• From Joshua Msika on Bringing it all together in just. one. diagram. (Part Three)

    I like this and it makes intuitive sense. But how do I deal with different levels of permanence? Some things – like earthworks, or building location, need to be thought through because a bunch of other things cascade from those decisions.

    In specific terms, I am currently designing a greenhouse for the NW corner (I’m northern hemisphere) of my garden. I like the idea of a gradually stiffening design, and that’s how it’s happening in my notebook, as I incorporate considerations raised by different articles, books and videos that I’m consulting, but I can’t really figure out how to make the process more generative in *reality*, rather than my imagination. Building a structure requires me to think through the materials I’ll need ahead of time and how they’ll fit together, so that they’re available when I take a week off and have friends round to help me build it. I guess I could build in stages, and design the next stage after I complete the first? So maybe my priority should be figuring out what needs to happen in the first stage and which decisions I’ll be better able to make once I’ve built the first stage?

    It sounds so simple now I’ve thought about it, but what does it actually mean in practice? I’ll maybe report back at some point.

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    2018/09/17 at 8:50 pm
    • From Dan Palmer on Bringing it all together in just. one. diagram. (Part Three)

      Greetings Joshua and thanks for chiming in! Such a great question that cuts to the chase of the issues and the opportunities at stake. I’ll not attempt (or pretend I even have) a concise answer here, but I will be exploring it with lots of clear examples in future posts and podcasts. Part of the picture is that pictures, as in drawings or design sketches, totally and will always have their place. It is always about finding and surfing the sweet spot between:

      -excessive or superfluous premeditation (up-front planning) that ultimately compromises the best, most adapted outcomes by overly dominating subsequent happenings,
      -too little premeditation where you cut off opportunities and steer yourself into a dead end or cacophony of clashes

      For me there is a lot caught up in this innocent-sounding little idea of the best next step. For a series of best next steps, if they are indeed the best next steps, define a solid or sensible sequence. For me the scale of permanence is a surface manifestation of the deeper idea of doing things in a sensible sequence, much like zones are a surface manifestation of the deeper idea of getting your access and circulation patterns right.

      I cannot imagine a building project where taking it in stages (where you plan what you need for that stage, get it happening, then reassess what is to become the following stage) doesn’t get you to a more adapted, functional, beautiful, elegant outcome than planning the whole build up front then implementing strictly to plan. Again this is not to say that there is not a time and place for buying a prefab kitset and throwing it up, or planning an entire build on paper or screen first. Hopefully, however, such cases don’t result in a lack of adaptivity as the thing then goes up and once built continues to evolve.

      Go to comment
      2018/09/19 at 6:31 pm
  • From Aaron Clifft on Morag Gamble on Permaculture, Life, and Citizen Design (E13)

    That was a fantastic podcast Dan.. I really appreciate you relaxing into the flow and letting Morag express her passion.. Keep the episodes coming mate!

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    2018/09/18 at 3:54 pm
  • From Niva Kay on Bringing it all together in just. one. diagram. (Part Three)

    Hi Dan,

    Great work with this framework it is so clear and focused and well argued.

    I still think that this approach is intrinsic to permaculture and always has been rather than a new idea, but I hugely appreciate your ability to define, clarify and promote it.
    I will definitely save a copy of this diagram for my toolkit.


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    2018/09/19 at 2:24 pm
    • From Dan Palmer on Bringing it all together in just. one. diagram. (Part Three)

      Thanks Niva and right on! Here’s a line from the in-preparation part four (of what has now grown into a five-parter!):

      I want to make it clear that I don’t think that generative transformation is in any way a new thing. It is an attempt to describe not only nature’s default operating system, but what already happens when permaculture is at its best. As in generating real, adapted solutions that wrap themselves beautifully into and around the specifics of given situations.

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      2018/09/19 at 2:51 pm
  • From John Carruthers on Bringing it all together in just. one. diagram. (Part Three)

    What an extraordinarily rich and robust concept you’re articulating. A river building from its tributaries. One thing that struck me was how we can get stuck and misled by labels . Winging it is a fine example: a set of behaviours mistaken for something else. Strategic planning (something I’ve had a lot to do with) is another. There’s a lot conducted in that name that is nothing of the sort. But when it’s conducted with a sound evidence base, incisive thinking and excellent service no novo problem solving, it’s highly successful…Much like the demanding journey of truly sound design in any realm worth undertaking (like permaculture or restorative agriculture). Thank you, Dan.

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    2018/09/20 at 9:14 am
  • From Goshen Watts on Bringing it all together in just. one. diagram. (Part Three)

    Great Dan! It confirms how I’ve gone about design for my own 1/4 acre in the previous 10 years or so. I’ve now done about 15 designs for clients, yet still haven’t done a full design for my own place, something which I often felt a bit funny about… and thinking I should really get it done someday. However, now I realise that I’ve been doing Generating design – almost exactly as you describe it. Overall concept sketch; but detailed design on individual elements / areas as the implementation progresses. Mistakes still made; but gee – I think given all the unknowns about how/when/what-with, each area actually gets done, doing an entire design upfront never made any sense.

    Of course I can do this design/implement as you go for my own ‘context’; but this same process would be far more difficult to offer to clients; not so much because they wouldn’t get a detailed / pretty design; but because it’s (often) THEM doing the implementing, and it’d feel ‘micro managing’ or very expensive to continue to be involved as it goes, not least because the client is as much the variable as the actual design!

    I guess this is where the Hybrid comes in… but again, for a client; a more detailed design upfront will allow more time to collate and consider more information, which results in a more accurate starting point. With few exceptions, most people then also start implementing in a ‘generating’ kind of way – doing certain sections at time, and making changes as required.

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    2018/09/26 at 11:50 pm
    • From Dan Palmer on Bringing it all together in just. one. diagram. (Part Three)

      Thanks Goshen and lovely to hear from you again! All good observations – I am enjoying finding ways of working with clients generatively that are affordable for the client, viable for me, avoid micromanaging, and waste no time on unnecessary detailed designs (that are problematic whether they are followed or not). It has been a transformational journey, I can tell you, but I can also assure you and anyone else that it can be done and done well. Part of my trick has been sitting in the space of the question “how am I going to make this work” rather than the presupposition “There is no way this can work!” But I am aware it is no walk in the park and involves some degree of paradigm shift and I want to find ways of supporting others who are keen to transition in this direction. Maybe I ought to offer a webinar some time where I can share some of my adventures and fellow designers (or should I say design process facilitators) can do the same…

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      2018/10/01 at 9:14 am
      • From Goshen Watts on Bringing it all together in just. one. diagram. (Part Three)

        Cheers… A webinar or workshop would be great…! Over the last few days I’ve been thinking of how I could offer more generating type designs, and would def like to explore the idea further. For me personally, I do find communication easier by delivering a design, but would be good to include a ‘generating’ component, some way of being involved in updates or changes at the implementation stage, just unsure of how to go about this now… No hurry to this, I’ll keep thinking about it.

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        2018/10/01 at 9:36 am
  • From Jason Gerhardt on Bringing it all together in just. one. diagram. (Part Three)

    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).

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    2018/10/23 at 9:29 am
    • From Dan Palmer on Bringing it all together in just. one. diagram. (Part Three)

      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 really want (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 proceed (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!) 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 phases are more accurately construed as proceeding simultaneously inside healthy process (where the usual understanding of what defines the line where design stops and implementation starts becomes highly problematic). 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 spot on!:

      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 on a technical level, are in spirit 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!

      Go to comment
      2018/12/10 at 10:49 am
      • From Jason Gerhardt on Bringing it all together in just. one. diagram. (Part Three)

        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.

        Go to comment
        2019/01/14 at 3:59 am
    • From Goshen Watts on Bringing it all together in just. one. diagram. (Part Three)

      Great insights Jason… Good to read additional, yet confirming, viewpoints.

      Go to comment
      2018/11/08 at 8:31 pm
  • From Finn on Bringing it all together in just. one. diagram. (Part Two)

    Have you taken down the image, Dan? This has been on my reading list for SO long and finally getting round to it, but the graph has gone. I have tried in both Firefox and Chromium, so I doubt that it’s my end not working… 🙁

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    2018/11/21 at 8:10 am
  • From Jason Gerhardt on A mini-conversation with Jason Gerhardt

    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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    2019/01/14 at 5:17 am
    • From Dan Palmer on A mini-conversation with Jason Gerhardt

      Jason thank you so much – it is messages like this (about this stuff resonating) that keep me motivated to keep pushing forward. So true about needing to support each other as we fumble around in this beautiful landscape we used to call home :-). Let’s make sure that chat happens!

      Go to comment
      2019/01/31 at 12:18 pm
  • From Jason Gerhardt on Bringing it all together in just. one. diagram. (Part Four - the Nine Spaces)

    Hi Dan, (length warning)

    This latest post and the diagram are wonderful. It allows me to see the growth of my own journey in the diagram, which frankly is a revelation after many years of trying to understand what was happening to me. I want to recount that a little, mostly for myself to further ingrain this diagram in my mind, but I’m posting it here for what it’s worth.

    I much agree that permaculture has existed in the state of fabricating. I have certainly met many permaculture students and maybe a pro designer or ten who practice in the A1 space. I’m happy to say I was never taught permaculture design as an A1 process though.

    While I’m very certain a lot of PDC’s are taught in the A1 space, I feel pretty sure that I was taught permaculture in the B1 space (not much better really). After a couple projects I realized how prescriptive the B1 space felt, and therefore how unartful it was as a process. I wanted more than that, so I worked to transform my practice into what looks like the C1 space. I existed there for a few years. It allowed me to build my foundation for working with clients, carrying projects out, and getting a lot of experience. Ultimately I realized how mechanized even the C1 space felt. I became a design-churning machine, still prescriptive, but more organized and a little more artful. Eventually, in addition to the grind of the work, what made me question what I was doing was seeing how only some or none of the pieces of my designs were being built once I stopped doing full installs along with the design.

    Then along came a client, a family actually, and we organically found a way to work together on a different level. We befriended each other, and actually came to really cherish each other. We transformed their yard primarily via the C2 space because of that closeness, which is to say the closeness of the relationship allowed my practice to grow to that space. We were able to develop the comfort, trust, and relaxedness to be able to play beyond traditional confines. Ultimately, I saw their lives change through their interaction with the landscape. I hadn’t actually witnessed the changes I made in the physical environment leading to profound changes in the inner worlds of my clients. That told me I was on to something. Though the clients moved on from that property, the space still exists and functions well 10 years later, but the funny thing is I don’t even care about the site because I recognized the design was about the people not the property. Since that point, I felt my design practice grow at a rapid, and honestly, bewildering pace. I feel like I’ve been meandering through the second and third hybrid and generative spaces ever since that project. I had to try stuff out. Sometimes the design work was just too cumbersome for my clients to engage with thoroughly, and some work became highly functional and cherished environments. As a side note, I think teaching with Joel Glanzberg for a few years contributed to this evolution of my process as well.

    Now, I feel like I can use the C1, C2, C3 and B2 and B3 spaces depending on what’s called for by the project. I feel the most artful in my process than I ever have because I’m not trying to do a specific thing or attain a certain level or result. I just want to do what’s appropriate to each situation without expectation. At this point, 15 years post-PDC, I’d say I primarily spend my professional design time in the C2 space, partly because that’s what the market can bear, or the most artfulness that the design profession (clients and design teams) can embrace at this point in time, in my experience that is. I tend to work on commercial projects, public spaces, and large-scale ag properties. It may be different for smaller residential or garden design.

    Last, I want to illustrate a current project that I don’t know where to place in the Nine Spaces. It feels very generative, and maybe has elements of C3. I feel like I get to dabble in the C3 space, primarily at the beginning of a project where I’m trying to design the right design process for the project. That feels like the case with this current project. These clients have hired me to guide them through a design process rather than complete a design for them. They called me about designing their farm, and after spending 4 hours on-site and sharing a meal with them (bread breaking is something I do a lot as part of the relationship building process) I realized it would be a disservice for me to design their land for them. These folks already have a lot of knowledge. They are the next generation of farmers from a family that were until recently the largest fruit growers in the US state of Illinois, and they will be applying permaculture to the family farm for the rest of their lives. I wanted to equip them with the skills they need to adaptively plan all along their journey. What we arrived at was giving them a customized, private PDC where their land is the design project. This gives us a lot of face time for conceptual understanding, and gives them an in-depth design practicum (generative, not fabricating) with my feedback and guidance. I’m curious how you might view this type of designing of the design process?

    Truly, I have to thank you for developing this. Sometimes I wonder whether I’m just playing around like a kid, but this gives me a more concrete way to interpret and articulate my journey, and gives me further confidence in where I’ve been and where I’ve come to. Thank you so much, Dan.

    The question most on my mind now is, can this be taught, or do individuals have to go through their own iterative paradigm change process? It probably depends. I can say I’ve had students on both ends of this spectrum.

    I’d love to stay in touch as this develops. We’ve been doing very similar work internally at the Permaculture Institute for the last two years and are preparing to release some big insights and structural changes because of it. I can say we very much agree that permaculture is at risk of becoming irrelevant, and we hope to shed some light on its potential future, which is up to all of us to actualize.


    Go to comment
    2019/02/11 at 4:44 am
  • From Finn on Video Update January 2019

    Thanks for keeping us in the loop Dan, and good luck in developing all the different strands of the project you’ve created! I’ve become a bit of a podcast addict in the last year, so I’ll be awaiting eagerly to hear the conversations you’ve recorded 🙂

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    2019/02/12 at 1:46 am
  • From Mike on Bringing it all together in just. one. diagram. (Part Four - the Nine Spaces)

    Inquiry: Is there an actual extant example of a fabricating/assembling Permaculture design? Is a mostly fabricating/assembling approach to creating a site (or invisible structure) even possible?

    As someone who’s formally studied creative arts, the sculpture example is telling: You start with an idea, a subject, and a portrayal of the subject. Maybe you have ideas about some details. Perhaps you do a few design sketches on paper, or perhaps the rendering just stays in your mind. Prior to the first rendering, there isn’t going to be a 3D, comprehensive draft. It’s not possible to snap your fingers and make “Abraham Lincoln” appear out of stone according to the the conception. It’s not possible to splat the canvas with paint such that the Mona Lisa appears in a flash as intended. You start chipping away the extra bits. You simply must start in one place, perhaps the focal point, perhaps a feature that speaks to you… let’s say the eyes. Will they be kind? Wise? Will they be suspicious of assassination? As you chip away, you’ll still have to make determinations, how the light plays on the stone, how to correct a misplaced strike, etc. And we’ll have to step back, reflect, view from different perspectives.

    Yet in art school, you might often make a draft of a concept, as we do in PDCs, because it is a learning and assessment tool.

    Certainly, no one has ever mistaken the map for the territory?

    So, in a physical/temporal world, won’t all designs be hybrid? Then, is there a way to quantify relative positions along a spectrum, or in various boxes? Can we measure and test whether and how movement in one direction is more life-enhancing?

    My observation (and I have collected some formal data on the topic) is that most actual Permaculture site designs are currently Generating/Transforming. I’ve often felt that’s why they’re prone to type 1 errors and not meeting people’s expectations well. How can we distinguish between sites that were not designed, and sites that were supposedly designed using a pure Generating/Transforming process?

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    2019/02/18 at 5:10 pm
  • From Graham Bell on Making Permaculture Stronger at IPC17 India

    I agree with Ian. Great article beautifully written. Here at Garden Cottage and in our connected work we try to respect many of these points. Some are certainly worthy of further consideration than we have given them… It is important to understand that the PDC Curriculum cannot possibly be taught in 72 hours. It’s more like we are lighting the blue touch paper and standing back to see where the rocket will shoot off to. I also have grave doubts about the linear concept of design… I think teachers in the UK have by and large learned that it is always an iterative process, but I feel too much emphasis is still placed on drawings and literacy and not enough on practical application and learning from the experience that offers. Personally I agree that there is no perfect permaculture (and have been saying so for thirty years) . For the above reasons I don’t think any permaculture design can ever be complete… after all one of the key guidances is to plan for succession, and that is always an unkown quantity.

    Go to comment
    2019/02/18 at 10:01 pm
  • From Ian Lillington on Meg McGowan's Take on Permaculture Design Process (E14)

    Thanks. One of my first P’c teachers was an ex police officer [in UK] in 1990; and one of my best students in Adelaide was a [soon to be] ex police officer. Seems there are systems thinkers in every walk of life; [and the first guy I mentioned still likes to drive at 150 kmh.]

    Go to comment
    2019/03/01 at 10:41 am
    • From Dan Palmer on Meg McGowan's Take on Permaculture Design Process (E14)


      Go to comment
      2019/03/01 at 2:45 pm
      • From Peta Hudson on Meg McGowan's Take on Permaculture Design Process (E14)

        Thank you so much Dan! As you say Meg has a certain clarity in her way of communicating which must be such an important part of her design process and permacoaching. I heartily agree with her obsevation of how the most beautifully worked out plan can fall apart if the people who are implementing and living in it don’t understand the underlying principles. We need to be an ongoing part of the process of creation. You will be familiar with the Maori principle he tangata he tangata he tangata. The people the people the people. How can any of it work if the people aren’t connected? I’m gleaning that the way you work does just that. People info meets lamd info. Perhaps an edge effect where the diversiry is increased eh! Nga mihi.

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        2019/03/05 at 4:22 pm
  • From Ian on Exploring Synergies between Possibility Management and Permaculture with Clinton Callahan (E15)

    Hi Dan and Clinton;
    Good stuff. As an early adopter type, I love this type of reflection on where permaculture is at. Stewart Hill set out some healthy criticism [along these lines] in 2005 at the APC then. And others since – esp Joel Glansberg – who I will research and share about. In the past, these invitations to evolve [consciously] have mainly been ignored by permaculture folk who just want to continue gardening. So Clinton’s comments around 48:00 onwards are encouraging and reassuring. Permaculture is part of the ‘next culture’.
    Around 44min, there is discussion about the ‘broader permaculture agenda’, but the Holmgren 7 Domains don’t get a mention. Areas like health, spirituality, finance, etc are embraced by the 7 Domains and it’s why I emphasise these in my teaching.
    The 7 domains IMHO are the main bridge between current permaculture and the next culture. More to come … need a green smoothie now.

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    2019/03/11 at 8:04 pm
    • From Dan Palmer on Exploring Synergies between Possibility Management and Permaculture with Clinton Callahan (E15)

      Thanks so much Ian and I’d love it if you’d elaborate on your statement “The 7 domains IMHO are the main bridge between current permaculture and the next culture.” I’ve had some discussion with David H about the relation between permaculture’s core understandings of design process, the ethics and principles, and the seven domains, which I think I have written about somewhere on this blog, but I’d love to hear how others think about this stuff!

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      2019/03/12 at 10:16 am
  • From Ian Lillington on Exploring Synergies between Possibility Management and Permaculture with Clinton Callahan (E15)

    Joel Glanzberg’s 2015 call for permaculture folk to use their tools to the highest use – it’s still on his website,

    “First of all, I want to thank you, not only for your good efforts, time, and energy but for your caring…your caring not only for this living earth but for the people and the beauty of life. Thank you.
    Many of you may know of my work from the example of Flowering Tree in Toby Hemenway’s excellent book Gaia’s Garden and the video 30 Years of Greening the Desert, others from my regenerative community development work with Regenesis. In any case I know that you share my concerns for the degrading condition of the ecological and human communities of our biosphere and I am writing to you to ask for your help.
    We are at a crisis point, a crossroads and if we are to turn the corner we need to use everything at our disposal to its greatest effect. My concern is that we are not using the very powerful perspective of permaculture to its greatest potential and that we need to up our game. We know that the living world is calling for this from us.
    I often feel that permaculture design is like a fine Japanese chisel that is mostly used like a garden trowel, for transplanting seedlings. It can of course be used for this purpose, but is certainly not its highest use.
    Permaculture Design has often been compared to a martial art such as Aikido because at its heart it is about observing the forces at play to find the “least change for the greatest effect”; a small move that changes entire systems. This is how nature works and is precisely the sort of shortcut we desperately need.
    The lowest level of any martial art is learning to take a hit well. Yet this is where so much of our energy seems to be directed: setting ourselves and our communities up to be resilient in the face of the impacts of climate change and the breakdown of current food, water, energy, and financial systems.
    The next level is to avoid the blow, either through dodging, blocking or redirecting it. Much of the carbon farming and other efforts directed toward pulling carbon out of the atmosphere and developing non-carbon sources of energy fall into this category.
    At their highest expression practitioners track patterns to their source, shifting them before they take form, redirecting them in regenerative directions. This is what is behind principles like “obtain a yield” or “the problem is the solution” and the reason for protracted and thoughtful observation. We learn to read energies and to find the acupuncture-like inoculation or disturbance that changes the manifestation by changing the underlying pattern. Problems are turned into solutions and provide us with yields if we can stop trying to stop or block them. This is the pattern of Regeneration.
    Every permaculture technique is a small disturbance that shifts the underlying pattern and hence the system. Water-harvesting structures, rotational grazing, chicken tractors, mulching, spreading seed-balls, setting cool ground fires in rank meadows or forests, transforming spoiling milk into creamy cheese, revolving loan funds, libraries, and even the design course itself all follow this pattern. The point is to disturb brittle senescent systems to allow the emergence of the next level of evolution, even if the system is our preconceptions and habits of thought. This is at the heart of self-organizing systems and the key to effective change efforts.
    In a changing world it does no good to teach a man to fish. What happens when currents or climate or communities change? It is essential to teach how to think about fishing, whatever can be fished with whatever is at hand. This is why it is called permaculture DESIGN.
    In its highest form permaculture is not about designing anything. It is a pattern-based approach to designing systemic change efforts. This is the point of the PDC as well as all that time spent in the forest or garden. It is to learn how living systems work and how to observe them to find the effective change so that we can apply those skills to shifting the living systems most in need of shifting: human systems including how we think about the world.
    Changing paradigm tops systems thinker Donella Meadows list of the most effective places to intervene in systems. To effectively change the systems that are causing global degeneration we need to change the human paradigm and we need to start by shifting our paradigm of what permaculture is. If we do not shift these larger human systems our lovely gardens and beautiful hand built homes don’t have a chance.
    Although the PDC contains many techniques and ways of doing, it is about changing how we think about the world primarily. It is meant to crack our certainties about everything from agriculture to economics and how the world works. This is why so many of the principles are like a whack on the side of the head. “What do you mean the problem is the solution? Or that yield is limited only by my mind?”
    If the PDC is designed to shift our paradigm, then it shows us the pattern of shifting people’s paradigms. And this is the greatest use of our skills. Not to create gardens or to train gardeners, but to shift the thinking of folks who understand business and economics, laws and governance, so that they can all be re-thought and re-worked to follow the patterns of living systems.
    We have been warned that “the map is not the territory” and then have mistaken the map of permaculture as the territory of permaculture. Living in a materialistic and mechanistic culture we have grabbed onto the stuff and mechanisms of permaculture rather than the essential patterns. Just because we learn about living systems through gardens, forests, and fields, does not mean that is where our art is most fruitfully applied.
    So what am I asking of you? Please just think about this. Let it burn out the choked underbrush of your certainty. Watch how it affects how you think, and teach, design, and work. Let it open room to let something new emerge in the sunlit space. While cracks in structures need to be fixed, in nature from splitting seed coats, hatching chicks, or birthing babies or ideas, cracks are the doorways to new life.
    Please forward this around your networks. Debate it. Trash it. Try it on and try it out. If you would like to know more or let me know your thoughts please go to
    Many thanks for your open hearts and minds,
    Joel Glanzberg

    Go to comment
    2019/03/11 at 8:15 pm
  • From Jason Gerhardt on Exploring Synergies between Possibility Management and Permaculture with Clinton Callahan (E15)

    Ian, this is exactly what we are preparing to release at The Permaculture Institute. There are more than 7 domains though, and some of them require more of our focus than others. Love seeing our advisory board member, Joel Glanzberg’s, name constantly coming up too. He’s on it.

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    2019/03/12 at 10:14 am
  • From Bill on Exploring Synergies between Possibility Management and Permaculture with Clinton Callahan (E15)

    Having gone through the steps of conscious incompetence to unconscious competence in my career, arriving at “mastery” (or the 10,000 hours that are often discussed), I realize I am in this process again with Permaculture. At first, it is the “ah-ha” experiences (resonance) that propel and compel us to keep reading, investigating, attending PDC’s, listening to podcasts, etc.. It feels good. But, then eventually, a certain discomfort sets in. Finding limitations, not knowing, not having answers is uncomfortable. During the middle years of my career, it was confusion (not knowing) that kept me searching for answers. Thomas Kuhn’s “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions” read like a novel for me. I couldn’t put it down. I discovered a huge solution to my “not-knowing” puzzle that literally freed me from the pain I felt from not knowing. Listening to podcast 15, I recognize that the process toward mastery is at work in Permaculture. The limitations we are discovering are causing us discomfort and compelling us to search for solutions. We can’t know what mastery is going to look like, but it seems obvious that as we find answers, we will continue to improve how Permaculture is implemented, moving us further down the road toward mastery and making Permaculture stronger.

    Go to comment
    2019/03/14 at 9:51 pm
  • From Robert Mathieson on Bringing it all together in a diagram (Part Five) - Mapping the Evolution of your Design Process Signature

    Many Years ago I attended a small workshop called “Owning Organization” in which the Facilitator had created a process whereby a synergistic effect could happen. He called it the 5 P’s and diagramed it in the shape of a triangle. It can be applied to any purpose and the Fifth P was that ….. “Purpose”. A well-defined end goal of where the process would lead to. This was at the top or apex of the Triangle. Without that there is no getting there if you do not know 100% where you want to be. The First P is “People” Those that would participate constantly and consistently within the process, elemental to the function. Each Individual should be assigned specific tasks and would be required to commit to doing only those specific tasks. No overlaps. The Second P is “Planning” A roadmap if you like of who does what, when and how. The Third P is “Professionals” Those that need to be brought in or rather outsourced for specific tasks at specific times with expertise in areas needed to achieve the end purpose. The Fourth P is The “Process”. The release time, the ready set go after all the preparation and purpose building blocks are ready and everyone and everything is available and tuned and focused into where they need to be to get that Synergy happening. The result is a Well Organized System of Events that lead to the desired outcome efficiently and amazingly quickly. Maybe some of these elements of Synergistic Development could assist you in your quest for evolving the design process of Permaculture. The Facilitator that spoke to me all those years ago was Robert Prindable from Sydney. I have often used this simple technique of Five P’s when organizing civil construction right down to my permaculture gardens over the years and have found it extraordinarily simple fast and efficient. I hope this is of some interest Dan. You can reach me on my Email below if interested in further discussion.

    Go to comment
    2019/03/17 at 10:57 am
  • From Jason Gerhardt on Bringing it all together in a diagram (Part Five) - Mapping the Evolution of your Design Process Signature

    I like how this is developing, Dan. You more or less got my process trajectory down, no change required. 🙂 I’m excited for what you hinted is coming.

    I’ve started looking at the nine spaces in terms of the process that gets applied to a project. What led me into this line of inquiry is realizing that I apply the top three spaces in a single project starting with C3 as site and people analysis—a very generative and transformative phase. The trajectory moves from C3 to C2 for concept design and then to C1 for detailed design, and then doubles back on itself with implementation, and sometimes back yet again. The spaces change as the phases of work change. For example, I often do project proposals with a minimum of three phases of design work. This is often required by the nature of my work. This helps elucidate the non-linearity of design process in general. Further, that helps me avoid the better-than concepts and ideas of superiority that trajectory could hint at. I continue to feel that all of the possible approaches in the nine spaces are appropriate in some specific context from a general design perspective. Whether they are Permaculture Design is another question.

    Lots to play with here, and lots of logic traps continually coming up for me. You are bravely exploring this so publicly and deserve much respect for doing so. Excited to see what’s coming.

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    2019/03/18 at 6:02 am
    • From Dan Palmer on Bringing it all together in a diagram (Part Five) - Mapping the Evolution of your Design Process Signature

      Thanks so much Jason. Once again you are anticipating with uncanny precision the topic and even some of the details of the next post. It’s almost like you hacked the site and can see posts-in-preparation :-). Your point about this not being about superiority is so important and something I have to be careful about with my language. On the one hand, I see no approach as better or more true than any other. They are just different, and they create different results, where my focus is trying to more clearly understand what our options are and to increase my own process literacy. On the other hand, if the particular genre of results we seek are to do with re-infusing landscapes and people and places and spaces with life, well, then I’m repeatedly finding some process dynamics more effective that others. That said, the process itself must be adapted to its context, and if we inappropriately impose any particular type, then, well, we’re missing the point. Thanks again and I’ve already quoted you again in the upcoming next post. You’re becoming my accidental co-author :-).

      Oh and I hear you re logic traps. I always like to remind myself how puny any attempt to characterise or pigeonhole reality is. So long as we’re dealing with fingers pointing at the moon and not the moon itself, there will be flaws and contradictions.

      Go to comment
      2019/03/20 at 7:18 am
  • From Delvin on Bringing it all together in just. one. diagram. (Part Four - the Nine Spaces)

    Brilliant work. Really insightful to explore these ideas and to see the inspiring responses. Thanks for helping to take design to a deeper level.

    Go to comment
    2019/03/21 at 11:17 pm
  • From Delvin Solkinson on Bringing it all together in a diagram (Part Five) - Mapping the Evolution of your Design Process Signature

    I feel so enriched by this offering by Dan and the expansive comment dialogues. Thanks so blazing a trail and using permaculture to evolve permaculture.

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    2019/03/21 at 11:55 pm
  • From Jason Gerhardt on Bringing it all together in a diagram (Part Five) - Mapping the Evolution of your Design Process Signature

    It’s almost like you read my newest article in pre-publication with the finger pointing at the moon metaphor. Ha! 🙂

    I have to agree that some processes definitely bring us closer to our desired goal of regeneration and lastingness in human culture. And that is the point of exploring this beyond greater design literacy, as you said. It brings up the importance of aims, goals, and achievement. This is something that I feel permaculture itself has not articulated fully yet, and something we hope to contribute to at the PI. With a focus on aims, goals, and achievement we can move closer to the edges of right and wrong/good and bad, and have a more well-defined scope and context for the nesting of permaculture in the first place.

    Go to comment
    2019/03/22 at 2:28 am
  • From Robert Mathieson on Dan Palmer talking about permaculture and life and creation and related stuff (e16)

    It reminds me of when I facilitated a few Introduction to Permaculture Workshops in Western Australia that I likened the whole experience or process of growth to ourselves. When Parenting our children we should endeavour to provide the best local soil available for them to grow in. That is our relationships should be healthy rich and full of creativity love and emotional stability. That our friends visit often and our community has a part in the air, water and energy around them. That their needs are met no matter what winds that change may bring. That our intentions are always for the betterment of their survival and we are consciously active and responsible for that purpose. It went something like that, I did it as a brainstorming type comparison on paper at the front of the class in understanding all the elements required to create a healthy adult was almost identical for any living organism. It helps to realize that we all instinctively know what we know already in terms of fostering good relationship to our environments.

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    2019/03/23 at 5:42 pm
  • From Jason Gerhardt on Bringing it all together in one diagram (Part Six) - Mapping the Centre of Gravity and Trajectory of a Project

    Just quoting you here: “I cannot stress how important I believe this sort of process literacy is to the future of permaculture and, frankly, the future of humanity.” I couldn’t agree with you more. Your work, to me, is a big part of articulating the paradigm shift that so often gets mentioned in permaculture, but not analyzed and described in detail.

    Go to comment
    2019/04/04 at 2:43 am
  • From Siddiq Khan on Christopher Alexander's Challenge meets Darren J. Doherty's Design Process - Part Two of Two

    Hi Dan, thanks for all your fantasticly provocative reflections, freely shared for all the world to grapple with. I am however confused by your formulation “we can describe some of the same core acts we saw inside Darren J. Doherty’s design process as both the differentiation of a whole and the assembly of parts. This fact renders inadequate our prior conclusion that these two acts are complementary partners inside design process.”

    If you can´t differentiate between assembly and differentiation when considering acts within a design process, how could these NOT be considered complementary? It seems like they are so complimentary as to be almost indistinguishable!

    That said, we just had Darren over this weekend and the way he suggested we begin designing the farm was definately differential, in explicit opposition to assembly: first dividing into areas based on what activities are possible, then dividing these into parcels using geographic drainage lines and roads as boundaries. This is spatial differentiation. Then there is also the sequential differentiation: dividing into the areas with highest marginal utility which are to be focused on first, then dividing these areas into a sequence of successional interventions leading towards permanence — progressively dividing a single landuse into multifunction landscape, from haymaking only to adding grazing covercrops (which serve as hay) to adding trees (yeilding hay, livestock and tree crops or timber).

    Just my two cents.
    Keep it up!

    Go to comment
    2019/04/16 at 11:46 pm
    • From Dan Palmer on Christopher Alexander's Challenge meets Darren J. Doherty's Design Process - Part Two of Two

      Thanks Siddiq and right on and thanks for grappling! Frankly I was confusing myself at this point and eventually came out the other side to realise that the core act inside healthy design/development process is transformation (wholeness-enhancing transformation to be precise – more terminology from Alexander I’ll be exploring more explicitly in future). Assembly/differentiation are subtypes of transformation no matter whether we describe a particular instance of transformation as assembly, differentiation (which I now call partitioning so as not to confuse it with transformation), or both at once. I appreciate your distinction between Darren’s use of spatial and sequential partitioning too – this is exactly the kind of thing I think we need more of in terms of diving into the dynamics of our design processes and clarifying the different kinds of things that are going on therein. Not for its own sake, but so over time we can get better at understanding the difference between process dynamics that deliver on permaculture’s foundational aspirations and those that fall short. All and all I got more than two cents from your comment – and I do hope to hear from you again (perhaps you’d be up for a recorded conversation for the podcast sometime). I also clicked on your website link and your project/property look incredible! I’ll be trying to come up with some kind of excuse to visit if I ever find myself in that part of the world for sure!

      Go to comment
      2019/05/18 at 1:48 pm
  • From Siddiq Khan on Adventures in Generative Transformation: Shocking raw footage of permaculture designers caught in the act with their paints (and pens and pencils) down

    Beautiful approach! It just gave me the idea of doing the same thing in terms of garden design — cut some big branches and stick them in the ground as mock-up young trees to model the backbone of multistrata design — play with how different configurations affect sun and shade, etc. Has anyone been crazy enough to try this?

    Go to comment
    2019/04/26 at 6:10 am
  • From Darren J. Doherty on Darren J. Doherty on master plans, Keyline design, carbon farming, dung beetles, and much else (e17)

    Thanks for the opportunity to work with you and your team (and clients!) Dan.

    I also appreciate you taking this effort to turn this all into a podcast and hope that it will prove useful to others as they seek to improve their work — be that as a producer seeking to develop a farm plan or a consultant looking to do the same for others.

    If people want to know more about what we at Regrarians get up to then please visit our website: If you are interested in being a Regrarians Workplace member then check out the membership options at

    Furthermore I look forward to any critical dialogue that may follow any listening of this podcast.

    Thanks again Dan and we look forward to the opportunity to work with you and your team in the future.


    Darren J. Doherty, CPAg
    Regrarians Ltd.

    Go to comment
    2019/04/27 at 5:51 pm
  • From Meg McGowan on Bringing it all together in just. one. diagram. (Part Three)

    YES!! This aligns with what we spoke about regarding ‘soft systems’ and the way they can’t be planned as a final concept because they are never finished. A detailed, finished plan often, in my experience, leaves people feeling overwhelmed and not knowing where to start. We are now ‘permacoaching’ clients using a process that aligns with what you are calling a generative approach. Start with all of the same observation and collection of information, but then generate ideas and options and make plans to implement the best choices in stages.
    In our PDC we’re asking students to demonstrate an understanding of the design process for their final assignments, including staged implementation, rather than asking them to show us a detailed plan. This is helping them to develop serious design muscles and not to get bogged down in detail. I am leaning more towards a concept design as the most useful for clients. It helps them understand the macro and gives them the freedom to play with the micro. My observation is that they are far more likely to engage quickly with a concept plan and actually start doing.
    Wonderful stuff, Dan, and it’s definitely making permaculture stronger. Thank you. Love this stuff.

    Go to comment
    2019/04/28 at 6:25 pm
  • From Jon Buttery on Darren J. Doherty on master plans, Keyline design, carbon farming, dung beetles, and much else (e17)

    This was a great format as well of course as the content. More in this style would be fantastic. Keep up the great work. Cheers Jon

    Go to comment
    2019/04/29 at 12:28 pm
  • From Dylan on Darren J. Doherty on master plans, Keyline design, carbon farming, dung beetles, and much else (e17)

    Enjoyed listening to this! I love how Darren negates the need for expensive fuel guzzling machines by using nature i.e. grasses (+ fungi), cows, dung beetles… so much sense in this! I hope there is more of this from Darren’s consult.

    Go to comment
    2019/05/02 at 6:27 pm
  • From David Mattinson on Morag Gamble on Permaculture, Life, and Citizen Design (E13)

    Such a beautiful invitation to living the design process and building community. Thanks for the introduction to Morag!

    Go to comment
    2019/05/03 at 4:36 pm
  • From Angie O'Connor on Darren J. Doherty on master plans, Keyline design, carbon farming, dung beetles, and much else (e17)

    Fascinating! Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi, snotty glomalin, busy dung beetles. Love it! Thank you both 🙂
    (Still gonna be a vegetarian, but I figure that we veggos can happily cohabit the planet with you enviro-omnis. If enough of us eschew meat, you guys will be able to keep stocking rates low enough to steward the land with these techniques, while serving the market demand. It’s counter-intuitive, but really the two camps should team up to defeat the industrialized meat debacle! Hopefully on-farm slaughter will one day be a thing – that one bad day is probably the most divisive issue…. )

    Go to comment
    2019/05/04 at 2:16 pm
  • From Alex Heffron on Darren J. Doherty on Design Process, the Regrarians Approach, and Making Permaculture Stronger (E05)

    Loved this interview, thanks very much for sharing it. Resonated strongly with me. I really feel like we must get away from this idea that permaculture (or regen ag for that matter) is just a collection of techniques that we fit into a landscape. And as discussed get away from the hubristic idea that we know what’s best and can force the land to submit to us. There’s thing I see where designer can sometimes apply their signature to a landscape, but surely missing the point there’s a unique context at every site, which is inextricably bound with the people and wildlife that live there. So many good points in this pod. Also the bit about being incremental, pragmatic and strategic. We tried to do much in the first few years and are now learning to reign it in. Also the bit about not trying to innovate in all areas at once; ecologically, financially and socially. It takes time to build a regenerative farm based on permaculture principles and ethics. I’m really glad we’ve taken our time before planting any trees yet, just to gather info and slowly decide what might work. Top stuff chaps, keep it up.

    Go to comment
    2019/05/05 at 2:47 am
  • From John Carruthers on David Holmgren on his permaculture journey, future scenarios, retrosuburbia and much else...

    Some really very ideas in this wonderful dialogue. Take David’s observation that a situation’s constraints inherently provide the nascent impetus to enable us to make better decisions (if we frame them accordingly). Taking the challenges of our particular geographical location, under climate change, for example, David seems to be saying that it serves us equally ill to approach its limitations with Panglossian optimism or wistfully hoping we were somewhere else; the (hard won) pragmatic realism of Candide is more likely to lead us to more creative and durable solutions…A simply wonderful conversation David and Dan (and hats off too to Dumbo Feather).

    Go to comment
    2019/05/14 at 11:17 am
  • From John Carruthers on Striking at the Root: A Life in Permaculture Design - by Jason Gerhardt

    Wow. A truly inspiring journey. A Tao of permaculture. It is Jason’s observation that our inquiry ought to be with people (alongside his companion optimism in the land’s inherent capacity) that deeply resonates…I guess I ought to be mindful of confirmation bias (as one among many) but more on that in this blog forthcoming I hope. Thank you Jason, and Dan.

    Go to comment
    2019/05/14 at 2:40 pm
  • From wes roe on Striking at the Root: A Life in Permaculture Design - by Jason Gerhardt

    thanks Jason Gerhardt for the story of your journey
    when Margie Bushman i took my PDC with Bill Mollison in 1997 – Bill said the most important and underdeveloped part of the Permaculture Design manual was chapter 13 -this chapter is on the human systems the invisible structures, We decide that this was the part of PC we would engaged as Community Organizers now for over 20 years and teach this in PDC’s – the journey of PC eventually will take you the human part of change

    Go to comment
    2019/05/17 at 4:01 am
  • From Jason Gerhardt on Striking at the Root: A Life in Permaculture Design - by Jason Gerhardt

    Thanks for commenting, Wes. Scott Pittman feels the same way. I’m constantly surprised how prescient Bill Mollison was with the last PDM chapter. It’s increasingly relevant to the conditions of today. And we have to go further too. We are actively writing new curriculum and articles about this topic. We see great need for a fresh articulation and contextualization around permaculture. And that may save some folks from what I’m calling “permacultural materialism” and “suffering in paradise”.

    Go to comment
    2019/05/17 at 7:36 am
  • From Jason Gerhardt on Living Design Process at Limestone Road - a Video Letter

    John, this is wonderful work, and thanks for your comment on my guest post. So much of what you said in the videos and wrote in the notes here speaks to me. Your thoughts on habit, time-scales, and “bias for action” echoes my work with clients very closely. Awesome collaboration guys! Looking forward to more.

    Go to comment
    2019/05/17 at 8:04 am
  • From Will on Dan Palmer's Journey with Permaculture Design Process and David Holmgren's Response (E11)

    Hi Dan,
    Just wanted to drop you a line saying thank you for the amazingly rich conversations you share through this podcast. I’ve been stumbling around in permaculture for just the last couple of years and I am really excited about the direction that Making Permaculture Stronger is driving me as a listener. Thanks for adding another function to my commute and enhancing my own permaculture design thinking. I really enjoyed your story and the insights in this episode. Cheers.

    Go to comment
    2019/05/17 at 7:11 pm
  • From lilian on David Holmgren on Making Permaculture Stronger, reading landscape, reading people, and the importance of design process (at the 14th Australasian Permaculture Convergence)

    Thanks for the article. Interesting to discover Formidable Vegetable Sound System. PANG, a Belgian collective also use music to inform differently about lombricomposting, dry toilets and other sustainability related topics. Check out this hilarious videos (it’s in french but you’ll get the point)

    Go to comment
    2019/05/25 at 11:41 pm
  • From Finn on David Holmgren on Making Permaculture Stronger, reading landscape, reading people, and the importance of design process (at the 14th Australasian Permaculture Convergence)

    “We don’t really know what we are doing. And getting a closer sense of that, gives us a very powerful contribution.” This made me chuckle and smile. I think this should be the endorsement on the front page of your book Dan!

    Go to comment
    2019/05/29 at 8:34 am
  • From John Carruthers on Concept plans vs detailed plans

    Wonderful article. Should be prescribed reading for every PDC. Meg’s encouragement that we should escape pretty two dimensionality in favour of ways of designing more tactile and kinesthetic is spot on. It was Dan, in fact, who encouraged me to peg out with wooden stakes, and hypothesise with a topographic model: for which I’ll be eternally grateful.

    Go to comment
    2019/06/04 at 12:33 pm
  • From Jason Gerhardt on What is Transformation and how does it differ from Assembly and Partitioning? Response to a reader query

    (length warning) As I read this, I can’t help pulling from Zen Buddhist concepts. So much of the inquiry and expression on this blog is at the heart of the non-dual philosophy and mindset described in Buddhist texts. Words have never quite done it justice and most of the descriptions are intended to get people to just BE it. My favored description might go like this: the whole and the parts are not one, and they are not two. What is one supposed to do with that? Go practice.

    I’d like to play along with you guys by using the example of the room I’m sitting in. When I took occupancy of this house there was an empty room with a closet. This room is just a part of the whole of the house of many rooms however. So I looked at the whole house and had to determine what was the appropriate use of each room. I had to consider the whole of myself as well because I needed different rooms for different purposes with different characteristics. I had to consider a bigger whole yet because of the forces other than this house, such as directional city noise, sun access, temperature, etc. Some basic assumptions were made, for example I don’t want to sleep in my kitchen. Fair enough. And I could actually go through the motions of determining why that assumption is correct for me, but it’s become ingrained knowledge that I don’t want to sleep in a warm space that has the fragrance of food, etc. An analysis of elements exercise would reveal all of the things by showing the outputs of a kitchen are incongruous with the inputs I need for healthy sleep.

    Back to this room. I determined it was best suited for my office. How I set it up was by measuring different parts of the room and pieces of furniture I needed for my office, where they would fit, and envisioning how it would function. Then I began constructing. I shuffled things around until I found the fit. And over the course of a year I kept nudging things in this direction or that and trying different wall hangings in different places. That on-going low-level configuration process ended up staying in place until my girlfriend moved in. This addition changed things up as we found our house is a bit small for two, and we needed another comfortable place for someone to sit and get alone time from the rest of the house (which is very much open floor plan). So we moved a desk out and added a couch. My girlfriend also needed the closet in this room so it had to serve that function as well. We also need more storage so there are boxes of stuff under the design table and bikes in the corner. Two years later we’ve realized the office is not in right relationship for so many different purposes, so we are looking for a house that has a better configuration for our needs.

    So what are the design lessons here? Time changes everything is one. Any additions (or subtractions) to a space changes the whole is another. These lessons alone should inform my process moving forward. One process pattern that emerges is that we can only design with the information that we have now, and knowing that things always change, we shouldn’t spend too much time figuring out every last detail acting as if it’s going to be set in stone. This points us to the previous post of Meg McGowan’s wonderful articulation about concept planning versus detailed planning.

    The point here is to provide a description so that someone can use design process in a more effective way, yet even that could be an assumption that may be off the mark, however. Maybe there are no designers and there are no spaces to be designed? Subject and object are not one, and they are not two. Maybe it’s all just action. In my example above, the house is acting on me, while I am acting on it. Where does one draw the line to differentiate the two?

    In a final analogy to Zen practice, Zen is described as the “sitting school”, which is a very basic practice of sitting in meditation, following ones breath, and just being present. It’s basic, and yet incredibly difficult for most people. Practice helps. As one sits over and over and over it becomes more of our natural reaction to ‘just be’ on the cushion. As one does that in the safe space of meditation, it starts the ripples that impact non-cushion time. I see design in the same way. As we consciously practice designing over and over again, it starts to change our whole life. Being in such close encounter with relationships in space and time in the safe confines of a design project starts to change us to where it impacts everything else that we do (which is all design). Just as Zen doesn’t have continually higher levels of practices, maybe permaculture design doesn’t either. Maybe describing design practice pretty simply is all it takes to get one going, and then it’s up to trusting in life, using time as an ally, and incorporating gradual realizations into one’s daily life by working through the articulations of designers more steeped in the practice than us.

    One thing in particular that I love about this blog is that many designers are sharing their realizations about how designing works in their life. These articulations get us closer to being able to give people the proper tips and practices to get started and help us along the way. I don’t know that there is a best and final articulation that can fast-track designers own processes though. I do think these things are important to articulate, but mostly serve as something to refer to for inspiration and confirmation as one matures in their practice.

    In short, there is no substitute for practicing properly. Keep doing it over and over again forever, constantly working on dissolving the boundary between wholes and parts, space and time, oneself and the world. Then we will become better and better designers. This dissolving of boundaries is what allows one to realize the permaculture ethics fully, which is what will allow us to grow greater permanence in human culture, which is what I think we are aiming for. We’re not designing in spaces and times, wholes and parts. We’re designing a way of life that is in greater integrity with the nature of life.

    I bet this is “out there” for some, and I probably need to work on the articulation, but I do believe it’s the kernel of what we are trying to describe and achieve. I also believe this is what Christopher Alexander was on to.

    Go to comment
    2019/06/05 at 12:19 am
  • From Jason Gerhardt on What is Transformation and how does it differ from Assembly and Partitioning? Response to a reader query

    You really are giving people a much better place to start. While it seems complex at the surface, I think you’re actually making it more approachable. And the process you are describing is so human, accessible to anybody with flags, string, stakes, and senses. In the last few months I’ve been working on design projects almost on a daily basis and I have to say you are having a huge impact on my approach. I see it everyday a little more clearly. My process signature is surely shifting.

    Go to comment
    2019/06/05 at 10:53 am
    • From Dan Palmer on What is Transformation and how does it differ from Assembly and Partitioning? Response to a reader query

      Thanks so much for your support and appreciation Jason. It is so motivating to learn that what began as random cathartic musings have evolved into something coherent and useful enough to be making a difference for fellow permaculture designers (in addition to just myself). Having folk from around the world (most recently from both Latvia and Sweden) share that this stuff is making a difference in what they are doing in real projects motivates me to keep going.

      And it is so true, right? A bit of potentially unusual terminology aside (which I hope to weed out more as things move forward), this stuff is all about bringing design processes back toward life, which means more accessible, collaborative, inclusive, functional, beautiful, empowering, etc etc. Once you get a taste there ain’t no turning back.

      I look forward to our next chat and I was meaning to mention that your prior comment resonates muchly with this one from Dave Jacke.

      Go to comment
      2019/06/08 at 7:05 pm
  • From Sarah Mayo on Jason Gerhardt on allowing permaculture to have its greatest potential (e18)

    I am traveling in Australia with my boyfriend, and we have been listening to Dan’s making permaculture stronger podcasts almost religiously this past week while doing garden work. The interviews are very interesting and we have been learning so much through the diversity of content that he is putting out there. Being new to the world of Permaculture it is inspiring to hear from those who have been involved in the movement for decades. It is also helpful to hear differing opinions on the topic both positive and negative… it’s always important to challenge and question along the journey of any movement to make it stronger.

    Go to comment
    2019/06/06 at 5:12 pm
  • From gerald lindner on Bringing it all together in one diagram (Part Seven) - Mapping the design process signature of permaculture, culture, and even nature herself (Your turn!)

    If the fundamental aim of any design process is to achieve Ian McHarg’s “creative fitting”, resulting in health and happiness, then the whole-part will always be in interaction with its surroundings. Both adapting to it and changing it.

    The operators “transforming” and “generating” don’t cover this ground.

    A suggestion would be to perhaps add a third axis – time (the type of interaction with the surroundings) with the parameters: fully fixed, intermittent/linear (adaptive design), cyclic (evolutionary design).

    Go to comment
    2019/06/09 at 5:22 pm
    • From Dan Palmer on Bringing it all together in one diagram (Part Seven) - Mapping the design process signature of permaculture, culture, and even nature herself (Your turn!)

      Gerald thanks so much for your stimulating comment!

      Following Christopher Alexander’s lead, while I don’t emphasise it in this chart, part of what transformation connotes for me is a focus on how a given whole-and-its-parts creatively fits at its own level of resolution, with respect to the smaller parts it contains, and with respect to the larger whole it is part of (what you refer to as interaction with its surroundings). The generative piece is then about striving to achieve this fit in real time in an ongoing way where the process never stops. So in this sense I (tentatively) see generative transformation as inseparable from what you call cyclic or evolutionary design. Where any kind of fabricating (up-front masterplanning) is much more likely to be what you call fully fixed, and hybrid perhaps more likely to be what you call adaptive (with intermittent/linear feedback loops into and back from the environment). So I’m not sure it would be an independent axis, though I’d be interested to find what others think and to ponder this more myself.

      One other third axis I have considered previously is that moving from 1) designer, builder and end user are the same, 2) any two are the same and the other different, and 3) all three are one and the same. Though as soon as you move from two to three axes the accessibility plummets. I’d also stress that this framework is one of so many ways of teasing apart differences between different kinds of design processes and in that sense is highly selective, limited, & partial. Though it is also feeling to me like both a helpful conversation starter and a useful stepping stone or collection of rungs on a ladder that can be kicked aside once it has given the necessary leg-up :-).

      ps. I would love to read Ian McHarg on “creative fitting toward health and happiness” – can you recommend the best source for this? Also Gerald I followed the link to your site and I’d love to hear any additional process insights you’ve gleaned over your years of practice as an architect that you’d be kind enough to share (including any thoughts you might have on design process within permaculture and Alexander’s work which I’m guessing you must be familiar with).

      Go to comment
      2019/06/10 at 3:47 pm
  • From Jason on Concept plans vs detailed plans

    Fantastic article, thanks.

    I provide many three-hour landscape consultation sessions, some of which lead to further planning or implementation by us but most are the kickstart for homeowners getting started.

    Our greatest tool during these sessions is a big bundle of bamboo stakes from our local riverside. We do arrive with scaled aerial photos with contour lines which are great to sketch general patterns onto. But the best and most client inclusive discussions happen in the landscape with everyone involved moving around bamboo and other objects at hand, either lain down on the ground marking edges or structures or stuck in the ground representing trees etc.

    I try to demystify design process by making it active, approaching it in different ways. Thanks to Dan for excellent approaches to drawing out client intentions etc through language and written statements.

    Drawing is a useful contrast to on the ground idea iterations. Pull all the bamboo out and make a completely different arrangement and see what reactions everyone gives. Fast iterative drawing can provide new insights to be tested again on site. Any drawing that results is simply taken from the on the ground mark out. Flat topped weedmat pegs can be left in the ground and mown over (if working with lawn that needs mowing between sessions).

    Really appreciate these discussions and sharings!

    Go to comment
    2019/06/12 at 7:02 pm
  • From Meg on Carol Sanford on Living Systems Thinking (E19)

    Mycellium! It’s the master pattern for everything I do!

    Networks. Nodes. Connections. Soft systems keep evolving.

    Go to comment
    2019/06/15 at 6:04 pm
  • From Meg on Carol Sanford on Living Systems Thinking (E19)

    Possibly of interest: I put a lot more systems thinking into the current PDC than most people would. Feedback from students on the thing they most valued about the course? Systems thinking!! Every system is perfectly designed to get the results it gets. To change the outcome we must change the system and that cannot be done from a reductionist perspective. We must understand the whole of the system.

    Go to comment
    2019/06/15 at 6:09 pm
  • From Cara on David Holmgren on Making Permaculture Stronger, reading landscape, reading people, and the importance of design process (at the 14th Australasian Permaculture Convergence)

    So true about the failures of design education!
    Is this address available as audio on your podcast or elsewhere?

    Go to comment
    2019/06/16 at 8:59 pm
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