On the Relation between Designing and Implementing in Permaculture – Part 12

Following on from the last post, I’ll here start sharing a design and development process I helped facilitate in New Zealand several years ago.

My main aim is to share one example of what I’ve come to call a hybrid design process looks and feels like in practice. This is where, as discussed previously, one completes a concept design and then starts implementing, letting the details emerge from inside the implementation process. I’m not aware of a clean example of this in the permaculture literature or online, so want to try and start filling the gap.

A secondary aim is to get into the swing of finding suitable formats for communicating what actually happens inside design process experiences. These details are usually lost1 in the prettied-up after-the-fact accounts we see in the literature, and I’d like to be part of seeing that start to change.

I’ll start with the backstory and some context before sharing the key phases of this particular design and implementation experience.

The Oakdene Forest Farm Homestead Design & Implementation Process

To start, and for the time-poor folk out there who can’t read the whole story, here’s a video clip that shares the earlier stages of the process. Keep in mind it stops short of the real juice we’ll come to focus on below, namely how and when we eased into implementation, and how this was related to design.

Backstory

My parents purchased a seven-acre property some nine years back. Fertile river flat, about 1400mm rainfall, hard frosts in winter.

The property is a funny shape – long and skinny – the lighter green strip running from left to right in this aerial photo. North is to the upper left.

Whilst there was some winging it2, a little hybrid action, and perhaps even a weeny early hint of generative unfolding, the centre of gravity of my design process approach at that time was fabrication – fleshing out the details on paper before implementing. Yes, I was a good student and had listened to my teachers carefully and read the books thoroughly!

Sometimes stuff was happening, such as a bunch of trees arriving, where we would lay them out and plant them, designing as we went. But it felt a bit naughty, and I was sometimes racing to try and make sure the details were being designed ahead of time.

I don’t have the original diagrams to hand, but this screen shot (taken from around 2m into the above video) gives a good feel for what I mean:

This sketch, while including some stuff that had already happened, includes many, many decisions made arbitrarily and ahead of time.

As a few more specific examples here I remember sitting on a computer agonising over to-scale gate, water trough, and shelter belt placement and dimensions3:

Or here my wife and I detailed up a house design for ourselves:4

In summary, my first attempt at designing the place was very much a fabricating approach, where I tried to draw up a detailed design before anything much had happened.

Mum and dad followed some of these sketches a bit, and mixed the process up with a fair bit of winging it. Kind of like salt and pepper (winging it) on a meal (fabricating it). Spiced it up a bit. Freaked me out a bit. And at times it wasn’t that clear which was the meal and which was the salt and pepper.

After a few years had gone by we came together for another round of design, focusing in particular on the area around their house and barn.

In what remains of this post I’ll share where this area was at when we commenced this new round of designing. Here is a to-scale base map of the focal area:

To give you a rough feel for where this area sat within the property as a whole, let’s start with a rough indication of the whole property…

…which mostly looked like this, a big empty paddock without a single tree…

…and which over time had distinguished itself into three main sub-sections…

…let’s now zoom into the middle region…

…which had by now again distinguished itself into two sub-areas, one more public, one more private…

…making for a transitional space in between these two…

…there was a pre-existing creek running through the area…

…and mum and dad had completed a barn that had been started before they purchased the place…

…they put in a driveway, and we planted some shelter trees around the perimeter, to the south…

…and north…

…and mum planted out what we’re now calling the communal orchard…

…dad and my brother-in-law built a few little cabins…

…dug a massive hole both to build an elevated platform for their house (this is a river flat, after all!) and dug a pond to its north…

…for reasons including this5

above photo taken the morning of May 13, 2011 from the future house kitchen site

…they then built their beautiful little redwood-clad house…

…right about here…

…bringing us back to the to-scale base map of the area.

Having hopefully oriented you to the site and where its development was up to, in the next post we’ll start reviewing the fresh round of design that then commenced. We’ll start with the process of tuning into the people involved, tuning into the place more deeply, and then unfolding a concept-level design for the whole area. I know, I know, isn’t it exciting to be getting into the nitty gritty of what different flavours of design process look and feel like on the ground!

Endnotes

  1. Whether forgotten or unconsciously edited out
  2. I’m not naming any names here
  3. all of which turned out to be irrelevant the way things actually panned out
  4. when as it turns out we ended up living in another country and never came close to starting to build this house
  5. Geoff Lawton, bless him, had got me excited about duck-shaped shadows moving around the kitchen ceiling

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