frame of reference
A systematic design approach for objectifying Building with Nature solutions





Building with Nature, ecosystem services, frame of reference, objectification, design, solutions


Hydraulic engineering infrastructure is supposed to keep functioning for many years and is likely to interfere with both the natural and the social environment at various scales. Due to its long life-cycle, hydraulic infrastructure is bound to face changing environmental conditions as well as changes in societal views on acceptable solutions. This implies that sustainability and adaptability are/should be important attributes of the design, the development and operation of hydraulic engineering infrastructure. Sustainability and adaptability are central to the Building with Nature (BwN) approach. Although nature-based design philosophies, such as BwN, have found broad support, a key issue that inhibits a wider mainstream implementation is the lack of a method to objectify BwN concepts. With objectifying, we mean turning the implicit into an explicit engineerable ‘object’, on the one hand, and specifying clear design ‘objectives’, on the other. This paper proposes the “Frame of Reference” approach as a method to systematically transform BwN concepts into functionally specified engineering designs. It aids the rationalisation of BwN concepts and facilitates the transfer of crucial information between project development phases, which benefits the uptake, acceptance and eventually the successful realisation of BwN solutions. It includes an iterative approach that is well suited for assessing status changes of naturally dynamic living building blocks of BwN solutions. The applicability of the approach is shown for a case that has been realised in the Netherlands. Although the example is Dutch, the method, as such, is generically applicable.

How to Cite

de Vries, M., van Koningsveld, M., Aarninkhof, S., & de Vriend, H. (2021). A systematic design approach for objectifying Building with Nature solutions. Research in Urbanism Series, 7, 29–50.



Author Biographies

Mindert de Vries, Van Hall Larenstein University of Applied Sciences

Mindert de Vries has a background in ecology. He is a specialist nature-based solutions at Deltares. He was leading a building with nature research group on the University of Applied Sciences Hogeschool Zeeland and is now associate professor and program manager at Hogeschool Van Hall Larenstein interested in climate change adaptation of muddy coastal landscapes.

Mark van Koningsveld, Delft University of Technology

Mark van Koningsveld is part time professor Ports and Waterways at Delft University of Technology, the Netherlands. In a complementary function, Van Koningsveld is R&D and Innovation Manager at Royal Van Oord. He has a broad track record in the design and implementation of nature based solutions and was a member of EcoShape; first as a member of the programme board, later as member of the management team.

Stefan Aarninkhof, Delft University of Technology

Stefan Aarninkhof is professor of Coastal Engineering at Delft University of Technology (The Netherlands). Before joining university in 2016, Stefan spent 20 years at a research institute (Delft Hydraulics, nowadays Deltares) and in dredging industry (Boskalis). He has a distinct interest in understanding nearshore processes, to enable design and implementation of nature-based solutions for coastal engineering and management.

Huib de Vriend, Delft University of Technology

Professor Huib de Vriend is a retired civil engineer, former director science of Deltares and Professor emeritus of River Engineering and Eco-hydraulics at Delft University of Technology. From 2007 to 2013 he also led ‘Building with Nature’, an innovation programme executed by a consortium of government agencies, universities, research organisations, consultants and engineering contractors.


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