Award-winning landscape architecture firm OKRA envisions the world of tomorrow as a place with a positive impact on people and nature. The team designs healthy cities – solutions that offer vibrant, resilient and sustainable urban environments for the future.

The international and interdisciplinary team at OKRA, a landscape architecture and urban design firm based in Utrecht, the Netherlands, is developing creative solutions to turn cities into green, hospitable, sustainable and healthy living environments. “We believe in creating better places,” says Martin Knuijt, founding partner. “In our view, cities can function as natural habitats, places where people and nature can thrive, and live together in a healthy way.”

The design solutions result in vibrant, resilient cities with a rich, inclusive urban life, a rebalanced mobility system, meaningful social cohesion, and a true connection with nature. “At the same time, we always make sure that our designs are rooted in the magic, humanity, and stories of places – and that people can continue to experience and enjoy this,” says Knuijt. “That’s how we help realise the connections and relationships that are the lifeblood of tomorrow’s cities and communities.”

OKRA: designing healthy cities and meaningful outdoor spaces for the future

Photo: Jason Gairn

Three components in designing healthy cities

Aiming to contribute to green cities, OKRA’s urban designs offer the right conditions for new urban biotopes with diverse planting that improves air quality, mitigates flooding and drought, provides spaces for recreation and socialising, and much more.

In addition to biodiversity, there also needs to be a balance between place and movement in the city, which calls for directing the use of space. “For instance, we need to improve the balance between fast and slow transport, between targeted exercise and recreational activity,” the founder says. “In our designs, we translate this into a strategy that turns motorways into green corridors, bustling streets into green boulevards, and a new notion of shared space.”

Thirdly, creating a healthy city is about liveability and social inclusion. “Ultimately, the cityscape should strengthen social relationships and contribute to resilient communities,” means Knuijt. “A well-connected public realm network provides the basic conditions for healthy living.”

ReThink Athens, Marina Park and Catharijnesingel

The project ReThink Athens in Greece is one of the great examples of how a historic city centre can be transformed thanks to OKRA’s strategy of creating resiliency, shifted mobility and vibrancy. “Decades of explosive growth have created infrastructural problems and a socio-cultural imbalance in Athens,” explains Knuijt. “ReThink Athens takes innovative ideas about climate control, traffic flow reduction and public realm programming a step forward. The integrated design creates a resilient, accessible and vibrant city.”

OKRA: designing healthy cities and meaningful outdoor spaces for the future

ReThink Athens in Greece is a great example of how a historic city centre can be transformed into a resilient, accessible and vibrant city.

Marina Park in Cork, Ireland, is another interesting project which is currently ongoing. The new park is planned on a former industrial area along the river, adjacent to the city centre. The park plays an essential role in retaining stormwater runoff, not just within the park but also for the surrounding residential areas and future dockland development. It provides a landscape solution for urban adaptation by creating space for the temporary storage of increased or extreme rainfall events and rising sea levels.

And in OKRA’s hometown Utrecht, Catharijnesingel is a fantastic showcase for how the team has created a catalyst for a healthy city. A former motorway has been turned into a green walkway along the historic canal structure around the old part of Utrecht. It has led to a pedestrian-friendly, green urban space that is connected to the past, the present and the future. Not surprisingly, Catharijnesingel has won several awards, including the European Prize for Urban Public Space and the Rietveldprijs award for the best architectural project in the Utrecht area.

OKRA: designing healthy cities and meaningful outdoor spaces for the future

Catharijnesingel, before. Photo: Utrecht city archive

Holistic approach and winning the Architizer Popular Choice Award

OKRA has recently won the Architizer Popular Choice Award “Best Landscape Design Firm” at A+ Awards. This achievement celebrates the company’s commitment to pushing the boundaries of landscape design and creating meaningful places that inspire, engage, and enhance the environment. “We are honoured to receive this award,” Knuijt adds. “This recognition is a testament to our team’s hard work, creativity, and passion for landscape design, and a highlight to our celebration of OKRA’s 30th anniversary this year! We are grateful to our clients and partners for their trust and collaboration, which has enabled us to achieve such high standards of excellence.”

With its designs, OKRA creates valuable, liveable spaces for people and nature. Knuijt emphasises the team’s holistic approach; “Our work is based on understanding how landscapes have been transformed over time, how cities have been growing in the landscape and how we can take the next step into the future by linking today’s challenges and needs to the spirit of the place,” he says. “Time should be on our side. The design should fit in a way that after some time, people are thinking it has always been there.”

OKRA: designing healthy cities and meaningful outdoor spaces for the future

Catharijnesingel, after. Photo: OKRA

Instagram: @okra_landscapearchitects
LinkedIn: OKRA landscape architects

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