What a great record of an exciting process with far reaching positive outcomes.
Thanks mum and dad! Fun to reminisce, hey?
Really nice to see an ‘iterative’ design process going on, I’ve found that I’ve been doing the same in my urban back garden redesign, my only ‘wish list’ point is that I should have designed a bit better around the wind factor (we get hammered). I didn’t bank on the neighbours clearing quite a few trees from a boundary area before my plantings got established. Any learnings from the design process for you?
Lovely hearing from you Vidya. Yes isn’t breaking wind an important function! Main learning I recall was how pleasant this style of designing is, where one can relax out of the space trying to be a design “expert” responsible for coming up with the answers and simply help the design emerge from its context :-).
Main learning I recall was how pleasant this style of designing is, where one can relax out of the space trying to be a design “expert” responsible for coming up with the answers and simply help the design emerge from its context
Sounds like a very gracious way of treating yourself and the whole design process. I myself get so hung up on feeling like I did something wrong if there are any contingencies that pop up. Maybe if we clearly reframe the process (for both ourselves and our clients) as an interative, responsive thing that’s dealing with forces way out of our control, that’s all we need. In a way I feel like it’s all we can do, because it acknowledges the reality that we’re small meat-based creatures that are doing our best in a chaotic universe 🙂
So when’s the book coming out? 😉 You’ve unpacked so much in this post and the previous; your design process is much more clearly articulated than what I learned in my PDC. But it deserves a more stable and structured medium than a blog! So much good stuff; I want to be able to refer back to it!
(I realise that you’re using this blog to flesh out your own understanding — in a generative way, no less! So I guess it truly is a good medium. Still, despite the fact that your ideas are still ‘unfolding’ (see what I did there) they seem awfully ready-to-use already.)
Good to hear from you Paul! Thanks for your encouraging comment. Re the book, maybe check in a few years, see how I’m going with it 😉
Update – the book is in progress right now 🙂
Oh wow! Congrats! Looking forward to seeing an update. I’ve been out of touch with this conversation lately — been involved in a couple projects (including a crypto app platform whose community is full of a lot of systems thinkers — currency designers, permaculturists, and even someone who studied under Alexander! Pretty exciting stuff!). I really want to get up to date sometime soon — really enjoy your writing.
Revisiting this scintillating discussion after a seven-month hiatus (welcome to baby number three!) One thing I remember not being able to resolve back in February was the tension between element assembly and unfolding.
In the software dev world we’re all about elements because we’re not just assembling the elements; we’re also building them. In that sense it’s more like architecture than permaculture. Complex systems can arise from those elements, and we certainly use an ‘unfolding’ process to improve the elements, but at the very core it’s just elements. That’s why I have to agree with Kent Beck that element assembly really is useful in software design.
Interesting things happen when you start enabling element assembly in this space. Consider the Google Maps mashups of the mid-noughts, where people were combining disparate sources of data onto one map and uncovering very intriguing patterns. This exciting complexity happened because so many services opened up their APIs — interfaces to the raw data — and allowed third parties to connect them in new ways.
So I think unfolding (we call it ‘refactoring’) must happen if you want to arrive at a natural, humane design for your software, but it happens in the context of creating and assembling elements.
How does that apply to design in the real world? Well, the creation/generation bit is inapplicable, for the most part. There’s no way we can build a chicken prototype every time we wanted chickens in our design. There are too many complex systems within the chicken itself, but we get that element, ready to go, for free. And it’s a good thing too, because there’s a lot of good stuff in that highly complex system that is a chicken. It just works. (I’d hate to write unit tests for a chicken: “Assert that, given a pyruvate molecule and an oxygen molecule, a mitochondrion will produce an ATP molecule.” How many tests do I have to write again?!)
Built systems are the exception, I guess — solar panels, buildings, ponds, vehicles, etc. We (or someone) is responsible for making sure all the component systems work properly as we create them.
Anyhow, on to the part that I think is relevant, and here’s the part that I’m still struggling with re: Alexander’s unequivocal assertion that nature works only by unfolding, not by element assembly. At the end of the day, there are elements in our system, and we assemble them. I think nature does this too: the unfolding of a forest and the assembly of its elements into a network are two facets of the same process.
How about this? Unfolding is the process that dictates the proper assembly of elements. It’s the set of rules that decide which new elements will be added in an iteration, which existing ones will survive it, and which will be pruned out. In turn, the emergent properties of that element assembly influences the next iteration of the unfolding.
To me this certainly seems like a useful lens for understanding the creation of complex dynamic systems — including the one you go on to describe at your mum and dad’s property.
Greetings Paul and thanks for your recent spate of comments – lots of great thoughts and concepts. Re the tension between unfolding & element assembly, did you ever see this comment, per chance?
Ah brilliant, I see you’ve wrestled with that idea already. I like what you have to say there. Could I summarise it by saying that differentiation is the governing process, and element assembly is one of the activities that you do whilst differentiating? Whereas in permaculture we often emphasise element assembly to the detriment of all else?
Hey Paul and yeah good summary 😉
I really enjoyed the photos of this design unfolding. As I look at these, what strikes me is how playful the process is. It’s like those life-sketching classes where you work quickly to capture the essence of a pose. Something about the speed prevents you from becoming too self-conscious, keeps you a few steps ahead of your rational mind which wants to squash the fun out of everything with its guidelines and procedures.
When you’re doing BDUF, there’s a tremendous pressure to get everything right because there’s no going back to the drawing board. More rational mind stuff. There’s a time for that — you want to do your engineering due diligence so your retaining wall doesn’t break and send thousands of litres of pond water gushing out over your neighbour’s yard — but it can be quite destructive too. You end up getting quite obsessive over the details, and analysis paralysis can slow you down.
Hi Dan, thanks for a great Sunday workshop!
Since I’m a hands-on kind of guy, this example resonates really well with me. What I still ‘worry’ a lot about though is the dead-end thing that you describe in the footnote. Even though you seem to have worked through every possible way to simulate the implementation, it somehow feels safer to have the whole fabricated design on a piece of paper first…But this might be a cultural bias of mine and has probably nothing to do with how things actually play out.
I have also been a bit troubled about the initial resemblance between ‘Winging it’ and ‘Generating’ and I think I can safely say that there are a few aspiring permaculture designers who feel the same way. This has become super obvious to me when meeting people with really nice and well-designed home gardens who are too afraid to take on the design of another person’s garden because their fabricated designs (the piece of paper) doesn’t look pretty enough. “Yeah I’d love to do another person’s garden, but I have to work on my design skills first” means “I have to work on my drawing/Photoshop skills”. The physical evidence that they are good designers is right in front of them, literally just outside their door. As I discussed with you on the weekend, I think this fear is a serious bottleneck for more space being conquered by permaculture. A generative design process could at least provide a lot of potential designers with just the tool they need to get started. But as you know, I believe it could do much more than that.
Greetings Alexander and so lovely to meet you! – I look forward to meeting again. Yes I think you are right in (very compassionately ;-)) worrying on behalf of a culture that really is most anxious about relaxing into the generative flow too much least something terrible goes wrong. Why take the risk when you can have an expert perfect a masterplan first, make all the mistakes on paper, then simply hand the plan over to the contractors to actualise as drawn ;-).
Also yes that is a fascinating issue that so many aspiring permaculture designers feel inadequate in terms of their drawing or computer rendering skills when in some cases they do indeed have the goods as evidenced by what they have actually created (in some case much more so than those who have been prioritising drawing ideal gardens rather than creating and managing real ones!). But then as you say moving forward then comes down to appreciating the distinction between authentic generating and merely winging it, where at the end of the day it might even be better to go the design on paper first route if winging it is the alternative…
This inspires me to present my portfolio of (a selection of my) designs with focus on the process rather than the result. Thanks Dan!
I’m so glad Linnéa and thanks for dropping by! Would love to see some examples of your processes and whatever it is that happened to come out of them.
Thank you very much for all your work towards Making Permaculture Stronger. It’s been a great journey so far. Maybe the field-process-model is beckoning 😀
Thanks so much for commenting Richard and indeed!
Thankyou for your exceptional endeavours within your 22 part series.
Your contribution to the world is an incredible example of openness.
Permaculture is different because it begins in its simplicity of conjoining terms that are not , and are, limited to design processes that cannot be articulated in any specific context.
Permanent, which I struggle to understand can exist, Agriculture, which can be applied to anything.
The base therefore is impossible to base, creating the opportunity, poetry, actuality, physicality and the wonder.
A tree has long been used as metaphor.
From systems engineers and high end processes to funerals, with a myriad of experiences in between for design to draw influence from. The basic remains, be it uncertain at times, of presence. Human presence in our world. And trees.
It possibly means not the design process of a chair or similar, yet the reality of a person needing to sit, not a garden, but a need to eat.
Design will always need to be articulated, uncertain and propositional.
Strengthening permaculture onwards will rely upon these sitters and gardeners and their ability to propose new foundations to lay weight upon lightly and heavily. The more we all can be involved, the better the application or integration.
Designing for this simple difference is not a process that can be overarching or undertaken. It will always be about the weight. And equally the wait.
Design itself becomes adversarial to this life force and therefore the bane of its own misconduct or its attempts.
Principles are codes of attempt.
Practicalities are codes of necessity.
Permaculture thrives within a domain of integrating this theoretical with actual, not practical.
The more we can be inclusive of the processes that will result in time, by spending time, the more time we can share. This in the end is the process
Thanks for your reflections Luke.
Thanks for this series of deep inquiries into the field of “design process” – be aware, that quite a few PC designers & activists here in Mexico & Latin America, are in a similar process of re-discovering what design is all about – haven´t commented yet on the series, but following with a lot of interest and (if possible) insight your discussions, resonating with many if not most of your discoveries.
I´d like to read the series in context – is there a PDF version of the installment available?, for printing some , & to better review them
saludos desde México
Hola Holger and I very much look forward to hearing more about the conversations there – it is so wonderful just to know they are happening! One idea would be to record a conversation with you for the podcast? Or you for you and your colleagues there to write a guest post sharing something of your adventures in this territory? I am wanting to edit the journey so far into a PDF e-book yes – maybe I’ll get around to it the next few months once things get to what for me is a kind of important conclusion in bringing the outcomes of the first two inquiries together into one message – but thanks for the additional motivation!
Great work Dan. As a farmer, designer, educator and ecosystem participant I find the points you are making in what I call Adaptive Design Systems are poignant in permaculture transformation. Thank you for pushing the edge. Great podcast and various articles on this subject.
Thanks for that Cliff and what with all the various kinds of encouragement I’m getting lately I’m feeling it might be time to start pushing a little harder! I’d love to hear more about Adaptive Systems Design if you have any links to more about it, or would consider writing something – a guest post perhaps? Just took a quick look at your site and I very much liked what I saw. Be great to stay in touch as this wider conversation unfolds and evolves.
Hi Dan. Thanks for the podcast.
I was recently in conversation with someone who critiqued permaculture for being a movement of architects, not of farmers. The insights that you and Ben bring forward in this podcast are helping me work through that.
But there’s a niggling question: If permacultures can be evolved through the daily application of common sense and skill to a piece of land in a particular context, then how can that be taught? How can one teach common sense? Can common sense be taught separately from skills, or does one need to acquire skill in a particular area (gardening, housebuilding, plumbing, fixing tractors, whatever) in order to develop the common sense necessary to develop a functional system?
This would suggest that permaculture would have most value for those who already hold a set of relevant skills.
Anyway, lots of thoughts to keep thinking about – and occasionally doing something about too!
From Darren J. Doherty on Design Process, the Regrarians Approach, and Making Permaculture Stronger (E05)on
Many wisdoms here from the gravel-voiced Darren J. Doherty. Encouraging too to hear that he’s still good from 50m out on the flank. Darren’s encouragement to be strategic, incremental and pragmatic made a lot of sense. Likewise, not flitting onto the next thing before some mastery is obtained doing what you are (a commonly Western malaise it would seem). ‘Do it 1000 times and then you will understand’, I recall my martial arts teacher chiding me. Thanks a lot Dan.
From Darren J. Doherty on Design Process, the Regrarians Approach, and Making Permaculture Stronger (E05)on
Fantastic interview, especially the parts about the purpose of Permaculture and how it and Regrarians fit into our culture. For me, a lot of the potential of Permaculture is in undoing the damage that we’ve done both to the landscape and ourselves, and putting things back into balance. (Whether we’ll achieve that in the face of the opposition from mainstream culture is another thing entirely though).
A thought: At around 25:00 – 30:00 you and Ben are talking about Alan Savory, Holistic Management, the expense of having multiple rounds of design and leaving clients to “do the work”. Is there an opportunity for a rebrand or pivot and instead of “design”, talk about Permaculture coaching? (or counselling? 😉 ).
I’m pretty sure you’re already on this path Dan, but it might be a “culturally-legible”* pivot into (eg.) an initial consultation, then a few ongoing hours a month of checking in and feelings stuff.
* – ie. when you say “coaching”, people will pretty much instantly get it
Yes, I think ‘coaching’ (also ‘facilitating’) is a good way to brand such a dramatic departure from the ivory tower style of professional design.
Part of me thinks that this is the only proper way to do permaculture design (and software design, and architecture, and…) I realise that’s a sweeping statement, but I hold that it’s generally true. We bring expertise and really good people skills (e.g., knowing how to coax out deeper motivations, empower clients, balance tensions between stakeholders); the clients bring the vision and the drive.
To me, “facilitating” sounds a bit too much like a management-y buzzword bingo phrase, hard to tell from afar whether it’s actually helping.
Fair enough 🙂 I’m not the hugest fan of the word myself; just trying to think of words that would click with certain clients.
Will share my thoughts on permaculture “designer” vs “facilitator” vs “coach” vs “trainer” vs “counsellor” in an in-preparation post where I’ll link to these comments – thanks Anthony and Paul!
Thanks for this great interview with the inspiring leader Ben Falk.
I would like to point in the direction of “agile” instead of “waterfall” methods in project management and product development.
In the 1970s, the dominating idea was to plan first and then execute (a.k.a. “waterfall”). This works great in automotive industry, where every new car looks more or less like the last one. The plan was detailed, and it was implicitly assumed that all necessary knowledge was present at the outset.
It does *not* work well when the solution space is large, many things are unclear or unknown, and there are many good solutions. In those cases, learning by iterative development is the key to getting to a good solution at a reasonable cost.
You can read much more about this in the software field, where it is called “agile” and in the process development field, where it is often a part of the “continuous improvement” aspect of “lean”.
I am convinced that these metaphors and ideas are useful for a permaculture site evolution. (Sometimes the focus on the word “design” implies that “here comes a clever guy who knows it all and selects the best solution beforehand”.) I think it helps to be humble about all the unknowable things when we start.
Looking forward to hearing more episodes!
Oh boy, if you’re interested in Agile/Lean and how it can be applied to permaculture design, you’re in for a real treat! Dan, the author of this blog, is a big fan of Christopher Alexander, who of course was a huge influence on Ward Cunningham and the rest of the early Agile folks. A few months ago, Dan asked the question, “If permaculturists are big fans of Alexander, why have we not benefited from his wisdom in the same way the software profession has?”
It’s a really engaging read, a rabbit hole. It starts here: http://makingpermaculturestronger.net/2017/01/28/on-the-relation-between-designing-and-implementing-in-permaculture/
Here’s a podcast with software developer Alex Bayley about agile permaculture: http://makingpermaculturestronger.net/2017/07/27/alex-bayley-e03/
And here’s Alex on her own blog talking about agile permaculture: http://spinstersbayley.com/blog/agile-permaculture-an-introduction/
Welcome to the conversation! If you have an idea for an article that further develops the concept of agile permaculture, talk to Dan; he’s looking for authors for this blog.
(Dan has also registered the domain name agilepermaculture.com, but he hasn’t yet revealed what he’s planning to do with it 🙂 )
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.
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
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.
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.
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 .”
Dave’s piece on culture and cultural inhibition (0:52:00 or so) reminds me of one realisation, which is that a lot of the early PDC stuff with Bill Mollison (I have the tapes from one of his PDCs circa 1983) seems to be more about shaking people out of that cultural stasis rather than communicating a particular process.
eg. “the problem is the solution”, “you can’t do any worse than what’s already being done” and the various stories re. rats and wild rice, ducks vs. snails, having positive attitudes to weeds, even the crazy whale story, all seem to be trying to push people out of the dominant culture, and keep them there for a couple of weeks, after which time you can come up with much more varied solutions, some of which will be better.
A really granular description of a process made real. Very helpful for those of us just starting the journey. And timely as I walk around Kyoto’s temple gardens. Thanks Dan.
I’m really enjoying your podcasts.
I’m new to permaculture, I’ve watched a bit of Bill Mollisons course on YouTube, read a bit of Gaias garden by Toby hemenway, and listened to some podcasts.
I’m interested in permaculture design as I want to be able to build sustainable systems on land and also apply it other things like community and even product development.
If you were taking an 80/20 approach to learning permaculture ( ie the 20% of things that give you 80% of the results) what would suggest?
From what I can gather it would be broken up into principles and process.
– David holmgrens revised book principals sustainability
– Christopher Alexander’s book – ‘a timeless way of building’
– a permaculture design course that runs through the process.
– observation sounds like a big area to focus on.
Any info from anyone would be great.
Keep up the great work.
After listening to this I withdraw my question haha!
Such inspirational stuff.
Thanks Harry 🙂
Checking back in with your blog as a colleague wants me to join him on your and David’s design process course coming up this year. You’ve been at it, strong, Dan! I just spent a couple hours reading through many of your posts, quickly albeit. I have many thoughts, but a couple I’ll share. Years ago I found the definition of design in my old Webster Collegiate dictionary as “to have as a purpose in the mind; to intend”. In my courses I describe design as “decision making”, which to me fits the above definition and encompasses conscious and unconscious (which is inescapable), and I add that one of the intentions (or designs) of permaculture is to make decisions more consciously with more information, and thereby shine a light on our unconscious, which is mostly what’s ruining the world. That implies a knowing, which is a life long quest that sets permaculturists on a journey of growing, therefore it is regenerative for us as humans, and therefore eventually regenerative for human culture. My goal as a teacher is to instill in my students that design is a way of being, not doing, but a state of mind/heart that then gets applied to what we do. What we do then becomes a by product of our way of being. I think it’s difficult for western minds to come to terms with that one, but I’m not sure I see anyway around it. At least I haven’t found it. Is there more discussion going on another platform that I should follow, Dan?
So great to hear from you Jason!
Thanks for reminding me about the upcoming course with David – I’ve been focusing on other things (like this one) and your reminder has me looking forward to finding out what happens in this next round of deep design process explorations with David. A few days after that workshop is the Australian Permaculture Convergence so I’m looking forward to taking the energy of the course into that wider space of sharing and exploring.
I love what you say about your goal as a teacher – resonates big time :-). Yep our western minds have some work to do (or rather undo or not do ;-))! Re design as decision making I’m simultaneously exploring design process as design process and what I’m calling holistic decision making. But the further I go the harder it is to hold them apart – the both of them revealing themselves as different perspectives on the same thing.
Re more discussion I’ll shortly post sharing some of the behind-the-scenes private email conversations I’m part of with permaculture practitioners around the world, but apart from that no, nothing much is happening that I’m aware of, as as you’ll have noticed the commentaries on MPS posts have really died off. I seem to remain motivated nonetheless so will be pushing on for quite a while yet though!
If you really want to blow your mind re. “What is design?”, then consider a bare minimum design strategy like evolution. There’s no upfront plan, not even a goal to speak of, other than survival, and the only “plans” created are in the organisms and their DNA. There’s not much that humans would pick as a process, just trying things blindly and keeping what survives. And yet, over hundreds of millions of years, trees, dinosaurs, fungi, mammals, humans and whole ecologies emerge.
There’s a pretty strong argument to be made that all other design strategies are efforts to mimic the beautiful, elegant forms and patterns of the natural world, but without the massive costs involved in using an evolutionary process – millions of iterations, death, destruction, etc.
Genetic algorithms are an extreme example: computer processes which generate forms that minimise material, or maximise an effect, given a particular set of constraints like stresses and particular form factors. And they produce very organic-looking forms (eg. https://www.designboom.com/technology/airbus-ap-works-3d-printed-motorcycle-05-24-2016/). Is it designed? Maybe, maybe not. It doesn’t lead to better understanding of the world, for one thing. But it can produce much better designs than people can, and do it extremely cheaply.
A couple of examples: the original was Tierra, a computer environment used to study evolution that developed parasites, counter parasites and cooperation (short doco here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wl5rRGVD0QI). You can see an evolutionary process in action at http://boxcar2d.com/, which evolves better and better cars, given an initially random population. Yes, they mostly suck to start with, but leave it running overnight and be amazed 🙂
Hey Dan, there’s a minor typo in your Christopher Alexander quote:
“in creating an ethos where where buildings”
I’m so pleased that you shared more widely from your reply to my email. Those ideas and your analysis of the Papanek quote lead me to think that ‘design’ can be taken so broadly that it includes all purposeful activity whatsoever, and is therefore a really important idea. The part I like the most is where you suggest that permaculture is “an alternative approach to co-creating the world, or at least some solid and extremely worthwhile preliminary fragments or reachings in that direction.” What a shame you instantly dismiss it as a “rant” that you must “tone the heck down” 🙁 Your humility limits your potential! I say go for it, reformulate permaculture as the mindspace and discipline that will transform humanity from a planetary cancer into the Earth’s custodians and gardeners.
Good on you Greg lovely to have you chiming in. Note taken, tone down my humility. Careful what you wish for though – you might find yourself asking me to tone it up again soon ;-).
I’ve been a lurker for a while here, and I love this dialogue you’ve stirred up. I really appreciate your dedication to presenting Christopher Alexander’s work because I haven’t been able to get into his books yet. You’ve provided so much context to his relevance to permaculture, design and just being a decent human being. It seems to me that there’s a lot in common between Alexander’s concept of wholeness and the worldview espoused by many world religions, specifically the non-duality between subject/object, self/other, body/mind. I really believe that in order for humanity to continue on this planet for the long term, we must change the perspective that man and nature are separate, or that human beings are fundamentally different from each other. Luckily, I see people sharing similar sentiments from all walks of life and corners of the world. The dominant cultural worldview is shifting, and dare I say it even appears to be speeding up as we speak.
I hope that we can take it even further than just viewing ourselves as stewards or custodians of earth, and treat all creatures, and even the rocks and rain, as we do family. Indigenous peoples around the world related to all things alive and (apparently) inanimate as valuable as a parent or sibling; not only by caring for and loving them, but by allowing themselves to be loved by such things as the wind, or to learn from the mountain, or find one’s purpose from a bear. One step at a time of course, I’d be happy with a cultural transition towards global stewardship in my lifetime.
Anyway, I’m digressing from my appreciation because I figured you wouldn’t mind if I took your time- I don’t think this will be as long as your post! By applying your perspective to others’ design processes, you’ve condensed much of your work in this blog down to smaller chunks (relatively speaking when you compare this post to your whole body of work). I took a couple pages of notes on your three main points about Design Thinking/Rationality, Creation and Conservation, and Problem Solving because I’m actually starting a college class in design tomorrow.
Don’t cringe too fast though, I’ll explain a bit about myself and what I’m doing so I can ask a few questions. I went to college like a good little suburban white boy should, starting out in Philosophy and switching to Biology half way through. After 4 years with at least 1-2 remaining years to finish the BS, I took a break because I felt that my heart was not in it, and I didn’t want to keep taking loans for a degree I wasn’t sure I needed. A few years later I attended a PDC and learned a kind of holistic ecological perspective not taught in a typical biology classroom; and though I did know a few outdoorsy permaculture kids then, I didn’t really get the full picture from them.
Fortunately, a nice little school in Vermont offers a program for students to finish up an undergrad degree from home or any state college courses, and they let me create my own plan of study. I call it Regenerative Development and am taking a variety of classes in: Landscape/Horticulture, Diversified Agriculture, Community Development and Entrepreneurship. None of it is on the frontier of regenerative business or permaculture, it’s just what’s available to me to be able to balance my priorities of finishing my nearly complete degree with classes that teach me some relevant skills and all for a fair price. Meanwhile I’m digesting your blog, Dave Jacke, Christopher Alexander, working in landscaping during the summer, growing a little food and trying to get involved in community where I can.
So now that you know a little about me, I can get into some relevant thoughts and questions. Naturally, (or rather unnaturally, you might say) this horticulture and landscape design program from which I am cherry picking a few courses requires you take Graphics before Intro to Design. So last semester I got to work on my drawing ability where we just fabricated imaginary landscapes and courtyards, and it drove me a little crazy. I had some okay conversations with the teacher about the difference between fabrication and generative design process, but she didn’t really get it when I suggested that “design process” (quotes are for you because I’m not going to repeat everything you just wrote about those words!) and particularly observational skills be taught before blueprint level drawing. She just insisted that students need to get on board with the “language” of modern design before they can learn to see and draw landscape. So my fellow students are being encouraged from the get go to make decisions without any context, and certainly zero emotion.
I piped up every now and then in class to share some of your wisdom because these are potential future designers who are not being given any realistic context about the world and economy that they are [not] being prepared for. Unfortunately, the class really encourages students towards a career in commercial architectural design and big projects for institutions with big funding; a path that likely requires higher credentials than the associates degree from this program. There’s very little specifically about doing useful projects for lower class working people or food production at different scales, and it drives me to speak up when it seems appropriate in or outside of class. Tomorrow, the Intro to Design course begins with the same students and I’m a bit anxious about whether it will continue down the same trajectory. I feel bad for my fellow students and will try to pepper in different perspectives where I can, but I’m not sure many of them are very interested or aware about the different theories and practices behind design (and I don’t expect them to either, being ten years younger than me).
Do you have any advice for getting the most out of this kind of standard design course which I’m taking for a variety of reasons that do not include submitting to the fabrication ideology? I want to do landscape design/coaching/build and maintenance type work for the people who need it most, but can’t afford it because fewer and fewer working people have discretionary income for things like “landscaping”.
I’d really like to take what you’re doing to the small town context in Vermont. What do you think about applying such a living process to town planning? I’ll also be taking a course in Land Use Planning this semester, which I suspect will be similarly steeped in the expensive, lengthy, up-front town plan fabrication. I would love to see lower cost, more inclusive and adaptable strategies come into the small community context because many little towns in Vermont are in economic decline for a variety of reasons. I believe the heart of the issue has existed throughout VT history and that’s the impact of global capital markets on local community resilience and resources.
People in my community have even recently started a conversation on a local online forum about what to do about vacant storefronts in town. A few even liked my proposal to convert the ailing public/private golf course into a cooperatively owned regenerative farm and community hub that can act as a center for education, business incubation, food/fiber/fuel/fodder/fertilizer/”farmaceutical” production, and especially as a space for gathering and celebration.
Gosh, I don’t want to write a comment longer than your original post. I’ll write more in the future now that I’ve finally broken my silence. Again, I love what you’re doing and saying Dan. Please keep it coming, you’re truly an inspiration!
Okay Trevor – yours is one comment that deserves a proper reply!
First thanks for coming out into the open where I can see you – may that your doing so encourages other lurkers to do the same :-).
One step at a time, yes, but I do like your statements about indigenous ways of being where it’s all alive and we feed into the rest of life as it feeds into us.
I appreciated hearing about your experiences in classes on design – because I lack much direct exposure to the mainstream of design education it is good (if demoralising) to be reminded that people really do still think, teach, and practice this way. Fabricating masterplans with deadlines, some of these words themselves carrying clues to their own impotence…
I don’t know about advice, but one thing I’d mention is that I’ve found it helpful when engaging in certain projects to have the ability to draw up pretty scaled diagrams on computer etc etc in terms of not being intimidated with all that stuff (or belittled and pushed aside due to its absence). It can be useful to know the standard practice approach in terms of being most informed toward where the nodal intervention points are when it comes to disrupting it. Sometimes a little stealth may be in order – “yes, here I am the expert who can whip you up a masterplan! But now I am in the door, here’s what we’re really going to do, and why it is going to serve you better…”
Applying living process to town planning sounds like a bit of fun to me! Alexander does give several examples of this kind of thing in Book Three of the Nature of Order, though I personally have not applied it in this context. I’d be keen if the opportunity comes up though, my word.
Please do keep chiming in Trevor and yes, I’ll keep it coming to, don’t worry about that! I’m just getting warmed up here!
From The Resilio Studio Design Process Primer: Part Three - Finn and Gary's reply to the first instalment of Dan's reviewon
Huge thanks to you Finn and Gary for penning Making Permaculture Stronger’s first guest post! I’m loving the feeling of relaxing my grip on the reigns here and am happy to report that several guest posts from others are already in the release queue. Now I can’t resist a few comments on your lovely and much-appreciated reply to the first part of my review of your primer.
Alexander and form
You write: “Christopher Alexander’s design process which, in our judgement, assumes ‘form’ as the inevitable outcome of design… …For us (and in a fair bit of our work) ‘design’ outcomes are not focused on ‘form’. If permaculture design is about more than physical form (which we feel it definitely is) we need a broader conception of design and design process than we feel Alexander provides…”
I have three points to make here:
While Alexander emphasised form as the object of design process in his 1964 book Notes on the Synthesis of Form (which was a thesis he wrote as a student in his twenties), he to my knowledge gave it less emphasis in the huge collection of books he subsequently authored (not to mention his marked decrease of emphasis on design at all). For the bulk of his career as a practicing architect, he instead emphasised what he called the quality without a name, wholeness or living structure as the outcomes of what he called living process (as opposed to design process).
What I’m getting at here is that it feels a little unfair to me to judge someone’s work by extrapolating from one tiny, early bit of it (especially when he explicitly rejected many of the ideas therein once he starting practicing as an architect and discovered their limitations).
That said, he did continue to use the term form here and there, and I myself have become quite partial to it, perhaps more partial than he was. But here’s the thing. Though Alexander was an architect interested in how we go about creating buildings and other solid objects (among much else), I have never sensed any block or barrier in using his conception of living process to generate other kinds of form in the dictionary definition of “the shape and structure of something.” To me a book, or a dance, prayer, or poem, or a day has a form, in the sense of a format, shape, configuration, arrangement, etc.
When you say “For us (and in a fair bit of our work) ‘design’ outcomes are not focused on ‘form’” – I am therefore left scratching my head trying to imagine a design process outcome that is completely formless. In my experience all design process starts with a whole-and-its-parts, which is another way of saying a form or format (in the sense of something with preexisting internal differentiation), and further transforms or differentiates it in one direction or another.
What I’m getting at here is that I’d be cautious about equating “form” with “solid static physical three-dimensional object” and using this as an argument for writing off words like “form” prematurely. If something is formless, as in completely homogenous, then, well, I’m not sure it even is a something any more. It is a no-thing, and it would feel strange to say that the objective of a design process is nothing!
I’m sure this is not the place to get into this matter, but I also think we need to be careful here not to uncritically accept a dualism between the physical and non-physical worlds. This is kind of hard to do, given the deeply buried dominant narratives of our culture, and in Alexander’s case (not to mention other thinkers such as David Bohm) required an attempt at an non-mechanistic alternative cosmology.
The upshot is that I think these matters are more nuanced than they might seem at first, and that unless some comprehension of Alexander’s later and more central concepts of life, wholeness and beauty are evident I’m not sure how fruitful this line of thought is (though I am curious to learn more about Herbert Simon and Victor Papenek’s work in terms of what they have to offer and for the record while I can hardly overstate the extent of Alexander’s work on my own, I do see him as one of many true-but-partial influences as opposed to someone I want to dogmatically imitate or impose on others.).
Design Thinking as being about much more than Design Thinking
Good to know – again look forward to learning more about these “mode-of-being” and “collaborative practice” aspects to design thinking. Got some links to any concise online summaries or introductions (or, if not, books) for me?
“exploring unreleased opportunities” – lovely phrase! I”d like to see it in your primer! I also think this adaptive cycle concept has much value to offer – thanks for mentioning.
Just a quick comment to share that I’m personally drifting away from the word “vision” or “shared vision” toward “intention” and “joint intention.” Be interested to have other’s thoughts on this but I’m finding the word vision too caught up with where it came from – the verb “to see” where in this image driven and hungry culture of ours I don’t want to know what people want to see as a first step. I want to hone in on how they want to feel which equally involves all the other senses too.
Design process as journey
I really like what you say here and rather than commenting now will work this into the second instalment of my review, which is well under way, and in which I look in detail at your actual process diagram.
Finally – I like your concluding misquote – much better!
Cheers guys for this interchange and for the contributions you are making toward a stronger permaculture, and I look forward to where our dialogue evolves to from here (at least I hope it deserves to be called a dialogue – I am certainly finding myself in new places including some significant new insights I’ll share in my next review instalment!).
From The Resilio Studio Design Process Primer: Part Three - Finn and Gary's reply to the first instalment of Dan's reviewon
A couple of thoughts on your response to design as form in particular these to sentences:
“What I’m getting at here is that it feels a little unfair to me to judge someone’s work by extrapolating from one tiny, early bit of it (especially when he explicitly rejected many of the ideas therein once he starting practicing as an architect and discovered their limitations).”
“I have never sensed any block or barrier in using his conception of living process to generate other kinds of form in the dictionary definition of “the shape and structure of something.” To me a book, or a dance, prayer, or poem, or a day has a form, in the sense of a format, shape, configuration, arrangement, etc.”
Finn actually challenged me on your first point and I should own this and it might be worth sharing a summary of some of the points that were raised through our conversation.
While I understand it is “a little unfair” to use a quote from the first sentence of Mr Alexander’s first book his subsequent works are overwhelming focused on the built environment – objects and space – “The Timeless Way of Building”, “The New Theory of Urban Design”, “The Nature of Order: An Essay on the Art of Building and The Nature of the Universe” (actually four very substantial books – not what I’d call an essay) to name a couple of title off the top of my head.
I also appreciate the that Mr Alexander’s work is profound and many of his deeper messages are probably beyond my capacity to engage with meaningfully, and I have not yet given these ideas the time they deserve – particularly his “more central concepts of life, wholeness and beauty” (you have motivated me to get my copies of the Nature of Order back off of the shelf and get back into them). However, my current understanding is that while Mr Alexander has made profound observations of a very wide range of phenomena outside of the built environment to explore his conception of “wholeness” and the “Living Process” and there is no block or barrier to using this conception to generate other kinds of forms – as far as I am aware, Mr Alexander’s concepts on the “Nature of the Order / Universe” are predominantly filtered through the lens of the built environment and his completed works have only ever been applied to built form. If this is not the case I would love to be pointed in this direction, if not, I can see value in expanding Mr Alexander’s works and applying it to non-physical form. In the meantime, I have four very large books to reacquaint myself with.
PS – As a somewhat humorous side note – we too quite like the phrase “exploring unreleased opportunities”, however it was meant to read as the much less poetic “exploring unrealised opportunities” 🙂 Not sure which phrasing we will use from now.
From The Resilio Studio Design Process Primer: Part Three - Finn and Gary's reply to the first instalment of Dan's reviewon
I’m responding here to a question raised in the Pattern Science Community at https://www.facebook.com/groups/1717511025189767/permalink/1992693767671490/ .
> For us (and in a fair bit of our work) ‘design’ outcomes are not focused on ‘form’. If permaculture design is about more than physical form (which we feel it definitely is) we need a broader conception of design and design process than we feel Alexander provides…”
From the comment of Gary Marshall:
> Mr Alexander’s concepts on the “Nature of the Order / Universe” are predominantly filtered through the lens of the built environment and his completed works have only ever been applied to built form. If this is not the case I would love to be pointed in this direction, if not, I can see value in expanding Mr Alexander’s works and applying it to non-physical form.
In my opinion, a lot of the questions on applicability of Christopher Alexander’s ideas go to philosophical roots. If permaculture is seen as a human activity, then it not only has material aspects, but also non-material aspects. The systems sciences open up design in this way, e.g. “Social Systems and Design” | Gary S. Metcalf (ed) | 2014 | Springer at http://doi.org/10.1007/978-4-431-54478-4 .
Christopher Alexander himself worked on the built physical environment, and declined to extend his work to other domains — in particular, with the 1996 OOPSLA speech at https://ingbrief.wordpress.com/2014/04/06/19961008-christopher-alexander-patterns-in-architecture-oopsla-96/ — except to exhort software developers to use pattern language not just to write code, but to improve the world.
Some of my research has been on the design and pattern language, in particular towards a service systems orientation (i.e. customer/consumer oriented, related to outcome) over a production orientation (i.e. output). The fullest description of that, to date, is presentation of a paper at the PUARL 2016 conference, see http://coevolving.com/blogs/index.php/archive/pattern-manual-for-service-systems-thinking/ .
In a footnote to The Nature Order, Book 4, The Luminous Ground (p. 336), Christopher Alexander recalls that Bohm “declared that in his view this material was the most interesting. … somehow he though the conception of matter contained here was the most significant aspect of these books. It came closer, perhaps, to providing a complement to his own views”, in his meeting over 2 days in 1986. This, to me, indicates the orientation of Alexander’s worldview towards physics.
The direction that I’ve been encouraging, for a generative pattern language on services systems, suggests an alternative view compatible with the ecological epistemology of Gregory Bateson. This steps outside Alexander’s work within a single paradigm, towards a multiparadigm inquiry, see http://coevolving.com/blogs/index.php/archive/multiparadigm-inquiry-generating-service-systems-thinking/ . I’ve only gained a deeper appreciation of this perspective through the ecological anthropology of Tim Ingold, e.g. https://ingbrief.wordpress.com/2016/12/10/20161210-0915-tim-ingold-thoughts-on-movement-growth-and-and-anthropologically-sensitive-isorganization-studies-ifip-wg8-2/ .
In the domain of design, Susu Nousala (Tongji U., Shanghai), Peter H. Jones (OCADU Toronto) and I have a paper in final review for FORMakademisk following through from a RSD5 workshop described at http://coevolving.com/blogs/index.php/archive/some-future-paths-for-design-professionals-designx-and-systemic-design/ . Since the focus of this blog is on permaculture, and this blog entry on the intersection with design, there are some deeper philosophical questions that could be worked out.
Thanks David – the links you sent through look great – I’ll get back with any questions etc once I’ve had a chance to delve into them.
As a side note, since writing the response Dan I remembered that William Ophuls has applied Christophers Alexander’s pattern language to politics in his book ‘Sane Polity’ which I thoroughly enjoyed (but think it needs to read in conjunction with his book ‘Plato’s Revenge’ which plug some of the wholes noted in this review:
Huge thanks for your comment David. I’ll reply properly when I’ve followed up some of your links. I have one burning question though- do you know if the Alexander-Bohm dialogue was recorded in any way? I would kill to get access to it!
@Dan, the most that I’ve found on Christopher Alexander visiting David Bohm was the description in the footnote in The Luminous Ground (p. 336).
Alexander cites very few references in his writings. My critical appreciation of the foundations of generative pattern language have had the benefit of conversations with Alexander’s graduate students (Hiroshi Nakano, Max Jacobson, Howard Davis) at PUARL conferences. I’ve been so busy that I haven’t had the opportunity to fully process the audio recording of the workshop that is described at http://coevolving.com/commons/20171021-exploring-the-context-of-pattern-languages . I’m launching a book in a few weeks, so that the blog post with the audio recording may be more than a month before it turns up at http://coevolving.com/blogs/ .
Thanks a lot for this post, and for creating this blog. I resonate with many of the things that Davids says, and have had many discussions with my friends and colleagues involved in Permaculture how we can address some of these weaklings as he puts it..
It would be really great if we could write a list of the weak links he mentions and create some dialogue around it.
Thanks again for creating this platform and I am looking forward to being immersed in the discussions and insights that come out..
“..one can’t deny that we are often accused of being the contemporary equivalent of hippies – as in we are deluded with dreams of grandure and imbued with an aura of self-righteous epiphany fueled by cannabis, magic mushrooms and ayahuasca.” Haha, gold 🙂
So much interesting perspective from around the globe. Its hard to know where to start in a comment, but its so heartening and thrilling to feel the ripple of deep thinking resonance. So I’ll just say thanks for sharing these conversations Dan.
Been passing by often. I have to get into reading all the posts again…. lots if inspiration.
Can I ask what article you refer to by David Holmgren? The one you refer to speaking with Jacke
Thanks Lorenzo – that article was:
THE PERMACULTURE MOVEMENT AND EDUCATION: SEARCHING FOR WAYS FORWARD (1993, available as part of DAVID HOLMGREN: COLLECTED WRITINGS & PRESENTATIONS 1978-2006). Here’s a quote for you:
“We can take a permaculture approach in any (reasonable) job or profession but to jump to the conclusion that permaculture IS a job, career or profession is false. There is nothing wrong with people using permaculture design as a short hand way of saying they are garden or farm designers who use permaculture principles in their work. But when people suggest we need to make permaculture a design profession which can sit alongside other design professions and so achieve credibility in the wider society they are making several mistakes” (David Holmgren, 1993)
interesting but lot of text to scan through.
Was wondering if you could use a pattern to highlight “golden nuggets” (specific things that made think twice, surprised you, great insights, themes, questions …) without diminishing the value of the original mails from the various authors ?
Always great to hear from you Lilian!
You are asking me to catch the fish, prepare them, and lay them out on a nice plate for you? 🙂
My invitation, for anyone interested in such nuggets, is to wet a line yourself.
Take in the whole scene: water, trees, clouds. See which fish leap up and grab your line.
Along the way, should anyone find it “heartening and thrilling to feel the ripple of deep thinking resonance” (like at the least Sharn and myself do) – then please consider sharing in a comment or otherwise!
Interesting podcast but maybe let the guest speak more to follow their thoughts to a natural conclusion, you seem to interrupt quite a bit. Also, try to avoid saying “yes, ya, yep” etc. in agreement as it breaks up the flow a lot. Just some suggestions. Great job!
Thanks Spencer and thanks for those tips – figuring this out as I go along and I really appreciate these kinds of honest impressions I can incorporate into future episodes.
Enjoying your podcasts.
This was particularly insightful and has pointed me in good directions for exploring permaculture more as I was starting to feel there was a lack of credibility in the design field…….aka put in a swale 😀
Thank you so much for posting these insightful comments Dan. I love the respect and kindness that the permiculture community affords each other.
In my own experience I see a lot beautiful design plans from professionals bleaching in our ozone deficient sunshine on friends coffee tables in the ‘gunnado’ pile for years, while the reality outside the window remains an enormous lawn with a borer ridden lemon tree and a rotting rabbit hutch in the corner. While such features are often imbibed with their own subtle charms, they usually result in a plethora of mournful looks and dispirited sighing from the garden owner who gazes wistfully at the yellowing design under their coffee cup.
I wonder if the long term stalling is an engagement issue between the designer and the land owner. I am guilty of it myself – friends will enthusastically ask me to visit and give them some ideas for their garden. Armed with a glass of wine I start pontificating at great length, waving my arms around enhancing vista’s with imagined plantings, vege plots, orchards etc, and will even write quite a bit down on a tomato sauce stained serviette. A year later they have one small distintergrating flax sogging in a mound of clay. It wasn’t their vision – it was mine. They weren’t engaged with it, they couldn’t see what I could see and it probably just didn’t resonate with them.
I doubt many of us started with our entire garden plan laid out in front of us, the reality was probably baby steps, a lot of experimentation with what works best where and lots of mistakes (I like to refer to mistakes as ‘adding compost to the soil’ rather than ‘oh crap it died again’). And then there is the incredibly valuable years of relaxed evenings strolling around the garden discussing what we could do with this fabulous whatsit we just picked up for free, and would it work over there as something really useful and how it fits in with everything else. Surely that is the fun part, the evolution, the learning and doing it on the cheap. To me the idea of having a professional design your garden from scratch takes away a lot of that engagement, enjoyment and satisfaction.
I find the concept of ‘professional’ permaculture designers a tiny bit of an oxymoron. I, perhaps naively, assumed that permaculture was all about the love, sharing knowledge, community building and gently trying to disrupt the world – not about charging $50 an hour. Personally I find it much more valuable to be part of a rich vibrant permaculture community of friends who visit, and with a glass of wine in hand, say “Oooh, have you thought about growing beans over that whatsit.”
Thanks for your reply Anna – love it – you had me chuckling away merrily. I hope you’ll write more comments or a guest post some time and I am going to have to quote your words – you are able to make important points in such a fun and accessible way (are you a writer, per chance?).
Now I shouldn’t reply here without owning the fact I regularly charge people a fair bit more than $50 per hour for something that might seem an awful lot like professional permaculture design (where I feel GREAT about the value I bring). It isn’t though. It is more like process mentoring or facilitation where permaculture is one important influence. Furthermore, there is zero time spent creating magnificent grand plans for the coffee table. It is all about being present to what is going on then honing in on a sensible next step, making it, then repeating. The sorts of rock-solid beginnings and continuings such processes generate in my experience are not possible over a casual friendly glass of wine. Invariably, however, in working this way we soon (maybe in the 6-12 month frame) become friends and the financial exchange gives way into a gifting space of friends helping each other out (when now the wine works wonders :-)).
I realise as I write this there is an important discussion point here. My belief, which I’d be interested to have contrasted with that of others, is that is is HARD, as in really, really HARD, to kick off and gain momentum with a process of design and development or creation that deeply honours permaculture’s core aspiration to mimic natural process. Process that generates the flavours of deep beauty and life we feel in other healthy natural systems. It is easy to pepper a wish list of apparently desired elements around the place but hard to authentically unfold an organic system that manages to exclude all the imposition and mechanical thinking our culture is made of. That said, it is only hard because we’ve forgotten how easy it is, but that is a topic for another time.
I welcome anyone’s thoughts on this!
Thanks Anna and I hope to be in touch with you again – ideally to share good conversation over a wine in a beautiful garden :-).
Dan and Dave
I really appreciate you sharing your lively conversation. It’s a delight to listen in on two colleagues leap frogging into deeper territory. I am changed by hearing it.
Thanks so much for sharing Catherine :-). I sure come out of every chat with Dave changed (though I might have to do some some leg stretches before I play leapfrog with him again…).
Undertaking a permaculture design is a very intentional act of personal responsibility. David Jacke’s assertion resonated powerfully with me. Working with you Dan, I’ve learned as a client just how integral is that wisdom to your practice. You can’t outsource design; you can outsource decorating or drafting: but they’re not the same thing at all, I’m coming to understand. Can’t wait to listen to part two. Colourful, super high-energy interview Dan.
Just finished the podcast- theres a great chemistry there for sure.
My only observation is that there is very little explicit discussion of the role of strategy in design- either strategy without design or design without strategy. How might strategy be different from process and influence the final design? I just compared the cover page of permaculture one and two and there is a shift towards design in two whereas it is suprisingly absent in one- maybe this is where your fundamental answers might be found. However, as someone who is transitioning from full time employment into the permaculture space over the next 5 years I value your contribution and efforts. Thanks again.
Greetings Tim! Hey before I reply would you mind clarifying what you mean by strategy, maybe with an example. Many thanks!
Also consider one of the oldest works on strategy- The Art of War by Sun Tzu
look forward to your thoughts…..Tim
This TedX talk is relevant to farming- not war.
A fair point you make. My reflection is that Design is for the production of something which is relatively fixed in time (a watch, a hospital, a car) but for most of us meandering our way through a permaculture journey there is no fixed point or product- unless its the point we opt out of permaculture or leave the property. I was thinking of the ways we apply strategies in our business and personal lives and how they might also apply to permaculture.
For example working with nature not against it could be seen as a permaculture strategy- there might be some instances where working against nature is a strategic decision to achieve a broader goal. ‘Diversification’ is a good strategy for some contexts but not others -particularly those with significant monthly outgoings.
I chose to place my house lower than my septic trenches in order to maximise solar and wind access- but it means I needed an electric pump to move wastes up hill. In doing so I also freed up an area of high ground for a future market garden and flower nursery. So working against nature was a good strategic decision I made.
I have recently joined a seed savers group- I will provide a small amount of plants/ seeds for free (a strategic loss) but will access an equivalent amount of plants/ seeds- which as a strategic investment will be massive and in line with my 5 year permaculture goal of a somewhat diversified perenial greens market garden.
I just don’t think you need a masterplan or equivalent deign if you continually apply strategic thinking…
Look forward to your next podcast.
Thanks Tim though I would need a sentence on what you mean by strategy before replying – amongst your links there the word strategy is used/defined in so many different ways that it only amplifies my original motivation to ask for clarification as to what exactly you are talking about.
What a lovely interview: Hannah was wonderful. Commonsense and joyful. The discussion about working with clients and saving them from being too hasty was very grounded. It was an effective counterpoint to other (albeit interesting) metaphysical discussions in this series around permaculture design process. Leavening! The design images and photographs filled out the the story beautifully too.] Good work.
Thanks for taking the time to share! I know what it takes to encapsulate such exhilarating and messy processes.
I love the flexibility of the design process, and in particular, Dave’s work with it. Happy to learn what a whirlwind of a design day might look like.
From On the Relation between Designing and Implementing in Permaculture – Commentary from Anthony Briggs (Inquiry 2, Post 25)on
Great post Anthony, I really enjoy reading this knowledgeable response to Dan’s many inquiries.
I totally agree with you that the design scale is a gradient from generative to fabricating, but I still feel strongly about winging it being an end-point on the scale of more arbitrary to less arbitrary. I recognise that there might be other areas of design where a fabricating approach might be warranted, but I am staring to feel like it doesn’t belong in permaculture.
I see winging it as a step down a black hole. You are either in its grasp and sucked down or you are well aware of its potential pull and stay on the design path. There is a singularity that defines the point at which you are in the winging it zone. And about fabricating it, as I pointed out in my post here on MPS recently “Perhaps surprisingly, these fabricated designs, if not given plenty of time and flexibility for the implementation, have more elements of winging it than does the generative design approach.” and it feels like we are just “afraid of going too far in the process away from fabricating into the dangerous land of generating (a feeling I totally relate to)”, and that is the reason we so desperately want to place winging as an extreme of generative.
What I think it boils down to is this: How does the implemented design make you feel when using the space that has been designed? If you are in a garden that has been winged, then you will feel the total randomness of stuff in wrong places. If you are in a garden that has a fabricated design, then you will feel the disconnectedness between the elements although you might find the master plan really pretty, when the owner or designer no doubt pulls it out to explain away why the garden has a certain bad feel about it (it is just not ready yet according to the master plan). When you are in a garden that has been generatively designed, then you will feel that someone was in the garden when it was designed and the physical details are not blurred by the scale of the drawn map (because there is no drawn map).
If you did wake up every morning on a new farm with new animals and climatic conditions, winging it would still create a mentally uncomfortable place to be in. Hopefully, you would instead develop an adaptive attitude to the constantly changing environment, and generate a response to this peculiar situation.
From On the Relation between Designing and Implementing in Permaculture – Commentary from Anthony Briggs (Inquiry 2, Post 25)on
I think the core is that I disagree with the “more arbitrary” to “less arbitrary” scale. If a situation is clear and easy to understand, then it makes sense to be closer to the fabricating end of the scale – it’s not an arbitrary choice. Similarly if you don’t know which way to proceed, and wing it with something that looks promising – that’s not arbitrary either.
I think mostly what you’re focusing on is “Fabricating gone wrong”, ie. where it’s been used in very changeable situations, and “Extreme winging it”, where you literally put things in at random. If your master plan has disconnection between the elements, is that because of the fabrication process? or has it just not been done very well?
Say that you’re thinking of starting an organic market garden. That’s a well-trodden path: what to grow and how to lay it out, composting, market and competitor research, distribution, etc. are all pretty much solved problems. Lots of books, blog posts, Youtube videos, etc. You’re unlikely to gain much by dealing with any of that in a generative fashion (and if you did in that context then it would definitely be an arbitrary choice).
If you plan it out, including the finances, wages, how much you’ll sell, how many polytunnels, seeds, compost, water, irrigation equipment, etc, you’ll make a lot of (cheap) mistakes on paper at the planning stage. While researching, you might even find it’s not viable at all, and save yourself a couple of years of pain and suffering.
Of course, once your plan is “done”, then you monitor how it’s going as you implement it and prepare to deal with issues as they arise. But the act of planning ahead is not necessarily going to wreck a design, and is 100% necessary in some cases.
From On the Relation between Designing and Implementing in Permaculture – Commentary from Anthony Briggs (Inquiry 2, Post 25)on
Great post Anthony. Good things will come from Permaculture making itself and the design-and-execution process thoughtfully porous to other domains of expertise. Your software pollination was a great example.
I don’t agree with the “solved problem” statement. That’s only true if you are imposing a market garden on nature. For example, it is a known fact that you “need to drain your soil” if your soil is water-logged and you want to grow vegetables or even fruit trees. But what about working with this? How about growing things when the soil dries up or using the water to grow water-loving plants and animals? How about digging a pond and turning your veggie market garden into a aquaponic market garden? If we are stuck on one solution, then we always have to go to the text book of solved problems and force nature into this. I think you may have drifted away from permaculture design here somehow… the design starts well before you decide to start a market garden and that’s where it get’s interesting.
I think you might be missing the point a bit here. It’s still a similar problem: Where will you sell your fish? What sort of fish grow well? How much will it cost to dig ponds and install pumps/filters/infrastructure? What foods will local restaurants buy? Are there even any local restaurants nearby? Talking to an established aquaculture person (for example) will give you tested answers to a lot of these questions.
If your context is that you’ve bought a piece of land and you’re wondering what the hell to do with it, then sure, the solution has to fit that context too. Do aquaculture or whatever works for that land. But given a particular personal context, that land might not be right for you, and planning ahead will show that up *before* you put any money down.
Yeah maybe we are talking about different things, and since you wrote the piece I rest my case… I suppose I am trying to understand when permaculture design is useful to use and when it might be that we are dealing within the industrial system where permaculture is “unfeasible”. Growing annuals for the Farmer’s Market might be unfeasible in an energy descent future, even if it is a feasible thing to do in this high energy present.
Heh, I recognise those books! How far have you gotten into them, Dan? How have you found them so far? I started on #4, The Luminous Ground (only because it was the only volume my library has), but I found it a bit dense, like the Silmarillion. I got through the Silmarillion… wasn’t so successful with The Luminous Ground. I’m happy people like you are distilling it for people like us.
Looking forward to this interview; I’ve downloaded it into my podcast reader already!
Hey Paul! I’ve read them all carefully and I’m a different designer and person for it. I would absolutely not recommend starting with The Luminous Ground – it really doesn’t make sense outside the context of the first three books. So I would say it is a good thing you didn’t get through it and hopefully you quit sooner rather than later :-). Volume Two, The Process of Creating Life was by far the biggest game changer for me, though Volumes One and Three were important also. But I agree that there needs to be more accessible introductions to them – something I’ll be putting more and more effort into in the coming years. Do let me know what you make of this episode by the way – is one of my favourites so far for sure…
Thanks to Ed Christwitz for permission to pass on this comment he made on the episode (originally in the Pattern Science Community facebook group):
Thank you for this relevant inter-dynamic generative metaphysical genius. The crystal melts, opens to re-informing, and re-crystallizes more in tune with the environment.
Love this, Dan. Thank you so much – as much as Dave nuances that rationality and feelings are inextricable, I am very grateful that you call out permaculture for being afraid of feelings. I agree that the tension between adversely manipulating the natural landscape to service human needs and desires, really could resolve better if we intuit with humility, love and gratitude the “desires” of that landscape and all the living ‘elements”, while employing the rational analyses. Permaculture takes us closer to the Care ethics than other design processes, but sometimes it seems that our delight in clever intradependent generative systems can blind us to the hubris and sometimes even cruelty of our solutions. I’m thinking here of the occasions where we look to mechanistic animal services (say tractored pigs or chooks, and cell grazed animals left without protection from our harsh weather).
I dunno, I love permaculture. But it is difficult indeed to achieve a balance between the Rightness of a permie livelihood and the ethics of care. I guess in the end there are as many subjective interpretations of the ethics and principles as there are practitioners 🙂
Congrats on this venture. A philosophy of permaculture that will hopefully actually inform future practice! Wonderful!
Rowe has the wisdom and compassion of a sage. Bless her.
I hope she publishes again.
Bill seemed to arrive at a similar place. He speaks of the importance of protecting the profound beauty of life in his Intro to PC text. He even exhorts us to refrain from taking animals’ lives unless absolutely necessary.
As we can hear with Rowe at the end of your podcast, holding this position publicly is problematic and actually takes more courage than even Rowe, and certainly the rest of we mere mortals in permie-world dare admit.
My own feeling is that if we raise young people to care for the plight of the ant in our path (when possible), let alone the forest and her communities, we raise a generation that could turn this clusterfuck around. Empathy, not rationality, is the human experience that could elevate us to a place of true stewardship.
Really enjoying your podcasts while I knit my stepdaughter a jumper :), You’ve got me thinking about the “design” of our community of elements (teen students) in Drew and my Sustainability project at Templestowe College. Hope to touch base with you about it. It’s pretty amazing for lost young guys with some grouse sustainable building, plumbing, forging, duckaponics, micro-enterprises etc as well as very bad language when they think you’re out of earshot!! They’re fantastic! As are the girls of course
I appreciated your comment as much as I enjoyed the podcast itself.