Urban Greening


Urban greening is taking hold around the world, infusing cities with lush pockets of greenery. From sky gardens to vertical urban farms, designers are becoming increasingly creative as they seek to restore the balance of city living.

Globally, we are seeing a number of exciting responses to the challenge of integrating nature into the built environment. The innovative green spaces appearing in some of the world’s largest cities show us what’s possible for creating a future where urban hubs are not only more sustainable, but also designed to improve the wellbeing of residents.

Here are five urban greening trends emerging around the world.

1. Sky gardens

Seoul Skygarden – image via  designboom , photography by Ossip van Duivenbode.

Seoul Skygarden – image via designboom, photography by Ossip van Duivenbode.

New York’s High Line may be the most famous example of a sky garden, but around the world there are a number of instances where urban spaces have been transformed into green public spaces. In Osaka, the Namba Parks shopping complex has an eight-level rooftop garden complete with waterfalls, ponds and a vegetable garden. And most recently, Seoul has opened its own Skygarden on an abandoned overpass, introducing 24,000 new plants to the cityscape.

2. Underground gardening

Image via  ArchDaily

Image via ArchDaily

From sky gardens to those hidden underground, New York is destined to have the world’s first underground park when the Lowline opens in 2020. The underground garden looks at how we can use technology to make cities more liveable and will use a specially designed remote skylight to allow plants to grow underground. Similar to the High Line project, it will rejuvenate an unused space – this time, it’s a historic trolley terminal. If you are planning to visit New York, you can get a taste of what’s in store at the Lowline Lab, which is set up in an old warehouse.

3. Vertical farming

Image via  Sasaki

Image via Sasaki

In countries like China, the availability of productive agricultural land is decreasing, leaving only way to go – up. The Sunqiao Shanghai precinct will be a 250-acre agricultural district with hydroponic vertical farms for growing produce. Small-scale agriculture is China’s primary farming method and this new development explores how this model can be replicated in an urban context. The precinct will also include walking trails, public plazas, a science museum and a digital amphitheatre.

4. Biophilic design

Image via  Dezeen

Image via Dezeen

While biophilic design isn’t a new idea, it’s now becoming more ingrained in the way architects are designing homes. Houses wrapped around internal courtyards – like this one in Singapore – are a primary example of the ways that homes are being integrated with nature. These types of solutions are a smart response to the challenge of urban density, where large backyards are not always possible. At this family home, Chang Architects have integrated a rooftop garden and an impressive internal courtyard into its design.

5. Large-scale vertical gardening  

Image via  Via Verde

Image via Via Verde

Where China is embracing vertical gardening for food production, Mexico is using it to fight pollution. In Mexico City, large vertical gardens have been installed on hundreds of motorway pillars to help clean the air. The gardens have also been found to reduce the stress levels of motorists and absorb traffic noise, and they’re also beautifying the city. They are part of a citizen-led intiative called Via Verde Project, which was established to address the city’s rising pollution levels.

Get inspired to green your own urban space with our free ebook, Small Spaces, Big Ideas.   


The way we work is changing and, in response, so too is office design. As employees start seeking meaningful work and employers begin to focus on metrics like staff wellbeing and job satisfaction, we are seeing workplace design become more considered and inviting. 

The average Australian puts in almost 41 hours of work each week. That’s a substantial amount of time, so it makes sense that the design of an office will affect whether an employee wants to work for an organisation. In the report The Global Impact of Biophilic Design in the Workplace, a third of respondents said that office design affects their decision when accepting or declining a job. For many people, a well-designed office is not only a pleasant space to work, it also assures them that the organisation cares about its staff. 

So how can you make your workplace more conducive to staff happiness and productivity? One way is through biophilic design – a principle of integrating natural elements into the built environment. Research compiled in The Global Impact of Biophilic Design in the Workplace found that the calming presence of elements such as plants, natural materials and sunlight helps employees to better cope with stress and pressure, in turn improving their productivity. 

The report found that plants and other natural elements had the following impacts on staff: 

  • Creativity improves by 15% 

  • Productivity increases by 6%

  • Wellbeing is reported to increase by 15%

To show you ways to introduce more greenery into your office, we have put together ideas from inspiring workplaces around the world. 

Install a green wall

Image via  Inhabitat

Image via Inhabitat

At Airbnb’s head office in San Francisco, an impressive 1,226 sq ft green wall has been installed in the main atrium, creating a living piece of art. The green wall scales three floors of the office, while the design of the atrium allows natural light to filter in. The sets a calming tone as staff and visitors enter the office and the green wall can be viewed from many of the workspaces and meeting rooms within the building. 

Related reading: Vertical gardening – the ultimate spacesaver

Add potted plants to the office

Image via  designboom , photography by Toshikyuki Yano and Michael Feather

Image via designboom, photography by Toshikyuki Yano and Michael Feather

One of the simplest ways to introduce greenery to an office is using potted plants. In Tokyo, the office of tech company LivePerson cleverly uses plants as a way to break up the space. The office is located in a single room and rather than building walls or dividers, the company allows its staff to arrange the office as they please. All of the furniture and plants can be easily moved, which gives the organisation greater flexibility to rearrange the office as the team grows. 


Use natural colours and materials  

Image via  Breathe Architecture , photography by  Peter Clarke

Image via Breathe Architecture, photography by Peter Clarke

When international tech company Slack set up its new Melbourne office, they called upon Breathe Architecture to create an inviting workspace. The abundance of plants adds a sense of serenity to the space, which is complemented by a green and grey colour palette and the use of natural materialssuch as recycled timber. The effect is incredibly calming, with employees reporting that the workspace has a Zen feel to it. To ensure that the effects of the design are not disturbed, employees are required to take phone calls in meeting rooms, rather than at their desks in the open-plan work area. 


Embrace natural vistas

Image via  Inhabitat , photography by  Iwan Baan

Image via Inhabitat, photography by Iwan Baan

If your office has a view out to trees, parks, water or another natural setting, make this a focal point of its design. In Spain, architecture firm SelgasCano has fully embraced this design idea, building its office in the woods of Madrid. The glass wall takes full advantage of this natural setting, providing views out to the forest floor and allowing sunlight into the office. This design means that artificial lighting isn’t necessary during the day, which reduces the company’s power costs and makes the office more sustainable. 


Choose low-maintenance plants 

Image via  designboom , photography by  Peter Clark

Image via designboom, photography by Peter Clark

When it comes to choosing plants for an office, it’s wise to select hardy indoor plants that can handle the conditions of artificial lighting and ventilation. Birkenstock in Melbourne is a great example of this, where mother-in-law's tongue/snake plant is used throughout its new office. These plants are easy to care for and don’t like too much water, which means less upkeep is necessary. The repetition of this plant creates a calming effect and is a pleasant way to divide each workspace. 

Related reading: Biophilic design at work – why we need greener offices

We believe in giving credit where credit is due, so if at any time you see work that is improperly recognised, please send us a quick note & we’ll gladly update the information. Thanks for inspiring us!


Many built environments are becoming devoid of natural elements such as plants, water and sunlight. But can we sustain a happy, healthy and satisfying existence in settings such as these? For most people, the answer is no, because nature provides one of our greatest sources of mental and physical rejuvenation. As a result, there is an increasing interest in biophilic design for homes, public spaces, schools and workplaces.

Biophilic design creates a connection between people, the built environment and nature. Image via  TheCoolist.

Biophilic design creates a connection between people, the built environment and nature. Image via TheCoolist.

Biophilia is the scientific term for the feel-good aspect of spending time in nature. It was popularised by Edward O. Wilson, who explains that our positive emotional connection with the natural world is a direct result of our evolution. Given that humans evolved in the natural world and are still adapting to life in built environments, we experience a number of benefits when we maintain contact with nature.

Biophilic design helps to fulfil this need by integrating elements such as plants, natural materials and water into built environments. We have traditionally designed cities with little regard for natural spaces – save for parks – yet by thinking of nature and the urban environment as one, we can create more liveable urban settings that benefit both humans and the planet.

As garden designers, we see the positive effects of nature on a daily basis, both personally and through the experiences of the clients we work with. City living has a number of advantages and research is now showing that with the right mix of natural elements, our immediate surroundings have the potential to make us happier, healthier and even more productive at work.

Elements of biophilic design

Natural materials and a connection between indoors and out are key elements of biophilic design. Image via  studio hatch .

Natural materials and a connection between indoors and out are key elements of biophilic design. Image via studio hatch.

Biophilic design is a holistic way of integrating nature into our daily lives. In order to create stimulating, engaging spaces that positively impact us, this method of design utilises the following elements:

  • Plants

  • Natural light

  • Natural ventilation

  • Views of nature and landscapes

  • Water

  • Organic shapes, patterns, textures and forms

  • Natural materials

  • Images of nature

  • Breakout spaces for relaxation

Paying attention to these elements in the design process of any space – whether indoor or outdoor – will have a profound impact on its liveability. One design technique we advocate is linking indoor and outdoor areas at home as much as possible, so that they feel like a natural extension from one another. This results in functional spaces that draw you outside more often and still allow you to enjoy your outdoor area even when you are indoors.

Benefits of biophilic design

Integrating plants into buildings is not only beneficial for the people who live and work there, it’s also a more sustainable approach to design. Image via  Contemporist.

Integrating plants into buildings is not only beneficial for the people who live and work there, it’s also a more sustainable approach to design. Image via Contemporist.

A number of recent studies from around the world have confirmed the positive associations between humans and nature. Benefits of increased exposure to the natural world include improved health, productivity and creativity, as well as the creation of more sustainable cities.

Health and wellbeing

The incidence of stress-related conditions is rising, with the World Health Organisation estimating that conditions such as anxiety and depression will be the second-most prevalent form of illness by 2020. This is after heart disease, which can also be exacerbated by stress. Various studies have shown that there is a favourable relationship between exposure to nature and lower levels of stress. This has a positive impact on our health, both physically and mentally.

Related reading: Why nature is good for your health

Increased job satisfaction

With the presence of plants, natural air and light, and views out to plants or landscaped spaces, offices can become spaces where employees enjoy spending time. The presence of these elements helps with concentration, creativity, productivity and has even been linked with staff retention. With Google now adopting biophilic designfor its new headquarters, it’s likely we will start to see more companies embracing this approach (though perhaps on a slightly more modest scale).

Related reading: Biophilic design at work: Why we need greener office spaces


The more removed we are from the natural world, the harder it is to fully appreciate our reliance on nature. By increasing our exposure to nature, we can begin to experience more empathy for the vital role it plays in sustaining us. Bridging this divide will also help to counteract the urban heat island effect, which has seen the average temperatures of cities steadily increase. It is estimated that more green spaces in cities could lower city temperatures by up to eight degrees, which will reduce our reliance on air conditioning.

Related reading: Why we need greener cities

Want to reap the benefits of nature and biophilic design in your outdoor area? Ask us how we can help.





There’s nothing like that feeling of satisfaction after a bushwalk or an afternoon at the park. But what is it about nature that makes us feel so restored?

In the last ten years, numerous studies from all corners of the globe have highlighted the various ways that nature can improve overall health. From mental wellbeing to lower incidence of diseases including depression, diabetes and asthma, nature has a number of redeeming qualities.

While researchers are still a way off defining exactly what it is about nature that makes us feel better and live longer, there’s now an overwhelming amount of evidence showing that one of the best ways to take care of your wellbeing is to spend more time outdoors.

This is not to suggest that you should pack up and leave the city. One international study released last year showed that people living in streets with more trees experienced higher levels of heart and metabolic health. To benefit from nature, we simply need some presence of green space in our daily lives – whether it be a green wall, a nearby park or your own garden.

Exposure to plants, fresh air and natural light helps to lower stress levels, and it is this reduction in stress that is thought to be the reason why nature is so good for us. Here are the key health and wellbeing benefits of spending more time among the natural world.

Improved health

“Exposure to the natural world – including nearby nature in cities – helps improve human health, wellbeing and intellectual capacity.” – Richard Louv

Historically, nature was a mystical divine force that inspired and marvelled mankind. As Aristotle said, "In all things of nature there is something of the marvellous."

Where philosophers romanticised nature’s healing qualities for centuries, science is now shedding more light on nature’s life force. Given the rising incidence of chronic disease and conditions such as depression and anxiety, there is more interest than ever in how the natural world can improve our health.

As more studies show the links between our health and exposure to nature, there’s now also growing interest in greening our cities. A 2009 Dutch study, for example, found that those who live less than 1km from green space had lower incidence of 15 diseases including depression, heart disease, diabetes and asthma.

Why is this case? It is most likely due to stress and brain activity. Being exposed to natural settings rather than busy urban streetscapes lowers stress, and stress can have all sorts of health consequences due to the strain it places on our bodies. When we are at ease, blood pressure and the heart rate drops, and regularly escaping stressful situations can have positive long-term health effects.  

Related Reading: Why we need greener cities

Increased mental satisfaction

“73% of Australians see their garden as a sanctuary for their mental wellbeing.” – 202020 Vision

As well as reducing the incidence of stress-related disease, nature is also good for our mental wellbeing. For all the appeal and convenience of urban living, we are hard-wired to appreciate the natural world, and that’s why your favourite holiday spot probably has views of the beach, rainforest or countryside.

Exposure to nature gives us a type of mental stimulation that can’t be found elsewhere in society – it’s the ultimate form of rejuvenation and restoration. Another study in England tracked 10,000 city residents over an 18-year period. The results showed that those who lived closer to green spaces encountered less mental distress.

The correlation between happiness and green space can also be found in the workplace. Plants in built environments such as streetscapes, shopping centres and offices have been shown to lower stress and anxiety, which improves productivity and overall happiness of the people who work in these settings.

Then there’s the connection between mind and body. Not only do people who spend more time in green spaces experience less anxiety, stress and depression, they also heal faster. In hospitals, patients who have views of trees typically recover faster and have less need for pain medication.

Related reading: Biophilic design at work: why we need greener office spaces

Greater memory retention and creativity

“Nature holds the key to our aesthetic, intellectual, cognitive and even spiritual satisfaction” – E.O. Wilson

Are you dependent on your to-do list and calendar reminders? Or perhaps you are feeling creatively uninspired?

As our lives become busier and over stimulated by technology, we’re increasingly looking for ways to preserve our vital cognitive functions. One popular technique is mindfulness – a self-awareness practice with origins in Buddhist meditation. Mindfulness helps you to become aware of your surroundings and practicing it in the presence of nature can have amazing results.

Looking at the positive effects nature has on the brain, researchers at the University of Michigan found that after just one hour interacting with nature, memory performance and attention spans increased by 20%. This in turn helps to boost creativity. 

By simply taking a walk in the park, spending time in the garden or placing pot plants around your home, you can give your mind a reprieve from external stimuli. These acts provide your mind with space to reflect, contemplate and clear the pathways important for memory, creativity and mental restoration.

Related reading: Gardening and mindfulness


From time to time, we all like to indulge in a little retail therapy, but are our everyday shopping experiences designed to be just as relaxing?

The nature of our society means that unless you are living completely off the grid, visiting the shops is an essential part of day-to-day life. For many of us, however, large concrete malls lit with fluoro lighting have little appeal, and that’s because we are hard-wired to prefer contact with the natural world.

The idea of biophilic design – the practice of integrating nature into the built environment – is being steadily adopted in office buildings, homes and public spaces, but there’s a lot less public discussion on how this way of design could improve our shopping experiences, to the benefit of both customers and retailers.

The research that is being done, however, is showing that shopping centres are losing some of their appeal. Being devoid of elements such as natural light and plants – things that instinctively boost our mood, improve focus and reduce stress – malls and shopping centres provide little relief from the sheer amount of stimuli in these environments. This leaves shoppers feeling tired, overwhelmed and less likely to make a purchase.

So in a time when the retail sector is trying to compete with the rising popularity of online shopping, could rethinking the way we design retail spaces be the answer?

The benefits of biophilic retail design

The Apple Store in Brussels features trees that are visible to people outside the store. The use of natural materials such as wood complements this biophilic approach to design. Image via Data News.

The Apple Store in Brussels features trees that are visible to people outside the store. The use of natural materials such as wood complements this biophilic approach to design. Image via Data News.

When asked to name their ideal shopping experiences, consumers immediately start to think about the ambience of a space, rather than the products a store sells. This indicates that to customers, it’s the in-store experience that lingers in their memory, not what they purchased.

Elements they list as being important to them include:

  • Spacious layout

  • Bright, natural light

  • Greenery

  • Atmosphere

  • Background music

One of most noted studies in this area was published in 2003 and since then, researchers have found that consumers will go out of their way to shop at stores, precincts and shopping centres with greenery. Once there, they will also spend more time exploring and shopping.  

By bridging the disconnect between an artificial built environment and the natural world, retailers can create spaces that both customers and staff are more comfortable in. When everyone feels at ease in a space, shoppers will have a better experience not only due to the design, but also thanks to the improved mood of the staff assisting them.

Just like the benefits of green office spaces, the benefits of improved air quality, natural light and biophilia enhance staff retention, job satisfaction and productivity among retail staff. This, in turn, improves their job performance and sales.

Restaurants as well as retailers can create more engaging experiences through the use of plants. Images via  Yellowtrace  and  Harpers Bazaar . 

Restaurants as well as retailers can create more engaging experiences through the use of plants. Images via Yellowtrace and Harpers Bazaar

A report released earlier this year by the World Green Building Council validated much of the research that has been done in this area.

“The days of ‘grey box retailers’ are numbered,” says Terri Wills, CEO of the World Green Building Council. “A new breed of businesses is emerging which understands that better shopping environments lead to better experiences for consumers, which, in turn, lead to better economics for retailers.”

The report pointed to a number of interesting studies, which found the following results:

  • People prefer tree-lined shopping streets over nature-less business districts.

  • Shoppers will return to green shopping areas and lifestyle centres more frequently.

  • Customers are willing to pay more for goods purchased from green shopping precincts. How much more depends on which study you read, with figures ranging from nine to 25 percent.

  • When stores with little or no daylight are fitted with skylights, profits per square metre increase. In one Californian study, the profits from increased sales were 20 times more than the savings in energy costs.

  • For every 1 percent rise in visitor dwell time, there is a 1.3 percent increase in sales.

Brisbane’s James Street is a perfect example of a green shopping precinct. Not only is it lined with trees, but the street also has a number of buildings where plants are incorporated into the design.

Image via  Yellowtrace

Image via Yellowtrace

Around the precinct, Devil’s Ivy hangs overhead, climbers cling to the external walls of high-end boutiques and a canopy of trees provides respite from the warm climate. And, importantly, the trees are also visible from within many of the shops. The precinct now stands out as one of the city’s most fashionable shopping spots – a far cry from its past as an industrial hub.

Image via  The Copy Merchant

How to incorporate biophilic design into a retail space

Vertical gardens as well as pot plants and hanging pots can be used to make a space more appealing to customers. Images via  Steamed not Fried  and  Vtwonen.

Vertical gardens as well as pot plants and hanging pots can be used to make a space more appealing to customers. Images via Steamed not Fried and Vtwonen.

There are a number of ways to enhance the presence of greenery in individual stores as well as larger shopping precincts. Not all stores need to feature installations such as vertical gardens – simply having a view outside, preferably to a green space, will have a similar impact on customers.

In spaces where there are no views, however, plants serve a number of important functions. Not only do they have aesthetic appeal, they also filter the air and improve the acoustics within a space, creating a better sense of privacy. Making these considerations in the early stages of a design project can have a significant impact on the final atmosphere and appeal of a space.

Ways to implement biophilic design include:

  • Allow for any natural views to be visible from within a retail space.

  • Incorporate plants into the interior and exterior of a building.

  • Create a symbolic connection to nature through the use of organic shapes, patterns and textures.

  • Establish shops and shopping precincts adjacent to parks and other green spaces.

The spaces we choose to spend time in should ultimately enhance our quality of life. If people are turning away from shops, we need to ask why. Where online shopping offers convenience, bricks-and-mortar retailers now have the opportunity to rethink their approach by creating in-store experiences that enhance the lifestyle and leisure time of their customers.

Related reading: Biophilic design at work: Why we need greener offices

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