Thursday, 7 October 2010

Permaculture and design

Permaculture and design

Mairi Johnstone

Jewellery and Metalwork

Definition of Permaculture:

Permaculture is an innovative way of creating sustainable ways of living. The word 'permaculture' comes from 'permanent agriculture' and 'permanent culture'. This is an integrated system of design, that includes not only agriculture, horticulture, architecture and ecology, but also economic systems, land access ideas and legal systems for businesses and comm


It is about living lightly on the planet, and making sure that we can sustain human activities for many generations to come, in harmony with nature. Unlike other modern agricultural systems, permaculture is based on ecology - the study of interrelationships and interdependence of living things and their environment. Permanent agriculture is understood as agriculture that can be sustained indefinitely.

It is the harmonious integration of landscape and people providing their own food, energy, shelter, and all other material and non-material needs in a sustainable way. Alternative currencies and trading systems support community agriculture. Community governance is also an aspect of permaculture which is vitally important but generally remains unseen as it is cooperative system. Mollison (1988) believes that without permanent agriculture there is no possibility of a stable social order. Permaculture principles can be applied to any environment, at any scale from tightly packed urban settlements to individual homes, from farms to whole regions.

Brief History of Permaculture:

Modern permaculture can be traced back to the 1970s and the work of Australians Bill Mollison and David Holmgren but in some respects it is not a new thing. The idea of agricultural systems that can be put into practice for an unlimited time, in a sustainable way, has been around for thousands of years, it was the new interlocking pattern or plan, which combined animal and social systems which was different.

The modern permaculture movement came about when Holmgren was writing a thesis about developing an interdisciplinary earth science (permaculture), while working together with Mollison who was directing his research. Mollison added to Holmgren's thesis and they produced a book, ‘Permaculture One’. This was in response to soil, water and air pollution by industrial and agricultural systems; loss of plant and animal species; reduction of natural non-renewable resources; and a crippling economic system. From the book came a series of lectures and workshops. It was January 1981 before the concept of permaculture was fully formed and suitable to be taught as an applied design system. The intent is that, by training individuals in a basic set of design principles, those individuals can design their own environments and build increasingly self-sufficient human settlements, ones that reduce society's dependance on industrial systems of production and distribution that Mollison (1988) identified as, fundamentally and systematically destroying our ecosystems. As this idea was tried and tested it became apparent that people could make a living from products which came from these new environments.

This was not the initial aim of permaculture, which attempts first of all to stabilise and care for the land, then to serve household, regional and local needs, and only following that, to produce a surplus for sale or exchange. Permaculture has n

ow developed a large international following. The "permaculture community" continues to expand on original ideas. Permaculture has developed from its Australian origins into an international movement. English permaculture teacher Patrick Whitefield, suggests that there are now two strands of permaculture: Original and Design permaculture. Original permaculture attempts to closely recreate nature by developing edible ecosystems which closely resemble their wild counterparts. Design permaculture takes the working connections at use in an ecosystem and uses them as its basis. The result may not look as natural but still respects ecology principals. Through close observation of natural energies and flow patterns efficient design systems can be developed. This has become known as Natural Systems Design.

Principles of permaculture

Relevance of Permaculture to design:

Modern permaculture relies upon designing an agricultural or living space to take into account the natural needs, outputs and consequences of all the elements within the surrounding system. Elements are assembled to create a combined effort where the products of one element feed or improve nearby elements ending in a natural interaction and very little waste. The end result is a system that produces large quantities of food with minimal input or impact to the environment. The methods used can change and are taken from well studied and accepted practices including land management, organic farming, agroforestry, sustainable forestry and horticulture. These methods are not restricted to agriculture, many practical solutions have been developed for the built environment. Highly efficient sustainable buildings can be made using timber frames or straw bales for example. Architects and builders are now being encouraged to use sustainable materials such as these and to incorporate solar, hydro and wind power.

Permaculture aims to also encourage the community to live full lives and is not necessarily as restrictive as it may seem. A sustainable environment requires creative and vibrant people to develop new skills and ideas. Their specially designed education system encourages the development of intellect, artistic and practical skills based on the teachings of Rudolf Steiner and Maria Montessori.

A good design helps to make the best use of the available resources and create a more productive system, that meets more of the community’s need and creates less pollution. According to Morrow (1993) permaculture design skills include observation, deduction, analysis, mapping, pattern reading and experience. All of which are skills required universally by designers be it an architect, a toy maker or a town planner. Designers have a responsibility for the effects of the products they design, and need to think about their potential impact on the environment, designing physical objects, the built environment, and services to respect the principles of economic, social, and ecological sustainability.

Designers in all fields are becoming increasingly more aware of how what they do can effect the environment. The website, Lovely as a tree, claims to be, the website that tells you everything you need to know to be a more environmentally aware graphic designer. From choosing recycled or more sustainably sourced paper to choosing a greener printer. There are lots of little changes designers can make to reduce their design footprint. Unfortunately, the jewellery industry also has a long and ugly history of environmental destruction, human rights abuse, and issues with fair trade. More recently, however, jewelers in particular are trying to put an end to their old ways by making small changes to the way they work believing that jewellery should not come at the cost of the environment. By recycling and being more careful with metal, disposing of chemicals safely and in some cases, finding ways to avoid using damaging chemicals. By taking a little time to consider the basic permaculture design skills and going back to basics all designers can help towards the future of our planet.


Principles of Permaculture:

What is Permaculture? Hobbs, J.

Mollison, B. (1988) Permaculture A designers’ Manual. Australia: Tagari Publications

Morrow, R. (1993) Earth User’s Guide to Permaculture. Australia: Kangaroo Press

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