Bringing it all together in one diagram (Part Six) – Mapping the Centre of Gravity and Trajectory of a Project

In the last post I showed how this diagram I’ve been developing can help us map certain aspects of the evolution of our own individual design processes.1 Check out the map I shared of mine, for instance.

Here I want to do the same thing but where the common thread or container of consideration is a project rather than person. Here things get interesting and kind of messy. For inside virtually all permaculture design (or other) projects there will be movement within the diagram. The process will wriggle around. Indeed, often a project will have feet (and possibly arms) in more than one of the nine spaces simultaneously.

The most common example I’m aware of is that a project will start with a fabricated master plan (whether through assembly, partitioning, transforming or some blend) which gradually gets dissolved or loosened up by reality as the project moves along. Fabricating gives way to hybrid and even generative approaches as the reality of actually implementing and living with something reveals previously unavailable information. Let’s take a quick glance at a few examples. First here’s the digram with the space labels for your convenient reference.


Take the permaculture demonstration site Melliodora – a stunningly beautiful permaculture demonstration homestead that has been evolving for over 30 years. An example of the above dynamic started with David Holmgren’s fabricated (column 1) master plan for the original house.

Design for David Holmgren and Su Dennet’s Home Design (from the Melliodora E-book)

When the earthworks started the fabricated (column 1) location for the house was ruled out by the reality of an incredibly hard rock reef that would have required much dynamite to shift. Here an initially fabricating process morphed into hybrid (column 2) process, where the details started morphing inside the implementation process. This is such a common dynamic it will be true in some degree of perhaps every case of trying to impose a pre-fabricated plan onto a landscape inside any permaculture project. So no big surprise or revelation there.

The build…
The house in recent times

To me a more interesting example within the Melliodora project is the difference between the process that resulted in the original house (there are now three homes on the site) and the process responsible for the barn.

As I mentioned above, the house was initially fabricated and then some degree of a hybrid approach entered. I’m not sure where the house process sat with respect to assembly/partitioning/transformation, though I suspect there were flavours of all three.

David telling the barn creation story

The barn, however, was an example of what I mean by generative transformation. What happened was that they decided to build a basic frame and roof on top of the spot where they noticed themselves stockpiling materials! The details then emerged as the went along in using the space, adding a shelf here, a wall there, and so on. Writing this inspired me to make a short video sharing the nested layers of organic complexity contained within the resulting barn. Remind me if you don’t see it on this site soon.

My second-favourite gate in the world and more a product of generative transformation than anything else

During one of the advanced design courses we run together, David gave some other examples of how these two different process flavours recurred in different aspects of the Melliodora project. In his words:

Design up front (house earthworks, main dam and house, orchard, house platform shelter plantings) [What in the diagram is called fabricating]
Emergent /generative (shed/barn complex, blue gum & internal shelter, red soil garden, gully plantings, goats, sharing the abundance and work load) [what in the diagram is called hybrid & generating]

Oakdene Forest Farm

Another example I am personally familiar with has been the ongoing process of developing the seven acre property of my mum and dad in New Zealand. So many flavours have been part of this mix!

When we started I was fastidiously attached to fabricated assembly (A1). I’d be embarrassed to work out how many hours I spent painstakingly measuring, drawing and redrawing a master plan for the site.2

Fuzzy picture of a non-fuzzy early master plan for the Oakdene Forest Farm project…

One dynamic my mum brought was something between fabricated assembly (A1) and winging it (which technically sits outside the nine spaces), getting new trees and shrubs on special from local nurseries then creating err, interesting assemblies in, well, interesting places (love you mum!).

But early on we were also partitioning the place up in the fabricating phase. So initially it was a lot of fabricating with both assembly and partitioning (A1 & B1).

As we started doing stuff we entered more of a hybrid (column 2) space where we relaxed the master plan’s grip on things and let it function more like a concept plan where the details got worked out inside their implementing them.

I’d say there were then phases of hybrid partitioning (B2), before we consciously tried hybrid transformation (C2). I’ve written detailed posts about this and here’s a video about part of a consciously conducted hybrid transformation phase:

Much of what we’re doing these days is generative transformation (C3) peppered with flavours of all the other spaces too.

One crucial point is that it wasn’t a linear sequence or evolution. Often you are moving from space to space and back again rather swiftly, and as I mentioned earlier often the project has a foot in more than one space simultaneously.

In the below diagram rather than trying to take a process signature trajectory snapshot of a specific project,3 I want to hint at the complexity of any project’s dance through these spaces. Here T1 = Time 1, T2 = Time 2 and so on. In this example the project starts in space A1 at T1, then splits into B1 and A2 at T2, and so on.

Now I’m not suggesting that anyone spend the time mapping every project they are part of this way. But I would recommend bringing your awareness to where the process’ centre of gravity does drift or evolve to over time. I cannot stress how important I believe this sort of process literacy is to the future of permaculture.4

I guess much of how this stuff plays out has to do with the process signatures each person within a projects brings along with them, and then how strongly their process preferences get asserted along the way.5 I’m sure many readers can identify with a process experience where things were sitting in one space then a strong personality arrives and drags the whole thing into another space.

Another Extremely Relevant Comment from Jason Gerhardt 🙂

Now once again I’m indebted to Jason Gerhardt who has once again shown uncanny ability to anticipate the focus of the upcoming post with his comment on the last:

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.

Thanks Jason. There is a lot in this. I have made the same realisation on many of my current projects. I don’t leave the transformation layer, but I oscillate between C3, C2, and occasionally, when the context requires it, C1. I’ll come back to this in a few posts time as it highlights an important difference in the two axes.


That’s it for now – I trust it is clear enough how projects really do move about within the nine spaces. Let me know about your own adventures with this if you have any interest.6

Catch ya in the next post when we’ll use this same approach to start mapping the evolution of permaculture as a whole, modern culture as a whole, and the rest of nature as a whole. I know right, I’m excited too!

when we’ll use this same approach to start mapping the evolution of permaculture as a whole, modern culture as a whole, and the rest of nature as a whole. I know right, I’m excited too!


  1. If this is all new click here for when this diagram was first introduced.
  2. or how this phase resulted in implementation of things the arbitrary residue of which we’re still working around today
  3. though if you were to ask nicely I could put one together for Oakdene Forest farm
  4. and, frankly, the future of humanity and given the anthropocene and all, Gaia.
  5. Wow there could be a whole course of research here – for instance observing what happens when folk centred in different parts of the diagram come together and try and collaborate. Also whether people in general tend to gravitate toward working with others who hang out in the same general regions of the diagram.
  6. A few days back a new friend Mick shared with impressive clarity and self-awareness some of his non-permaculture adventures with the nine spaces with the creation of things including a yoga class, a presentation, and a bike touring trip.

1 Comment

  1. 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.

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