Building with nature – but it’s not easy –


More and more urban buildings are deliberately giving space to nature. It is good for plants, animals and people. However, the practice is unruly, according to research from WUR. We are at the beginning of a transition.

On every balcony of the Trudo Toren in Eindhoven, there is a planter for trees and shrubs that are meters high. Together, the greenery forms a vertical housing forest with 125 almost identical social rental housing. The tower is a design by the architect Stefano Boeri, who previously designed the world-famous and iconic Bosco Verticale in Milan. At the end of 2021, the sustainable residential tower with catering facilities, shops, offices and residences at the bottom was completed. Worldwide, Trudo Tower is the first nature-inclusive building project for the social rental sector.

“The real estate sector is undergoing enormous changes,” says project manager Marijke Dijkshoorn, who works at Wageningen Economic Research. “Nature-inclusive construction is increasingly on the agenda for the government and parties in the real estate sector.” Dijkshoorn is researching this new way of building that is slowly gaining popularity. Together with her colleagues, she made an inventory of how the real estate sector can get started and what success factors and obstacles there are.

People, animals, climate and company

Nature in the city has all sorts of advantages, as municipalities, real estate parties and residents know. It is pleasant to live in a ‘green’ living environment, and birds, insects, mammals and other animals feel at home. In addition, a green neighborhood can better withstand extreme weather as a result of climate change, and air pollution has less chance. Finally, ‘green’ is an attractive location factor for many companies. It is also one of the important factors when buying a home.

Green is often a final point that is only filled in when other functions have already taken shape

Enough benefits, but what does the practice look like? Dijkshoorn asked 89 parties in 2019, mostly project developers, investors, architects, contractors and construction companies. Most of these companies, 61 percent, say that they already build nature inclusively. They do this for society as well as for their own image and distinctive character. The return-risk ratio, on the other hand, is considered to be less important. Almost two-thirds of the companies that are not yet integrating nature into their projects expect to do so within five years.

‘There is a planter for trees and shrubs on every balcony in Trudo Tower. This is the first nature-inclusive building project for the social rental sector worldwide’

by Rosanne de Vries


The extent to which the parties build nature inclusively varies from a single measure (such as setting up nest boxes) to more integration of nature in the built environment. The most extensive level of nature-inclusive construction is in line with the needs of animal species in the area, such as certain types of insects, salamanders, birds or bats. The nature on and around the buildings is also adapted to the soil, water management and the site’s history. Even car parks are given a green character with the help of hedges around the cars and grass between the stones.

Green as a closing post?

Despite the increasing number of initiatives, nature in the city still regularly loses out to other interests. Living, working, producing food and energy, transport and recreation: it all takes place in a limited space. “Green is therefore often a final point that is only filled in when other functions have already taken shape,” notes Dijkshoorn. “The green ambitions are also often adjusted in the event of project delays or unexpected cost items. Sometimes there is simply a lack of knowledge about what is possible and what is not. Property parties also doubt whether the consumer is ultimately prepared to pay for extra nature.”

The parties in the construction sector work as they are always used to. In the transition, you want to break through the established practices

According to Dijkshoorn’s research, the road to achieving nature-inclusive buildings is often uneven and so far requires a greater effort from those involved than business-as-usual. But according to the conclusion: Despite all possible obstacles, nature-inclusive construction is actually possible. The decisive success factors are a clear vision, creativity, flexibility and willingness to take risks. The persistence of those involved is also important.


The housing company that commissioned the Trudo Tower to be built first visited appealing nature-inclusive projects in Europe with the board and thereby brought in the progressive architect Boeri. This also ensured that all noses in the council were in the same direction. In addition to this architect and the permanent construction company, the project developer has also worked together from the start with a landscape gardener and management company as well as a tree nursery.

Thanks to the energetic start, the green ambitions have remained intact throughout the process – from design to construction. During the project, there was no cut in the green due to financial setbacks, but the nature-inclusive aspect was still at the fore. Although green inner walls had to give way for financial reasons, trees and bushes have been preserved on the outside. Costs were reduced with a more sober interior design. The additional costs for nature-inclusive construction therefore amounted to less than 1 percent of the total costs.

Change behavior

The housing company that built the Trudo Tower is a forerunner in the transition that the Netherlands is in. As is the project developer of a nature-inclusive residential area south of Haarlem on the Wickevoort estate. “The concept for Wickevoort is progressive due to the focus on more natural greenery and less street and concrete. It was also important to involve the right experts with the same ambition at an early stage.” Another example of a precursor is Amsterdam Vertical: three buildings designed for a site in the Amsterdam Sloterdijk-Centre. During the process, a number of complicated issues arose. Nevertheless, the biodiversity-based landscape vision did not prove to be a barrier to the project.

Other players in the field are less ahead, but are following, according to Dijkshoorn. “The parties in the construction sector work in a certain way, which they are always used to,” she explains. “In the transition, you want to break through established practices, initiate a behavioral change. It would help if they could see more inspiring cases.”

More plants, bees and owl boxes: nature-inclusive construction will become the standard. And although there is great interest from the real estate sector, Marijke Dijkshoorn-Dekker, research transition at Wageningen University & Research, also sees that there is still a lack of knowledge. Therefore, a tool has been developed on what, why and how in nature-inclusive construction. (NL + EN subtitles available)

The three cases mentioned above and the research results have now been published in a brochure for the real estate sector. Dijkshoorn and her colleagues also developed a communication tool that provides insight into how nature-inclusive construction can be achieved. With this, she wants to offer tools to lead the conversation about nature-inclusive construction.

Prioritize green

Dijkshoorn is optimistic about the transition. “Nature-inclusive construction is increasingly high on the agenda. We face challenges in construction, climate adaptation and biodiversity. Nature can make a big contribution to the solutions for this. Regardless of how limited the space is, you can also make roofs, facades and balconies green. I feel that the sector is changing and that nature is increasingly getting the attention it deserves. I also think it is so important that nature-inclusive construction becomes the standard, regardless of what form it takes.”

This article previously appeared on

Pauline van Schayck by Pauline van Schayck (

Leave a Comment