The Natural Infrastructure Lab (NIL) works to develop innovative natural infrastructure that enhances human and ecological health over time. NIL believes that any sufficiently advanced technology would be indistinguishable from nature.


The Natural Infrastructure Lab (NIL) works to develop innovative and culturally significant forms of coastal and riverine infrastructure through landscape design research. We partner with governmental, non-profit, and private entities to focus on the potential of plants, sediments, currents, waves, rocks, and the historical and contemporary human practices that engage them to deliver the services society relies on, including coastal resilience, landscape migration, and flood protection. Our research products work across scales and provide partners with the concepts, forms, and data-driven insights needed to implement innovative natural infrastructure that enhances human and ecological health over time.


Brian Davis, Associate Professor, Landscape Architecture []
Michael Luegering, Assistant Professor, Landscape Architecture []


Ruby Zielinski, Program Manager [


Preserving Coastal Parklands Davis
image: Chesapeake Bay courtesy Brian Davis



In collaboration with the National Park Service (NPS), The Nature Conservancy, and ETZ Strategies, the Natural Infrastructure Lab is partnering on Preserving Coastal Parklands supported by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and their Engineering with Nature (EWN) Program for a three-year site-based research project to develop and test Natural and Nature-Based Features (NNBFs) for three coastal national parks in the Chesapeake Bay region: Colonial National Historic Park (NHP), Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historical Park (HATU), and Assateague Island National Seashore (ASIS). Together, the parks represent a range of environments and issues facing coastal parks in the Chesapeake Region more broadly. The team will work to develop NNBF designs that provide natural alternatives to flood control and other landscape management needs of these coastal parks and their associated communities. The project aims to preserve the natural and cultural resources of the parks that are valued for their capacity to provide enjoyment, education, and inspiration for current and future generations that are under threat from sea level rise. 

Project Team: Brian Davis (UVA, Landscape Architecture), Erin Putalik, PhD (UVA, Architecture and Landscape Architecture), Michael Luegering (UVA, Landscape Architecture)

Collaborators: Cathy Johnson (National Parks Service), Jackie Specht (The Nature Conservancy), Isaac Hametz (ETZ Strategies), Jeff King (Engineering with Nature)

Researchers: Marantha Dawkins (PhD in the Constructed Environment), Adrian Robins (MLA '24), Alex Daley (MLA '24), Yi Zhu (MLA '23)

Funding: $540,000

Partners: EWN, NPS, TNC, ETZ Strategies



Luegering Morven Farm Test Plots NIL
Test plots for plant monitoring and mobility trials at the Morven Farm – UVA Sustainability Lab courtesy Michael Luegering.



Urban Planning with Integrated Natural Systems (UPWINS), is an early-stage applied Research and Development project focusing on the development of monitoring and adaptive management techniques for nature-based infrastructure. Using both lab and field-scale trials, the project is developing accessible methods of plant and soil manipulation to encourage plant migration and growth that can engage the accelerating, critical aspects of riverine and coastal environments such as erosion and saltwater intrusion. Further, these trials pair with extremely frequent spectral and geometric collections from the plants using multiple scales of terrestrial and remote sensing. This data collection serves as the backbone of our data science approach to nature-based infrastructure monitoring, in which we seek to develop fundamental spectral signatures that can track the growth and change of key indicator species at large scales. Both sets of techniques are applied to sites within the Chesapeake Bay Region to verify the efficacy and impact of the research.

Project Team: Michael Luegering (UVA, Landscape Architecture), Bill Basener (UVA School of Data Science), University of Vermont, Spatial Analysis Lab, Chris Miller (United States Department of Agriculture – NRCS), Michael Tantala (Tantala Associates/ City College of New York), Peter Del Tredici (Arnold Arboretum)

Funding: $3.25M, United States Army Corps of Engineers – Engineering Research and Development Center; Engineering With Nature

In the News:
UVA School of Architecture
UVA Today


Four Coasts_Davis
image courtesy Dredge Research Collaborative /  Brian Davis



Four Coasts is a collaboration with members of the Dredge Research Collaborative, Anchor QEA, and local communities that seeks to develop landscape architecture approaches to enhance natural infrastructure concepts related to the four coasts of the continental Unites States. The project is funded through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and their Engineering with Nature (EWN) Program with assistance from the San Francisco, Mobile, Philadelphia, and Great Lakes districts of the USACE. The project will take place over two years and is intended to accompany a decision tool developed in collaboration with Anchor QEA. Levee setbacks, beneficial use of dredged sediment, tidal flats, and dune enhancement, in conjunction with community needs and ecological health, are some of the design research concepts under development. The Natural Infrastructure Lab brings unique modeling capabilities as well as theoretical development to Four Coasts, and is focused on the San Francisco and Great Lakes regions in particular.

Project Team: Brian Davis (UVA, Landscape Architecture)

Collaborators: Sean Burkholder (UPenn), Rob Holmes (Auburn), Tess Ruswick (US Army Corps of Engineers ORISE fellow)

Researchers: Amy Schulz (MLA '23), Sean Kois (MLA + MArch '23)

Partners: EWN, San Francisco District (USACE), UPenn, Auburn


The Natural Infrastructure Lab supports the EcoTech course sequence in the Department of Landscape Architecture connecting curriculum and research. These courses include:

LAR 6220 - EcoTech II:
This course establishes a foundation of technical knowledge about the physical + performative characteristics of traditional building materials and emerging alternatives related to landscape architecture.
LAR 7220 - EcoTech IV:
This course investigates earthwork and construction methods that integrate the principles of water and land, with an emphasis in self-remediation, bioengineering, living systems and management.


Our affiliated research partners are also leading innovative work in the areas of coastal resilience, cultural landscapes, natural infrastructure, landscape migration, and vernacular landscapes:

Healthy Port Futures
UVA Batten School
Rural Design Bureau


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