On the Relation between Designing and Implementing in Permaculture – Part 24

About six months back my friends and permaculture design colleagues Finn Mackesy and Gary Marshall got in touch. They were keen for peer feedback on a beautifully presented short document laying out the design process framework underlying their work as part of Resilio Studio (Auckland, NZ).

You can download and view the entire (21 page) document in PDF format here or here. Here is a taste:

Now at first glance, this is yet another variation on the linear fabricating approach I found standard across all permaculture design process descriptions I could find in my earlier literature review:

Here, design process is conceptualised and written down or diagrammatically summarised as a linear sequence of steps in which a design is put together to a relatively complete level and only then implemented. A bunch of arrows is then added to try and do justice to the fact that in reality the different steps tend to get all mixed up with other (in space and time).1

However, flipping through the document the above image sits within, I was pleasantly surprised to notice mention of generative processes – which apart from by myself and these legends I had never before seen mentioned in the permaculture literature.2

The document explicitly differentiates what they call sequential processes (or implementation strategies):

from a particular take on generative ones:

Gary confirmed my suspicion that this inclusion was at least in part a result of his keeping an eye on goings-on here at Making Permaculture Stronger.3

I immediately realised that their document would serve as a fantastic example of how others have incorporated some of the discoveries of this latest inquiry into their basic understandings of sound design process. Indeed, in the very last post of this inquiry I shared how the permaculture design company I run alongside Adam Grubb has gone about this.

In this post I thank Finn, Gary and the rest of the Resilio Studio team for giving  me permission to share their process here (be sure also to check out their projects page including this example of them applying their process in a real-world context).

As Gary put it when he originally shared this with me:

this is a ‘live document’ we are keen to get input from a wide range of people to feed into the next iteration.  With no expectation, if you have the time, energy and inclination, it would be great to get your feedback – any and all feedback welcome.

What a great attitude – I’m honoured to count Gary & Finn as colleagues in the space of clarifying and sharing their evolving understandings in the genuine interest of strengthening them.4

Okay, more than enough from me. I’ll now hand over to Gary to introduce the Resilio Studio Design Primer, and I will share my feedback in the comments below.

We designed the primer as a high level, loose fit guide to the design process for the purpose of applying it to a wide range of design challenges and contexts. We designed it for ourselves as design practitioners trying to work across a range of fields and as a resource for our design education and training work.

The primer describes both agile/iterative/generative processes as well as sequential/waterfall/fabricated processes. In our experience design processes and implementation strategies need to match the design context. Depending on the project, we find that sometimes an iterative approach is most appropriate and at other times more sequential processes are better suited. For larger and/or more complex projects there is usually elements of both.

As an emerging design practice we have applied this design process and the sequential, generative as well as hybrid implementation strategies to a range of projects. These include purely social interventions through to physical infrastructure as well as ‘placemaking’ projects that involve both community development as well as built outcomes.

Gary Marshall
Auckland, New Zealand.

Endnotes

  1. Or as my friend Dave Jacke puts it, “intertwingled”
  2. By that name I mean – I did find places where David Holmgren and Ben Falk pretty much discuss generative processes under other names and if you check out my podcast interviews with Dave Jacke you’ll see he is all over this stuff.
  3. In Gary’s words “Along with Christopher Alexander’s work, yourself of course, and agile methodologies, we have also borrowed ideas from David Snowden’s work (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N7oz366X0-8), social and innovation labs – https://social-labs.org/ – and other thinkers and practitioners in the ‘prototyping for social innovation’ movement, if I can call it that, and tactical urbanism, which we’ve been teaching at landscape architecture school here for a few years – https://issuu.com/streetplanscollaborative/docs/tactical_urbanism_vol.1
  4. Both were also pivotal in the emergence in the last few years of the making permaculture stronger series of hui (gatherings) inside the NZ permaculture movement.

5 Comments

  1. Just sharing this message Stephen Bailes left on a facebook reference to this post:

    “A little unclear about ” implement ” . Is this the process of implementation or the outcome of it ? Is implement classed as an event or a series of events . It looks to me that ” initiate ” ought to precede implement in order to produce something for discover to work on . If we knew in advance what the ” problems ” would be then we could prevent them from ever occurring . This would render the whole process invalid . Most of this stuff only becomes apparent with hind -sight , after the event . What we don’t know is whether or not this is a one off event or a series of similar events . We cannot interpret anything from a single event . Any system that learns has to have been subject to , and recovered from an event or set of events for the selection process to work . This would be the refine bit but also encompasses the discover element . Clearly there is a huge range of time scales involved here which may fall way outside of the normal design effort . Only many long term projects and and studies of them will yield a large enough sample size of projects that we could describe as permanent .”

  2. Great comments/insights John and Gary and I get what you’re saying Milton. Wanted to say I made a start on a comment sharing my reflections on the primer but that it has grown. And grown. And grown. Into a post sharing an in-depth review that also pulls in various relevant recent comments too. Will publish when ready (I’m still on the first page!) and look forward to engaging more with your comments then.

  3. Dan, Another thought-provoking post (and very generous too of the talented team at Resilio). Struck me that a at least a couple of factors, not fully explicit, could play into the choice of process (e.g. waterfall versus emergent or a hybrid). One of those is “risk” (let’s leave that topic for another time when we have time to walk the lake!). And another is “personality”. Which is when up flashed a Landed Venn diagram with people / land / process. I think the fit between between people and process (and the sweet spot that intrinsic motivation plays) is worthy of a little discourse. Thanks again. John

    1. Thanks for the comment John. Regarding the choice of process, I think there is something in your observation of risk and personality and I would add to that, the related and undeniable pressures of time and money. While in our experience, this can be worked through with garden and landscape designs for residential clients, it isn’t always the case. An example might be useful. In New Zealand when working with architecture there are two basic paths – a consented structure or a non consented structure. Given the time and expense a building takes we find few people are interested in undertaking a large non consented structure (if nothing else, it is likely that it is at least in part, paid for via a loan from the bank, who will not lend for an un-consented building). The waterfall process for designing and building a consented structure is legislated in New Zealand and widely recognised by industry consenting bodies and is pretty well summarised in the following link I came across recently from a local ‘main stream’ practice – http://svb.co.nz/the-architectural-process/ .

      While the overall waterfall process is dictated by the statutory context, it doesn’t mean that we can’t use ‘design tools’ more aligned with a generative process – mark the building and layout on site, experiment with different orientations, leave some aspects of the interior (not subject to building consent) until the major build is complete etc. This is where other design tools such as model making (either physical or virtual are also important)

      Another example is designing landscapes in public spaces, which is a good example of the ‘risk’ you referred to. We have spent many years, without any luck, promoting and pitching ‘tactical urbanism’ projects to Auckland Transport (Local council controlled organisation who own and manage all roads and streets that aren’t motorways and other transport infrastructure – rail, ferry terminals etc). Tactical urbanism is essentially an agile methodology applied to public space design – we have previously described Tactical urbanism in this way:

      “Tactical urbanism, often described as the ‘lighter, ‘quicker, cheaper’ approach to placemaking, is a design methodology that involves a number of temporary ‘design experiments’. These ‘experiments’ test the design, programme and arrangement of a public space (such as a street) in a low- cost, low-risk and low-commitment way. The aim is that these experiments are measured for effectiveness and those that work are either left in place, or implemented in a more permanent manner. Tactical Urbanism can be adopted by Council or local boards as a ‘top-down’ strategy, or by citizens and community groups as ‘bottom-up’, grassroots initiatives or a combination of the two, possibly involving others as well.” see also – https://www.pps.org/reference/lighter-quicker-cheaper/

      In short – the risks are deemed too high, and the subsequent checks and balances needed to overcome these risks, such as traffic management plans, engineering reviews or any structures in public spaces to ensure no one will get hurt, and no property will be damaged are such that they totally undermine the intent of the agile ‘lighter quicker cheaper’ approach. In saying that, we continue to promote more generative process and are having some success in working in parks and public spaces with less heavy and expensive infrastructure. Some of this may be attributed to people working in this space being more comfortable with working with evolving process like ecosystem management, but this is just speculation.

  4. Very nice! I notice (and like) that there is a subtle shift in the names of the design phases from what I’m used to. Sort of a softening of the control aesthetic into a more emergent one.

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