Biodiversity in the concrete jungle: BFH teaching concept opens new paths

21.06.2023 More biodiversity in urban spaces: that’s the goal of the team behind Campus4Biodiversity. With its new teaching concept, a team at BFH AHB seeks to entrench the idea of biodiversity in the minds of future construction experts. The hope is that this will lead to continuous improvement of the city’s microclimate and help counter the extinction of species.

In the interview below, project manager Barbora Starovicova (later referred to as BS) gives us an overview of the project that aims to create more biodiversity in the constantly growing urban areas of Switzerland.

What challenges does the teaching concept Campus4Biodiversity seek to address?

BS: We need to slow the extinction of species in Switzerland and address its dwindling biodiversity. We must begin in the minds of people, who play a key role in shaping the areas that are particularly badly affected. The teaching concept involves raising awareness of the issue among stakeholders in the construction sector (timber engineers, architects and urban planners). As a university of applied sciences, our job is not just to make future construction experts aware of the problem. We also need to propose practical, concrete ways that they can help regenerate ecosystems and promote biodiversity in the urban sphere.

What’s different about the teaching concept?

BS: What’s important for students to understand is that we are leaving behind the idea of knowledge transfer. Nowadays, it’s no longer a matter of learning things by heart, but of knowing where and how to search, and how to link and evaluate information. More emphasis is placed on soft skills such as social skills, creativity and communication – in the true sense of ‘education for sustainable development’. It’s only by acquiring these skills that construction experts will be able to build bridges towards more biodiversity.

What role do interdisciplinary semester projects play within the teaching concept?

BS: As far as case studies go, semester projects play a key role. By working directly on site and meeting people from the local area, students discover where the problems lie. We tested the Campus4Biodiversity approach with students in four semesters and case studies. At BFH AHB, the focus was on littering – specifically, Mission AHB, which was based on the ‘Mission B’ campaign. Campus4Biodiversity is being tested at the Seeland secondary school in Biel and a model district is being developed in Breitenrain in Bern. This transdisciplinary process enables students to tackle potential problems such as heat islands in urban areas during the planning phase.

What benefits do case studies like these offer the wider society?

BS: Firstly, case studies raise students’ awareness of biodiversity, as they are confronted with the reality and experience the urgency of the issue at first hand. This can be a frustrating experience. That’s why there needs to be a phase in which students reflect on the problem through peer coaching, inputs and self-study, and realise that there are a lot of ways to counteract the sorry state of biodiversity in urban areas.
Another benefit is the future implementation of the concepts in cooperation with stakeholders from the local areas as a service to society. In the medium term, we’re expecting civil engineers educated in a transdisciplinary context to contribute to increasing biodiversity in urban spaces. Greater biodiversity has the effect of regulating temperatures in summer and improving water circulation and air quality, which are essential for our wellbeing.

How do the project managers intend to boost the impact of the teaching concept?

BS: We realise that our teaching concept will only have a small impact on our environment if it is shelved once finished, or only used within the confines of BFH. We therefore considered the potential scalability of the teaching concept (internally and externally) from the outset, and have made the concept available to interested parties and organisations free of charge.
Our hope is that this open-source approach will enable Campus4Biodiversity to soon be implemented outside BFH, and that we can thus make a valuable contribution to biodiversity in urban areas in Switzerland.

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