BiodiverCITY_A Matter of Vital Soil! | Joyce van den Berg & City of Amsterdam

Winner of the 2023 WLA Awards – Award of Excellence in the Conceptual Analysis & Planning category


BiodiverCITY_A Matter of Vital Soil! puts soil biodiversity and subsoil on the agenda of municipalities, urban designers, and policymakers across the Netherlands and beyond. The project is pioneering in examining soil life as a prerequisite for urban life. It argues that soil is the basis of our cities’ liveability, biodiversity, and climate resilience, especially amidst the uncertainty and compounding crises of the 21st century.


Urban Soil Challenges


Due to the large number of buildings, paved surfaces, and high population density, soil in cities is often inaccessible, compacted (due to heavy loading), polluted and full of cables and pipes. With new construction, raising the ground level is the norm in the Netherlands, directly destroying the soil life below. Moreover, the subsurface of public space is under increasing pressure with a large amount of underground infrastructure (cables, pipes, extra trees, water infiltration solutions etc.) necessary for complex challenges around climate, energy, biodiversity, circular economy, digitalization, urban densification, and biodiversity. In the upcoming decennia, Dutch streets and squares are going through a major overhaul to meet climate goals and maintain liveability. This means road works and, therefore, soil disturbance at a massive scale. Hence the present urgency for designers, engineers, and green space managers to learn about the importance of soil life and how to design, construct and manage for more soil biodiversity.

Soil Organisms
Soil Threatening Habitats

The Publication

Resulting from an interdisciplinary collaboration between various scientific institutions, urban designers and policymakers, the book is simultaneously informative, exploratory, and solution focussed. Released in the summer of 2021, the publication and research project make the hidden life in the soil visible and engaging for a broad audience, from urban professionals to scientists to anyone interested in their living environment, through a collection of in-depth (historical, scientific, policy-related) essays and rich visual material with stunning photographs of soil creatures and elaborate infographics about the state of our soils and how we can restore them. BiodiverCITY is published both as a hard copy and online, and to promote knowledge sharing and exchange, it is available open-source via (a digital platform for research, knowledge production and innovation in Amsterdam).


Designing for Soil

The appeal to all (public space) designers and policymakers in the Netherlands is clear: learn about soil and create the conditions for soil biodiversity to thrive because it is the basis of all biodiversity, liveability, and climate resilience of our cities. Building upon Amsterdam’s Integral Design Method Public Space, the matrix of design interventions for restoring urban soil follows the format of integral design measures: modular multifunctional solutions that create value on multiple scales. This is the first time anyone has tried to systematically include soil health as a design parameter for urban planning.

These design solutions, and the BiodiverCITY project as a whole, should not be viewed as a finished product but rather as a starting point – of a conversation, of a policy field, of new urban design practice, of our future urban soils.

Mycorrhizal network tree roots and fungi
Trees of Amsterdam

BiodiverCITY_A Matter of Vital Soil!

BiodiverCITY_A Matter of Vital Soil! was initiated by the City of Amsterdam and developed in collaboration with Naturalis Biodiversity Center, NIOO-KNAW, ARTIS, and Inside Outside.

Client: City of Amsterdam

Company Role on Project: Joyce van den Berg was the executive landscape architect and conceptual lead on the project.

Collaborators/Other Consultants:

Concept: Joyce van den Berg, Hans van der Made

Editorial board and coordination: Joyce van den Berg, Hans van der Made, Ingrid Oosterheerd, Marco Roos, Alessandra Riccetti and Johan van Zoest

Tekst: Joyce van den Berg, Sofia Gomes, Gerard Korthals, Hans van der Made, Vincent Merckx, Sylvia Mota de Oliviera, Jorinde Nuytinck, Ingrid Oosterheerd, Froukje Rienks, Marco Roos, Menno Schilthuizen, Michael Stech, Renée Zijlmans and Johan van Zoest

Tekst editing and English translation: NST Science

Design of graphics: Louis van Amerongen, Alicia Sanchez Fonseca, Constanza Gomez Guzman, Jean Carlos Ocampo Cantillo, Rosita Hemelaar, Alessandra Riccetti, Chong Yao, Lujia Zhu and Marina Lopes Vasarini


City of Amsterdam – Louis van Amerongen, Patrick van Beveren, Paco Bunnik, Rigina Christiaans, Sabine Gimbrère, Rosita Hemelaar, Dagmar Keim, Marloes Michels, Caroline Nevejan, Thijs Vlaar, Josja van der Veer, Nicole Voulon and Annemiek Wiersma

Artis – Jan de Jong, Ruben Janssen and Ton Hilhorst

Het Nieuwe Instituut – Francine van Westeren and Ellen Zoete Inside Outside – Petra Blaisse, Jana Crepon and Aura Luz Melis

Naturalis Biodiversity Center – Bart Braun, Ate-alma Cohen, Bouchra Filali, Caroline van Impelen and Maaike van de Kamp-Romijn

Netherlands Institute of Ecology (NIOO-KNAW) – Wietse de Boer, Wim van der Putten, Isabelle van der Zande

Photo editors: Joyce van den Berg, Hans van der Made, Ingrid Oosterheerd, Alessandra Riccetti and Joseph Plateau grafisch ontwerpers

Design: Joseph Plateau grafisch ontwerpers Printing: Antilope De Bie, Belgium Publisher: Marcel Witvoet, nai010 publishers

© 2021 authors, nai010 publishers, Rotterdam. All rights reserved.

About Damian Holmes 3292 Articles
Damian Holmes is the Founder and Editor of World Landscape Architecture (WLA). He is a registered landscape architect (AILA) working in international design practice in Australia. Damian founded WLA in 2007 to provide a website for landscape architects written by landscape architects. Connect on Linkedin at