The Detail and The Devil. (Part 2 of 3)

(Read part 1 first)

Let me just start by saying that I was not only addressing my own shortcomings in the previous post. My doubts were not coming from lack of confidence or knowledge. They were, I believe, reflective of a deeply dysfunctional cultural understanding of what design is. There is something fundamentally wrong with the way most things produced today come into being, be they chairs and tables, or buildings and landscapes. Objects, buildings and the spaces within and between them have an influence on our experience of life. They can help to deepen our experience, help us feel more at home in our skin and more able to bring our gifts to light in the world. Unfortunately it is not common to be surrounded by things, spaces and places of this nature. This is not because we can’t create like this, but because we have stopped using and trusting processes that allow solutions to emerge from and for their context. Instead of creating special things with intense life born from deep function interlocked with deep beauty, we have been seduced by abstract concepts and obsessed with image and measurable outcomes.

Was I off the rails? Yes, clearly I was. And I was not alone, not by a long shot. Indeed the vast majority of what we call “design” today is off the rails by my reckoning. Thrive Permaculture is part of my response to the dysfunction I see and an effort to get back on track with our thinking in terms of design in general, through the specific medium of Permaculture Design. Finding clarity and real, useful direction in this space is crucial to creating better backyards, better communities and a better world.

It is important for me to take a moment at this point to recognise two thinkers and writers from the fringes of the Permaculture world that have been highly influential in my life in terms of getting me engaged in and excited about Permaculture Design again. Here they are in order of appearance (in my life):

savory image
Alan Savory, the father of Holistic Management has made massive contributions to our understanding of effective farming and land restoration, and I have certainly learnt much from him in this regard. Yet It is the decision making framework that he has developed that I believe has even more potential to make our world a better place. In short, his contribution to my understanding of design (and life in general) has caused me to be much more thorough in clarifying where we are going before we set off.

“The problem with holistic management is it’s so profoundly simple, but it’s not easy. And it’s profoundly simple. You’re almost insulting people’s intelligence to explain it twice, just about making better decisions of where you want to go in your life, bringing in environmental, social, economic issues simultaneously.” Allan Savory

Check out Savory’s TED talk, and Dan Palmer gives a great introduction to H.M. here. Currently, most of the information online on Holistic management is specific to farming, but is a fledgling collaboration I am involved with which is going to change that fairly soon.

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Christopher Alexander was a Professor of Architecture at Berkley University for almost 40 years, has built over 100 buildings, has his name on 20 published works (some of which are quite heavy), wrote hundreds of journal articles and won dozens of awards around the world. His radical and original thinking challenges many of our culturally accepted views of what is good and what is not in terms of the things we make and how we shape our world. He has given me the confidence to be more boldly critical of my own earlier approach to design, and our cultures continuing love affair with its prescriptive, mechanistic approach to design. Check out this short doco to get a bit of a feel for his approach. And check out making permaculture stronger for some articles and discussion on how Alexanders approach relates to Permaculture.

“This is a fundamental view of the world. It says that when you build a thing you cannot merely build that thing in isolation, but must repair the world around it, and within it, so that the larger world at that one place becomes more coherent, and more whole; and the thing which you make takes its place in the web of nature, as you make it.” Christopher Alexander

Now things start to get really interesting because in the pot we have: Savory with his powerful decision making framework that collects and focuses human energy, we now also have the massive intellect of Alexander talking wholeness, beauty and the nature of the universe. And remember that before these two showed up for me, Permaculture had already been simmering away for some years, so its quite the brew on now!

These guys have much to offer, their ideas are woven into my words and my work and I will come back to each of them in turn in later posts. Many thanks to them for what they do and have done, may we make the most their gift to us.

Read part 3 here

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