequate given the urgency and scale of the predicted impacts. They tend not to take advantage of the interconnected nature of the causes and effects of climate change and biodiversity loss. Aiming for ‘neutral’ environmental impact buildings in terms of energy, carbon, waste or water sets worthwhile and difficult targets. It is becoming clear however, that built environments will need to go beyond having little negative environmental impact in the future, to having positive environmental benefits. Regenerative design could be useful in this regard because it works to mitigate the causes of climate change and ecosystem degradation (and therefore biodiversity loss). Regenerative design ideally increases the health of ecosystems and resilience to change by utilising the mutually reinforcing aspects of mitigation, adaptation and restoration strategies.


Regenerative design is in need of further definition and exploration, and lacks quantitative evidence of its potential either by monitoring of built examples, or basic theoretical measurements. Regenerative design literature suggests that mimicking organisms or ecosystems could be an important part of such an approach to design. This is often termed ‘biomimicry’. The concept and practice of biomimicry is also in need of critical investigation for its potential contribution to increased sustainability outcomes. Different kinds of biomimicry exist in terms of type, underlying motivation, and environmental performance outcomes. The usefulness of a strategy of mimicking organisms or ecosystems as a basis for developing the theoretical underpinnings of the practical application of regenerative design is examined.


The remainder of the thesis goes on to explore current understandings of ecological systems in relation to the built environment, and defines an ecosystem biomimetic theory for regenerative design. The research primarily investigates one area of human knowledge (ecology and biology) for its transferable applicability to another (the urban built environment). Finally, the research determines how such theory could be practically applied to urban and architectural design and tests this through conducting a case study of an existing urban environment.

It is posited that the incorporation of an understanding of the living world into architectural and urban design may be a step towards the creation of a built environment that is more sustainable or potentially regenerative, and one where the potential for restoration of natural carbon cycles is increased. The outcome of such an endeavour depends on the wider context that the built environment is situated in, including the time left for action to be taken before the impacts of climate change and biodiversity loss become extreme, and the inability of the dominant global financial system to allow rapid and widespread action to occur that effectively addresses these issues.


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