In today’s rapidly changing environmental landscape, traditional methods of ecological preservation and recovery often fall short in addressing the new challenges posed by global environmental change. This calls for innovative approaches that not only involve human ingenuity but also actively incorporate the inherent evolutionary capabilities of nature itself, since human knowledge is limited concerning future developments. One promising avenue explored in recent research is the conceptualization of nature-based solutions (NbS) as a form of co-creative art, which can unlock the evolutionary potential of ecosystems under the increasing pressures of human-induced changes. The new view on NBS would go beyond a mere restorative approach to conserve nature while using it, and also would not leave design power to human engineers alone, but harness the creative potential of nature, recognzing other species as co-creators of the NBS.

Professor Carsten Herrmann-Pillath from Erfurt University led a team comprising Associate Professor  Simo Sarkki from the University of Oulu, Professor Timo Maran from the University of Tartu, and Associate Professor Katriina Soini and Research professor Juha Hiedanpää from the Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke). They proposed a novel framework that views NbS as dynamic and co-evolutionary artworks. Their study, published recently in the journal Nature-Based Solutions, delves into how NbS can be designed not only to solve practical environmental problems but also to foster an aesthetic and reciprocal relationship between humans and the more-than-human world.

“We argue that given the accelerating speed of environmental change, NbS design for biodiversity recovery cannot be informed by past or current conditions alone but must create conditions for evolutionary potential for yet unknown future biodiversity,” explains Professor Herrmann-Pillath. This forward-thinking approach challenges conventional restoration practices that typically focus on returning ecosystems to their former states, which may no longer be viable under future environmental conditions.

The researchers argue that NbS should move beyond mere engineering projects and be envisioned as arts-based creative endeavors that engage with the community and the local biosphere in meaningful problem- and future-oriented ways. This approach is grounded in the aesthetic theory of philosopher John Dewey, who saw art as an experiential process that enriches both the creator and the observer, blurring the lines between nature and culture.

One of the critical insights of the study is the concept of “naturecultures,” (originally suggested by Donna Haraway) where nature and human culture are not seen separate but as intertwined threads of a larger tapestry of everyday life. This perspective recognizes the agency of non-human elements in the design process, viewing them as active participants that can co-create and co-evolve within the designed ecosystem.

“An emphasizing on the aesthetic dimension of NbS, activates a co-creative process for renewed joint human and nomhuman possibilites and larger co-evolutioanry potential for resilience, and future biodiversity,” states Professor Herrmann-Pillath. By integrating aesthetic considerations into the design of NbS, the projects not only find ways to support ecological functions but also contribute to the cultural and communal life of the regions they inhabit.

However, the application of NbS as co-creative art is not without challenges. The changing climate and the unpredictable nature of ecological responses mean that NbS must be adaptable and responsive. The design process itself must be iterative and inclusive, involving a broad range of stakeholders including ecologists, urban planners, community members, and artists. In practice, that means, for example, that the design of buildings should allow for ample opportunities for other species to nurture a rewilding of urban spaces so that both human and other species’ aesthetic preferences count.

Fig 1. a multistorey car park in Cornwall, England featuring a natural elements
Reference: Evans, Alicejane, und Michael Hardman. “Enhancing Green Infrastructure in Cities: Urban Car Parks as an Opportunity Space”. Land Use Policy 134 (November 2023): 106914. DOI:

In summary, as noted by Professor Herrmann-Pillath and colleagues, embracing NbS as a form of more-than-human art offers a path forward that respects and utilizes the intrinsic value and creative potential of nature. This approach does not just aim to mitigate environmental problems but seeks to transform the way we perceive and interact with our environment, promoting a sustainable and aesthetically enriching co-existence with the natural world.

Journal Reference

Herrmann-Pillath, C., Sarkki, S., Maran, T., Soini, K., & Hiedanpää, J. (2023). Nature-based solutions as more-than-human art: Co-evolutionary and co-creative design approaches. Nature-Based Solutions, 4, 100081. DOI:

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