Introduction by Veronica:
Some months ago I was contacted by Dorothy Estrada who had found hyperbrain.me when looking for Permaculture projects in the regions around Stuttgart and Pforzheim. I found it really nice to meet someone who is also into Permaculture and sustainable life and we had a great time talking for hours when we met up in Stuttgart. I asked Dory to contribute with some guest posts here on the site since I find it interesting to bring in the perspectives of more people.
Dory is an exchange student, originally from the United States, who is now taking a Master’s program on integrated Urbanism and Sustainable design. It’s an international program with people from several corners of the world and with very different perspectives on life, sustainable design and how to build systems that work for the future. Dory was asked by her teachers to present the concept of Permaculture to her fellow students as a means to present a perspective on design processes that is different to what most people are used to. I found this really exciting so I asked her to tell something about how that went in her first post here.
I hope that there will be more guest posts like this + hopefully a more in-depth interview with Dory where you get the chance to know her a bit better and we get the chance to talk some more about the potential of Permaculture and how it can be used in different environments.
A crash course in Permaculture
As a recent graduate of an Permaculture Design Certification course, I was very excited and humbled to be offered an opportunity to present my knowledge with fellow students and staff of my Master’s program, a course called IUSD (Integrated Urbanism and Sustainable Design) at the University of Stuttgart. As the only environmental scientist in a room full of architects and urban planners, I knew the challenge of communicating my message would be substantial. My friends seemed to understand systems thinking and were creative, open-minded people, but I questioned whether 90 minutes would be enough to help them understand how deeply rooted (pun intended) and powerful the international Permaculture movement is.
Quite simply, I fell in love with Permaculture this summer. It was not until beginning a two-week intensive course in the breathtaking, thick lush woods of Western Massachusetts that I realized how so many of these concepts had been floating around in my life for quite some time. Sirius Ecovillage, where I took the course, is a beautiful 90-acre intentional community that focuses on spiritual living and sustainability-based lifestyles.
One may call it a hippie-commune, but this seems a bit of a degrading term, since the genius design and functional food and energy systems on the property were nothing short of amazing. Food forests and expansive gardens grew food for all seasons, while passive heating/cooling building designs ensured the main community center was comfortable all year round. This was intelligent design that I knew my fellow Master’s students valued too, so we already had common ground.
So what is Permaculture then?
I began the talk with a short history and definition of Permaculture, based on Bill Mollison’s and David Holmgrem’s ethics and principles. If you’re reading this and have no idea what I’m talking about, do a search for them, and spend a little time reflecting on how they could be of use to you. Ethics like “Functional Interconnectedness” and “Observe and Interact” may seem like design-only values, but they have many applications in all other parts of our life, too. Next, I discussed the value of natural patterns and ecologically-centered landscape design, as well as some specific Permaculture design tools used in urban landscapes. This is where things got tricky, since Permaculture grew out of an agriculture movement, and very few comprehensive urban Permaculture design projects exist. It’s still being explored.
One of the many questions I got from my audience was “what counts as Permaculture, and what doesn’t?” The simple answer is, there’s no checkbox, much to this disappointment of my architecture-trained colleagues. Just because it has a green wall doesn’t make it sustainable! From my viewpoint, many architects have not received enough education about how to think in terms of systems, and how to design in a way that balances the three pillars of sustainability; people, profit, and planet, as well as integrating many of the Permaculture principles/guidelines.
Building bridges between different perspectives
In their defense, this is just not on the agenda for their professors who are more interested in aesthetics and high bids from competitions and clients, but I argued that we can have both. A building can integrate rather than segregate. It can design from patterns to details taking inspiration from nature and can catch and store energy while producing no waste. It can do all these things, yet still be cost effective, beautiful, and functional in the way urban planners and architects want it to be. What’s lacking are enough genuine examples of sustainable architecture done right, not just for the glamorous “greenwashing” effect. They are out there, and we need to celebrate them and learn from them when they are built.
I wrapped up the presentation with a short talk on the “regenerative culture” movement affiliated with permaculture and its potential to repair our current social systems. While I think this is still a bit out of reach, and things like alternative financial systems such as Time Banking seem idealistic to most people, I think it was important to make my colleagues aware of it. I closed the session with this quote, which was presented to me on Day 1 of my class at Sirius:
Our ability to change the face of the earth occurs faster than our ability to foresee the consequence of change.
There is a sense of urgency in this urban design and development work. It’s time we all take responsibility of our own existence and see ourselves, humans, as PART of nature. This is my mission as I embark on my Master’s degree path, and I hope to convince others that change is possible along the way.