A mini-conversation with Jason Gerhardt

Hey all, for reasons I’m sure will be obvious I’ve decided to promote this insightful comment on the last post from Jason Gerhardt into a post. Meantime, the blog will be coming back to life soon, and I can’t wait to start rolling out the next leg of the MPS journey come 2019. In my humble opinion, we’ve nearly completed our warm-up exercises and things are about to start getting interesting :-). Over to Jason with my reply below:

Hi Dan, this is exactly what I thought you’d arrive at, that is, design as an evolutionary process. It’s kind of the only logical outcome, to build living systems by processes of evolution (the guiding principle of life), which is what happens in design regardless, even though it may not yield the desired outcomes. On some level I think Mollison had it right with “allow systems to demonstrate their own evolution”. Humans tend toward control and have a very hard time when things don’t go to plan, so we need to ease up on our expectations (and our plans), not become more and more rigid about getting exactly what we want. At least to some degree I hear this in your conclusion. However, we definitely need things to not fail. There is a difference between failure and deviation.

Don’t make too big a leap in minimizing the importance of designing upfront, however. It is integral to the overall process, just not the end (because there is no end!), and not more important than any other stage. The design process is circuitous and loops back on itself continually, never ending, and it includes implementation and management, which are equally important design stages to send one back through every other stage. This is an affront to the image of the know-all architect while mere laborers put the pieces together. And it is why the mere laborers always grunt and grumble behind the architects back because they are the ones that save the day when things deviate from plan, as they always do. So we need to be careful in codifying a new process that favors the on-the-ground work over any other piece because eventually we will end up right back at the same place with a lopsided design process. This will be especially true on large projects with multiple elements being designed, implemented, and managed by multiple teams, which is the way most of the design world works outside of residential landscape design. So on some level, we simply need a leveling of the playing field in the design trade, and we need to educate everyone as if they were a designer (because everyone is). No player’s role is more important than any other. This might get us even closer to permanent culture 

I do want to be clear that I think your articulation is the way the design process has always been. I also think a good designer is able to decipher when even a fabricating approach is the best method (because sometimes it is!) considering the greater context of the ongoing evolution of a clients paradigm and/or project. It takes a lot of time and gradual paradigm shifting to achieve wholism, which is why most people who are fresh out of a PDC can’t design for squat, nor should they be expected to, able to, or allowed to (especially when the stakes are high).

You have articulated this thoroughly and more fully than previous articulations of the design process, and I applaud your hard work, Dan. I’m excited to see your thoughts on how we share this with students and advance it in the design trade (beyond the confines of permaculture).

And my reply:

Thanks so much for your comment Jason! Everything you say resonates with where I am coming from and nicely recaps many of the main points I’ve been exploring (which, as you say, at the highest level includes framing “design as an evolutionary process”). A few little reflections in response:

As regards easing up on our expectations, and not becoming “more and more rigid about getting exactly what we want,” I think there is a crucial (and under-appreciated) distinction here between what you could say is what we think we want (which is usually a superficial wishlist of desired elements or outcomes) and what we reallywant (which is around deeper intention & quality of life). I mention this because when reality either invites, or, if we don’t accept the invitation, forces us to deviate from imposing our wishlist according to our plan, we can deem this failure. But when we get clear on the above distinction suddenly the degree that the details of what happens where when and how can vary enormously, indeed need to vary enormously in order to deliver on the deeper intention or reason for getting involved in some project in the first place. Where yesterday’s failure is transformed into today’s success (even if it means moving to another property or project or whatever) :-).

I love your

So on some level, we simply need a leveling of the playing field in the design trade, and we need to educate everyone as if they were a designer (because everyone is). No player’s role is more important than any other. This might get us even closer to permanent culture

As these inquiries proceed1 I’ll be looking closely and critically at the whole idea of framing design as a circuit of separate stages occurring one-after-the-other (design-implement-manage or whatever variation) and developing an alternative framing where these are more accurately construed as contemporary aspects inside a healthy process (where the usual understanding of what defines the line where design stops and implementation starts becomes completely redefined). But I absolutely agree that any way of dealing with lopsidedness that simply moves the lopsidedness somewhere else is not transforming the underlying pattern (and is a trap I have to avoid falling into, or even coming across as having fallen into).

This is also so well said (and could become the beginning of a whole thread in itself!):

It takes a lot of time and gradual paradigm shifting to achieve wholism, which is why most people who are fresh out of a PDC can’t design for squat, nor should they be expected to, able to, or allowed to (especially when the stakes are high).

Also, in an upcoming post I’ll try and get across the confusing fact that fabricating and generating are more attitudes than technical facts about this or that process. I know of projects that, though they involve much fabrication, are in spirit and practice highly generative, and vice versa!

Thanks again Jason – it is gratifying to be in conversation with experienced colleagues such as yourself, who not only get what the hell I’m going on about, but enrich and enlarge the conversation by sharing from their own experiences.

I might have to hit you up about recording a podcast interview sometime!

Endnotes

  1. even though I take a long break when other parts of life call, it’s all feeling very alive, and after two years I feel like that things are only just getting started here!

1 Comment

  1. Dan, this is really soulful work you’re doing. I think about it all the time (and wish I remembered to check your site more often). I think about it so much because my work demands me to keep trying to get closer to the core. I say “soulful” because you’re onto the core of something very important about life in general, and how we make sense of failure, success, and so much more. I agree with everything you said. It’s tricky work too. We’re all so prone to falling into various logic traps and dualities. We really need each other as a community to stay on course. So thank you for laboring away. It has enriched the last few projects I’ve been doing. I’d join you for a chat anytime.

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