Intern Research – Designing to Serve More Than Humans

Written by: Louisa Surtz, Architectural Intern

May 10, 2024

Wildlife, both plant and animal, unintentionally find their way into human-created spaces, causing us to question the harsh division we’ve drawn between the built and natural worlds.

What remedies could be proposed to promote biodiversity within our urban environments? From wildlife corridors to turning an urban area like downtown Fort Wayne into a thriving ecosystem, there are endless ways to imagine a future where cities are designed for the health of both humans and the planet.

Unintentional Homes

This research is inspired by the ways plants and animals find their way into spaces built for humans whether we intend it or not. The discomfort caused by the line of ants on a kitchen floor or the tree root growing through a crack in a foundation exposes a perception of the world as split into two – the built and the natural – and that everything has a place on one side of the dividing line.

Image: Plant in wall

Human-Centered Cities

The built environment exists to provide for human needs. With durable roads and climate-controlled buildings, we live comfortably, but rarely recognize the disconnect that exists between human life and the natural world. While roads facilitate efficient travel, they interrupt natural habitats and pose a risk to traveling animals. Our buildings, too, keep the elements out, but are covered in hard surfaces where plants will not grow and animals cannot find shelter. Not only this, but it is well-known that separation from nature is not good for people either. The built environment too often works against nature, not with it.

Reconnecting the built and natural worlds involves changing our perception of pests, cleanliness, and level of closeness to nature. This does not mean providing bats with access points to our attics or tearing out every road to be replaced with grasslands (though that would be cool). Instead, cities could be designed for our health and ecological health at the same time, creating spaces for the wild to thrive among us as we live our human lives.

Image 1: NYC High Line by James Corner Field Operations, Diller Scofidio + Renfro, and Piet Oudolf

Image 2: Bee Brick

Current Remedies

Isolated interventions can only do so much to connect and repair habitats fragmented and destroyed by the built environment. However, the impacts of human activity and the need for green spaces, both for people and the environment, are recognized by many. The following are two methods used to connect people, wildlife, and habitats.

Wildlife corridors are used to connect habitats broken up by roads or buildings. They are more frequently seen in rural areas but are much more difficult to implement in urban areas, where roads cut the landscape every several hundred feet and human presence is heavy. Creating an effective path for wildlife travel in a city involves the collaboration of many disciplines, property owners, and government departments.

Green roofs can also integrate nature and the built environment, but they do have consequences and unknowns. One danger is creating an isolated habitat that becomes an ecological trap – a space that seems attractive to wildlife but is not actually ideal for survival. It is hard to determine whether green roofs are effective in connecting habitat fragments in built-up areas and whether they can be equal to ground-level habitats in their quality and ability to support biodiversity.

Image 1: Wildlife Corridor

Image 2: Green Roof

What would it look like if downtown Fort Wayne was transformed into a thriving ecosystem?

This ambitious initiative proposes to seamlessly link two existing green spaces, Headwaters Park and Friemann Square, creating a continuous path of lush greenery amidst the concrete jungle. Imagine a path cutting across the busiest roads, running under the tracks, and punctuated with nesting places for our feathered and furry friends. That’s not all; we’re also turning the sides of buildings into vibrant vertical gardens, offering a safe haven and nourishment for our pollinating friends. Walk with us through this green corridor that not just connects parks, but also harmonizes urban living with nature.


A good solution to bringing nature into urban spaces considers:

  • Connecting fragments of habitats in a way that is safe for animals and people and allows animals to access water, food, shelter, and any other necessities.
  • Creating high quality habitats so animals don’t resort to ecological traps.
  • Supporting local species and biodiversity.
  • Increasing the connectedness between people and nature.
  • Utilizing existing structures as habitats.

This project proposes connecting two existing green spaces in Downtown Fort Wayne to allow people and animals to travel between them without being interrupted by roads or parking lots. Beginning at Headwaters Park in the north, the connection is a continuous path of green space that runs over the busy road, under the tracks, and ends in Friemann Square in the south. Along the way, there are places for birds, bats, and small mammals to nest in portions of existing structures and the connecting bridge itself. The sides of the buildings it runs along are used as surfaces for plant growth, providing shelter and food for animals and insects.

(1) Ants of the Prairie. “Living Among Pests.” Ants of the Prairie, Accessed 24 April 2024.
(2) de Wilde, Pieter and Clarice Bleil de Souza. “Interactions between buildings, building stakeholders and animals: A scoping review.”
Journal of Cleaner Production, vol 367, 2022, Accessed 24 April 2024.
(3) Hale, Robin and Stephen E. Swearer. “Ecological traps: current evidence and future directions.” Proceedings of the Royal Society B:
Biological Sciences, vol. 283, no. 1824, 2016, Accessed 24 April 2024.
(4) Williams, Nicholas S. G. et al. “FORUM: Do green roofs help urban biodiversity conservation?” Journal of Applied Ecology, vol. 51,
no. 6, 2014, Accessed 24 April 2024.
(5) Zellmer, Amanda J. and Barbara S. Goto. “Urban wildlife corridors: Building bridges for wildlife and people.” Frontiers in Sustainable
Cities, vol 4, 2022, Accessed 24 April 2024.

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