Designing the Post-Natural Built Environment

Blaine Brownell

Architect Magazine. Earth Day Issue, 22 April 2015


Our ecological future is ominous, precarious, and feral—and it’s overflowing with potential for design. This was the message conveyed at the Nature 3.x: Where is Nature Now symposium held April 17 and 18 at the University of Minnesota, in Minneapolis, and hosted by assistant landscape architecture professor Matthew Tucker and art professor Christine Baeumler. Nature 3.x brought together internationally renowned designers, writers, and activists with expertise in landscape architecture, ecology, conservation, and the arts to discuss the lasting effects of human influence on the planet and new ways of thinking about the natural world. Timed just before Earth Day 2015, Nature 3.x provided a forum for discussing our changing relationship with nature and the need for a paradigm shift in our design thinking. As the symposium brief summarized: “It is time to update to a new version of nature, one that is suited for the realities of the 21st century. In doing so, we must first ask the question, ‘Where is Nature Now?’”

In his talk, Tucker addressed this question with an assessment of current global environmental challenges. He discussed the Anthropocene epoch—a term popularized by atmospheric chemist Paul Crutzen in 2000 to acknowledge the lasting geological impact of humankind—and its profound ecological effects, including mass extinctions, climate alteration, and pervasive pollution. Although such effects have been frequently publicized, Tucker argued that the extent to which humans have altered natural processes is still not fully appreciated. For example, more than 90 percent of the planted acres of corn, soybean, and cotton crops in the United States are now genetically engineered, suggesting a shift in the conversation from genetically modified organisms (commonly known as GMOs) to the reality of our genetically modified environment. In another example, Tucker used a depiction of natural biomes over time to reveal the nearly complete global dominion of human activity, leading him to conclude that we should shift the discussion from natural biomes to anthromes, or human biomes. (In 1700, approximately half of the world’s landmass could be considered natural, compared with less than a quarter in 2000.)


...the Nature 3.x lectures were refreshingly pro-active in their message. Despite the scale of current environmental challenges, the speakers were unanimous in their support of new forms of engagement, often in surprising and provocative ways.
— Blaine Brownell, Associate Professor, University of Minnesota School of Architecture

Minneapolis Parks Foundation "Designer Q+A"

Janette Law

Minneapolis Parks Foundation. 15 April 2015



This Friday, April 17, marks day one of the Nature 3.x: Where is Nature Now? and opening night of our 2015 Next Generation of Parks™ Lecture Series. Seats for the lecture and symposium are already filled, but did want to delve into some of the topics for those who can’t attend. Following is the first of two blog posts featuring insights from University of Minnesota Professor and Nature 3.x co-creator, Matthew Tucker.


(MPF) What inspired you to create the Nature 3.x: Where is Nature Now? Symposium?


(Matthew Tucker) The basic idea of the symposium lies in the tremendous ecological challenges and opportunities we face as we find our way through the second decade of the 21st century. These challenges include food and water scarcity, contaminated land and water, post-peak oil and of course, climate change and its impact on weather patterns, nutrient and water cycles, vegetation and crops, sea levels, energy use, infrastructure…to name a few. These are very complex, globally interconnected issues that are not just “ecological” but also social in that they do not recognize boundaries of age, race, gender and class, nor that of neighborhood, nation or continent. Yet, if we are not careful, these issues can divide as such.   Yet, I believe, these challenges also present tremendous opportunities to rethink how we plan, design and manage the world around us.

So the symposium arises from an idea that to move forward in the Anthropocene we must begin to have some conversations across disciplines about what this future may look like. It may mean some old ideas get put on a shelf, other ideas may get an update, and- what’s most interesting to me- some speculative and powerful new ideas may emerge. Along with those ideas, what are the words that we use to describe this new awareness of a post-natural world? And what do these places look like and what approaches get us there? So bringing it back to the idea of how we relate to our new awareness of the world around us, I think we must first ask a different question, and that is: “Where is Nature Now?”.

read more (Part 1) (Part 2)

It’s hard to see a separation between nature and society when our fingerprints are all over the map, or in this instance- the entire Earth.
— Matthew Tucker

Projecting future solutions onto the canvas of the cityscape

Tom Evers, Executive Director

Minneapolis Parks Foundation. 23 April 2015



One of the great pleasures I have in working in the realm of parks is getting to meet and work with innovators who are solving problems for the next generation. One such an occasion occurred last Friday, April 17, as MPF kicked-off our 2015 Next Generation of Parks™ Lecture Series by co-presenting Kate Orff’s keynote for the thought-provoking Nature 3.x: Where is Nature Now? Symposium.

Kate Orff is an incredible thinker of our time.Through her work as a landscape architect, Kate understands that parks and the public realm are more than just an added amenity to our cities. She knows that designed right, they provide solutions to the most complex challenges of our time. For the first time in history, we are living in an era where more people live in cities than not. A majority of humanity is urban.

And we are facing incredible challenges unseen before in history – climate change, public health crises, public education and levels of inequity that are bifurcating the human experience. The answers to the big challenges we face in the 21st Century can often be reached through design – and our parks and public space create rare opportunities to not only address current needs, but to project future solutions onto the canvas of the cityscape.

read more

...we are facing incredible challenges unseen before in history – climate change, public health crises, public education and levels of inequity that are bifurcating the human experience. The answers to the big challenges we face in the 21st Century can often be reached through design.
— Thomas Evers, Executive Director, Minneapolis Parks Foundation