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Practical approaches to realisation phases

The introduction chapter indicated that the Five Steps to develop BwN alternatives can be applied throughout the project realisation process. Each project phase, however, has its own specific focus. This section briefly addresses each project phase indicating topics that deserve increased attention in relation to Building with Nature Design.

Numerous project life cycle descriptions exist. The Building with Nature programme adopts a definition distinguishing the following phases:

upto 'end of life' (depending on project management and contracting formats two or more phases might be merged into one).

During each phase opportunities for integration of BwN solutions do exist, with maximum potential and flexibility in the earliest stages of development. To optimally 'seize opportunities', a life-time analysis is encouraged, considering information on BwN potentials from later phases in earlier phases.

Initiation Phase

Building with Nature Design may be introduced in a project development process as early as the Initiation Phase. The Initiation Phase deals with a first definition of the problem or opportunity at hand and the scoping of potential solutions.

In the Initiation Phase the eco-dynamic developer has the largest freedom of choice regarding definition and realisation of project objectives. Including the BwN-perspective in this phase should guarantee scoping beyond sectoral interests and limited problem perceptions, focusing on opportunities and win-win solutions.

Broadening the scope (wider, greener, more multifunctional, better integrated, more sustainable) opens new perspectives. As far as possible under the constraints applicable, this can be achieved by:

  • identifying potential positive effects of the project, not only negative impacts and problem solving,
  • integrating nature and natural processes as means to achieve the project objectives and to enable additional functionality, and
  • embracing other functions (and associated stakeholders) as "running mates", rather than isolating them as liabilities.

Especially in the Initiation Phase the shift in thinking as described in the BwN principles is of utmost importance. BwN solutions involve a transformation from a problem to an opportunity, e.g:

  • Rich revetments: a dike is not just an artificial structure that provides safety from flooding, but also provides habitat and shelter to flora and fauna and connects ecotopes along the dike;
  • Harbouring Opportunities: a harbour is not only infrastructure, but also an ecological hub connecting different water bodies, thus providing migration opportunities for many species.

This section provides guidance on the steps towards BwN objectives definition and project scoping. Where appropriate, useful methods and tools are suggested.

Further reading...

Planning and Design Phase

Where the Initiation Phase focused on the problem definition and project scope, the more detailed Planning and Design Phase deals with developing alternative strategies within this given scope and handles the selection of the preferred alternative(s).

The activities undertaken in the phase of Planning and Design are in general similar to those in the Initiation phase: identification, optimization and selection of alternatives. The phase also ends in a transition to the next phase. The major differences from the Initiation phase are in the amount of detail in design, effect assessment and alternative valuation.

In brief, the most important activities in the Planning and Design phase are:

  • Communication and interaction with actors, stakeholders and experts;
  • (Better) understanding the system;
  • Generation of alternatives based on BwN-principles;
  • (E)valuation and selection of the most promising strategy;
  • Embedding of the preferred alternative;
  • Creating possibilities for BwN in the next phases of the project.

The added value of BwN-strategies compared with traditional approaches is the focus on the project's potential to make use of natural processes and/or stimulate nature development. Good examples of Building with Nature design in the Planning and Design phase are:

  • Mega-nourishments versus incremental nourishments of sandy coasts: The economic benefits of scale enlargement and an increased freshwater reserve in the dune area can be combined with the ecological benefits of a less frequent ecosystem disturbance and the generation of nature and recreational areas, albeit temporary.
  • Soft versus hard dike designs: In certain cases, soft solutions may be cheaper than hard ones and have additional benefits in the realm of habitat creation and strengthening ecological relations.

Ideally the Planning and Design phase is preceded by an Initiation Phase that results in a project scope based on the BwN-principles. It is however possible that the eco-dynamic designer enters the process only in this phase. In that case, it is advisable to evaluate the problem definition and project scope from a BwN-perspective.

This chapter provides guidance on the development of BwN-strategies in the phase of Planning and Design. Wherever appropriate, useful methods and tools are suggested.

Further reading...

Construction Phase

In previous phases the problem definition, project scope, project strategy and design have been addressed. The construction phase elaborates and discusses the project execution approach. EDD can be used to optimize the work method and the selection of materials.

Important aspects to consider involve:

  • Optimisation of the work, selecting appropriate equipment and materials, timing of activities, etc.
  • Optimisation of the design taking a lifecycle perspective.
  • Application of adaptive construction methods to manage unpredicted direct (and if possible indirect) effects.
  • Involvement of stakeholders, information provision and receptiveness to suggestions.
    A variety of EDD optimizations is possible in the Construction Phase. What works best varies from site to site. Reducing construction costs can be favourable in one situation, whereas construction times may be critical in another. Careful timing of construction activities, considering aspects such as the breeding season, may reduce environmental impact. Also (minor) adaptations to the project design may enhance the potential for ecological development.

Examples where EDD has been applied in the construction phase are:

  • Ecological borrow areas: (for 2nd Port Extension of Rotterdam): adaptation of the work method resulted in a seabed landscape with enhanced (re)colonisation capabilities.
  • Hard Eco-constructions: application of specific near natural materials/variation of sorting and material choice led to increased habitat diversity. Smart re-use of old worn-out materials further enhances the ecological value of hard structures by providing a less smooth and more suitable substrate for flora and fauna.

It is important to realise that the people handling the construction phase are seldom the same as those that handled the previous phases. As a result, a lot of important knowledge acquired in these previous phases but required for the construction phase may be lost. This is especially the case between the design and the implementation phase of a project when the project team is often completely changed. Knowledge transfer from phase to phase is very important to obtain optimal results. This can be achieved by adequate documentation, but personal communication in a project setting works best. Even better is involvement of team members that were also active in previous phases.

This chapter provides guidance on eco-dynamic construction approaches. Where appropriate, we suggest useful methods and tools.

Further reading...

Operation and Maintenance Phase

The application of Building with Nature Design is extended as far as the Operation and Maintenance Phase. Considering maintenance aspects early on in the design process may optimize the design and reduce lifecycle cost significantly. But also Operation and Maintenance an BwN approach may lead to forms of adaptive management and development that will generate additional environmental and cost benefits.

Apart from decommissioning, the operation and maintenance phase may be considered the last phase of a project. Still it covers most of the project lifecycle. Operation and maintenance are long-lasting activities that may be adapted to changing socio-economic needs and environmental trends. This conforms to the notion that the implementation of a BwN project is just the beginning of a long-term development. Typical characteristics of the O&M-phase of a BwN-type project are:

  • A constant drive to improve design, functioning and management of the project. For example by:
    • Improving its functioning. Example: adding a self-maintaining shallow foreshore in front of a dike, i.e. a vegetated foreshore which reduces wave action and traps sediment.
    • Improving its management. based on improved system understanding, observation of its evolution and assessing what form of management works best.
    • Adding (ecological) functions and value. Example: creating additional aquatic habitats within harbour basins to improve their ecological functioning; eco-structures are essentially add-ons, rather than being part of the original design. Example: equipping the exposed slope of a flood defence with a Rich Revetment, a habitat-enriching micro-topography with tidal pools and rough semi-open substrates which also help to reduce wave run-up. Also the construction of habitat enhancing structures, serving as attractive dive-areas, on top of a functionally required strengthening of a dike foreshore, is a good example of how functionality can be combined with eco-development.
  • Experimentation that seeks innovation and improved performance. Example: by testing a bandwidth in different management regimes, one will see what regime it to be preferred.
  • Dealing with uncertainties via adaptive management, aiming to stimulate observed positive developments and to mitigate negative ones.
  • Dedicated forms of monitoring directed at improved understanding and adaptation. Many environmental effects will only become manifest after some time. These slow processes call for specific kinds of monitoring that will help to an adaptive approach: based on observations one gathers more insight into the system’s functioning and decides on how to proceed.
  • Interaction with stakeholders and public, by keeping them informed, but possibly also by involving them in maintenance activities (for example, see 'save our beach' and 'beach clean up').

This chapter provides guidance on BwN operation and maintenance approaches. Where appropriate, useful methods and tools are suggested.

Further reading..
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