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Potential research projects

Habitat analogues in the built environment

Buildings are commonly designed without any consideration of directly supporting natural systems and, at worst, to intentionally exclude nature. However, there are immense opportunities for buildings to provide food and shelter resources for species. Some urban-adapted species already inhabit buildings and these are unintended outcomes of design. This project aims to design architectural treatments to create shelter for target species based on an understanding of ecological and biological characteristics.

Contactcasey.visintin@rmit.edu.au

Rethinking architectural visual media to include nature-embedded architecture

Embedding nature into development projects is challenging due to pre-conceived notions of “status quo” designs that are driven by economics and construction supply-chains. Changing the “status quo” is difficult due to the scale and complexity of existing systems, however, consumer demand has the potential to disrupt and reshape these systems. By examining and identifying trends in architectural visual media it is possible to identify narratives and their connections to the existing systems that deliver the built form. This project aims to embed a biodiversity-sensitive design narrative into common architectural visual media used in building marketing, regulation and guidelines to create consumer demand and challenge the “status quo” operations of building delivery.

Contact: casey.visintin@rmit.edu.au

Wildlife corridors in residential developments: implications for design guidelines 

Given the typical front setback requirement in suburban residential developments, there is an opportunity to provide large areas of connected habitat along streets but outside of medians or verges. But many residential design guidelines do not encourage, and in some cases obstruct, structurally-varied plantings that may benefit biodiversity. This project will select a case study residential street and review the design guidelines and proposed/implemented vegetation to determine suitability and connectivity for wildlife species. Once this baseline is established, new designs can be evaluated for biodiversity gains to inform changes to future design guidelines/regulations.

Contact: casey.visintin@rmit.edu.au

The biodiversity value of city parklets 

All through the City of Melbourne, parking spaces are being temporarily converted to seating and recreation areas. These interventions are termed “parklets” and often include small bits of vegetation to obscure the required heavy traffic barriers located on their perimeters. But does this vegetation offer any sort of resource for urban fauna? This project will survey several existing parklets for their current biodiversity value through fauna and environmental surveys, and observational studies. This data will, in turn, inform potential biodiversity gains for parklets through design innovation.

Contact: casey.visintin@rmit.edu.au

Are green streets really biodiverse?

Developers and design professionals label streets as “green” to set them aside from the standard application in development. These streets often have extended planting areas, traffic calming measures, and enhanced pedestrian circulation. The name implies that there is more nature provided on these streets but that is not often the case. In contrast, a truly “biodiverse” street aims to provide both habitat analogues and connectivity for multiple species and ecological assemblages. This project will review what is meant by “green streets” in design and marketing and assess the biodiversity value of these implementations.  

Contact: casey.visintin@rmit.edu.auholly.kirk@rmit.edu.au

How does structural complexity in biodiverse verges correlate with safety?

Opponents to verges with structurally complex vegetation often cite safety concerns, arguing that a lack of sight lines may contribute to more crime. This is one of the main tenets of the Principles of Crime Prevention through Environmental Design (CPTED), a concept that forms guidelines for urban design and planning. This project seeks to categorise and measure biodiversity values of planted road verges across several jurisdictions and correlate these metrics with anthropogenic data such as crime statistics and other demographic variables.

Contact: casey.visintin@rmit.edu.au

Can we achieve vertical connectivity in the built environment?

Ecological connectivity is an important concept; connections in and across landscapes are vital to support species persistence. Connectivity modelling and simulation are often concerned with spatial arrangements of habitats or features on a horizontal plane to determine how well species can move through landscapes. And these analyses have been successfully applied to urban areas to assist with planning efforts to increase biodiversity. But urban environments also have significant vertical elements that could potentially support species at different strata. Surveying species along vertical elements such as green walls can help determine what characteristics of urban design can improve vertical connectivity. 

Contact: holly.kirk@rmit.edu.au, casey.visintin@rmit.edu

Improving nest-boxes with thermal envelope modelling

 All organisms require particular thermal qualities in a sheltered environment to thrive. Architectural spaces are often designed for maximum occupant comfort using computer modelling and simulation. Non-human species, on the other hand, do not use a formal design methodology and tend to select or augment spaces to meet their thermal requirements. Nest boxes have been used to provide artificial roosts with limited success and minimal work has been done to understand the thermal characteristics of these structures – and the species that are meant to inhabit them. This project aims to apply methods of thermal modelling used in architectural design to inform nest box design and construction for select target species.

Contact: casey.visintin@rmit.edu.au