Natuculture: Biomimicry in Urban Landscapes

Editor’s Note: This week we’ve asked members of P3 teams to share information about the sustainable design projects they’ve been working on to showcase at this weekend’s National Sustainable Design Expo.

Thanks to EPA’s People, Prosperity, and Planet (P3) student design contest, multigenerational teams of students from different disciplines have been designing and implementing natuculture (pronounced nā-chew-culture) systems on the North Carolina Agricultural and Technical (NCA&T) campus since 2008.

Typical college landscape


What’s “natuculture,” you ask? The term, coined here in NCA&T, refers to any human-made system that mimics nature in “human disturbed landscapes,” such as your typical college campus. The term is derived from ‘nature culture.’

For the students’ project, they converted a conventional lawn located on a highly trafficked area in campus near the football stadium, into a natuculture system. Instead of a lawn, it’s now a living display of a vibrant, biologically diverse, multifunctional, and ecologically complex “water and carbon dioxide harvester system” that requires close to zero use of artificial chemicals.

Features of the system include a green roofed porch, a rain garden, a rainwater harvester, a solar powered bird pond, bird feeders, and at least 50 species of flora, including edible fruits such as figs, grapes, and apples.

An array of birds—American gold and red finches, titmice, Carolina chickadees, mourning doves, hawks, downy wood peckers, and cardinals—are frequent visitors. Other fauna, insects and arthropods that feed at the site, include bumblebees, spiders, butterflies, squirrels and a ground hog known as ‘Arnold.’

Natuculture landscape


Rainwater from the roof is directed to a rainharvester, which serves as the main source of irrigation for the site. Any overflow is directed to a rain garden that soaks it up before it can turn into runoff, recharging groundwater.

The green roofed porch is illustrating urban heat reduction through the use of such ‘living’ roofs.

In addition, 32 six-by-three-foot raised vegetable beds, which we call “oasis sofas,” were added to the site, part of a replicated scientific study that compares conservation agriculture with conventional methods to produce organic vegetables in urban areas.

Conservation agriculture mimics a forest ecosystem, and the practice has been shown to provide a host of benefits: rainwater harvesting, healthier soil, increased crop yields, carbon sequestration, improve soil and water quality, less erosion, less reliance on fossil fuel and labor, and significant decreases in the use of artificial chemicals by providing natural fertilizers and disease and pest control.

This coming weekend you can come see a demonstration and ask the students about our natuculture project as we join a host of other EPA-supported student P3 teams at the National Sustainable Design Expo on the National Mall.

About the Author: Guest blogger Manuel R. Reyes is a Professor of Biological Engineering at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University.