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Published by: Dave Boehnlein on 04/04/2018

The Interface, Permaculture Design & Other Disciplines (Permaculture Perspective Series #1)

The Interface, Permaculture Design & Other Disciplines (Permaculture Perspective Series #1)

Permaculture gives us a process through which we can take a piece of land, a community, or a workspace. What is the goal of this process? It depends upon the goals of the person for whom you are designing. However, since permaculture has its feet deeply rooted in ethics those goals will certainly include the ability of the environment to continue providing ecological functions and support people. So you can use permaculture design principles to design a rural homestead, a suburban cul de sac, or an abandoned urban lot. Depending on your goals, you can try to make any of these into a retreat center, a single family living space, or a drive-in theater. The permaculture design principles help you figure out ways to do it that are efficient, economical, and ecologically harmonious.

Citrus Nook

While permaculture draws on a lot of different disciplines (organic gardening, natural building, restoration ecology, alternative energy, earthworks, horticulture, etc.) it would be inaccurate to say that a straw bale house, organic radishes, or a wind generator makes a permaculture site. When I think about what permaculture has to offer I focus on the fact that permaculture is a design system that solves problems. How, then, is permaculture different from other design disciplines such as industrial design, product design, architecture, or engineering? None of these other design fields can claim they have a similar ethical foundation. Care of the earth, care of people, & redistribution of the surplus (“are the ethics that”) provide the basis from which decisions are made in permaculture design. The design principles (using biological resources, designing for resiliency, utilizing edges, etc.), the design process (from site assessment to implementation planning), and the design methods are all distilled from those ethics to help us make good design decisions. 

Ultimately, permaculture provides an overarching way to link together the disciplines upon which it draws in a sensible, efficient way. How can the design and siting of the house (realm of the architect) benefit the plant systems around it (realm of the landscape architect) and vice versa? By having basic literacy in a wide variety of disciplines, the permaculturist is able to communicate across disciplines, much like how a conductor enables all of the musicians in an orchestra to create a symphony instead of a cacophony.

Therefore, permaculture doesn't seek to provide practitioners with information on how to build a cob house. There are plenty of knowledgeable people, books, and courses out there on that topic. Permaculture doesn't seek to make sure that those who've taken a design course all know how to wire a solar panel. That information is also widely available. What permaculture does is encourage people to think about how to best incorporate techniques such as cob construction and solar energy into an integrated system that will meet human needs while allowing ecological processes to continue unhindered. I like to think of permaculture design as the toolbox and each of the disciplines upon which it draws as the tools. If either is missing your design won’t go far.

The days of overspecialization are over. To just understand your one little piece of the puzzle is no longer enough because the world needs designs that are broadly integrated and minimize waste. Without this we will continue to produce developments that are wasteful and dysfunctional at best. As an example of the way permaculturists think across disciplines we present the citrus nook. The idea here is that small, south-facing nooks are designed into the envelope of new buildings in such a way that they create a microclimate. In the Pacific Northwest this means one can grow citrus outdoors, although the principle applies across the board. By weaving together the disciplines of architecture and landscape architecture we have a fantastic idea that will increase local diversity and augment local food production. 

Without this kind of interdisciplinary thinking it will be very hard to genuinely approach sustainability. At Terra Phoenix Design we’re excited about finding new ways to integrate ideas from a wide variety of fields to create the most effective and efficient designs possible.

This piece was originally published at: Terra Phoenix Design Blog


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Dave Boehnlein

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Member since 04/03/2018

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