Permaculture TheorySeries: Permaculture

Part 4, Permaculture design principles

An overview of different sets of permaculture design principles

Design principles provide a more elaborate comprehension of the permaculture ethics. In this article I explain what design principles are and we will have a look at different sets of principles by different designers.

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In the last part of this series I introduced the permaculture design ethics: earthcare, peoplecare, fairshare. In this article we will have a look at the permaculture design principles as an approach to implement the design ethics.

About the design principles

To give designers more guidance in developing their designs, the design principles allow for a more elaborate comprehension of the three permaculture ethics. Permaculture design principles are set up to reflect nature’s inherent intelligence, and are meant so serve as a tool for designers to interpret how ecosystem are established. The individual design principles each embody a complete conceptual framework, rooted in permaculture’s holistic worldview. By bringing these separate principles together, holistic design systems can be created.

The principles should be understood as a checklist and can help in making decisions when engaging with the complexity that is inherent in (re-)designing ecological and social systems. The principles help designers to keep in mind:

  • The health of the system as a whole
  • The parts that the system consists of
  • How the individual parts interact

As I’ve already mentioned, there are different sets of principles and, depending on your design object and intention, but also depending on your personal liking, one set of principles might be more useful to a specific design task than another. It is up to you as the designer to choose.

The most commonly used sets of principles are the 10 Permaculture Principles by David Mollison and the 12 Design Principles by David Holmgren. Another intriguing set of principles that I have stumbled upon are the 9 Ecosystem Criteria by Lutz Wendeler and Volker Kranz.

Before jumping into the specific design principles, there is one more set of permaculture principles I would like to introduce: Bill Mollison’s 5 attitudinal principles. These are additional principles, that are meant to guide the attitude of a permaculture designer.

Attitudinal principles

1. The problem is the solution

Depending how you make use of it, every resource can either be an obstacle or a contribution to your design.

2. The yield is theoretically unlimited

The limited imagination of the designer and the limited amount of information available is the only real constraint to the use of a resource.

3. Work with nature, rather than against it

Rather than fighting natural processes, we need to use them to our advantage.

4. Everything gardens

In the interconnected web of life of our planet, every plant, animal bacteria, funghi and so on sets up conditions so it can thrive.

5. Least change for the greatest effect

Save energy, resources and disturbance by following your intuition to generate the largest possible impact with the smallest possible energy input.

Okay, so far so good. Now let’s dive into the different sets of design principles.

On the following pages I will share the different sets of permaculture design principles with you.

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