Functions design methodologies in Permaculture





Permaculture world has already defined an extensive set of design methodologies including the use of patterns and Information Technology oriented tools (e.g. flows designing) and processes. Many approaches are described in Bill Mollison book : “A Designers’ Manual” mostly based on nature observation. These techniques focus on landscape design and function’s shapes. The underlying genesis of this approach is strongly influenced by soft science:

“The function creates the body (or shape)” and “the body (shape) creates the function”

By finding the patterns in nature you’ll find and understand functions and mechanisms. By reproducing the shapes you’ll define the most efficient design for your functions since nature is energy saver.

When it comes to less organic but more information system oriented design here are 3 useful methodologies / modelling tools;

Functional decomposition

Functional decomposition allows to identify critical functions not only in a macro analysis (macro functions of the farm) but as well in sub-functions of a particular design. For example evapo-transpiration tanks have a critical function which is to prevent site water overflow to submerge the interior of the tank. This function is usually fulfilled by setting up borders to divert possible water run-off having as a consequence the mixing of the internal layers of aggregates and obstructing with aggregates and sediments the anaerobic chamber. In order to secure the tank another elements can be added to prevent this to happen; a filtering sheet between 2 of the main layers of the tanks. This way more that 1 element could participate to a critical sub-function of the design. Critical function demand more attention and investment but have high ROI or sensitive values and can be found at any level of the design.

Object Oriented Methodology

Another creative methodology is the Object Orientated design. Its most valuable perspective is the inheritance capability. It means that an object will be described and designed in an inheritance perspective with other object. For example a “horse box” inherit the functions and attributes of the concept “Shelter”. A “Chicken coop” inherit as well from the parent object “Shelter”.

Benefits of the method;

Evolving design – This opens, together with the incentive for modularity, to the realm of evolving design. When designing the 2 specialized functions; horse box and chicken coop I will make sure (if I want an evolving design in this matter) that I can pass from one to the other by adding modular (and easily disassembling) functions to the (generic) shelter.

Function inheritance – Moreover every attribute added to the parent element “Shelter” will represent a benefit for the specialized elements. If I add a rainwater harvesting system to the shelter for animal drinking water or shelter cleaning system both the chicken coop and horse box when switching from one to the other will inherit from this functionality.

Functions identifications – This designing method includes multi specialization (top down hierarchy) but as well multi inheritance (bottom up hierarchy); e.g. a Spiral inherit from the parent object circle and from the parent object centrifuge or perpendicular asymptotic movement. By identifying useful inheritance relationship I may discover hidden qualities to functions and above all increase the reusability of the resources therefore create opportunities. In Permaculture nature observation is an important source of inspiration and having tools to read patterns and de-construct or reconstruct their shape can help design optimization.

Identification of the lack or redundancy of a Critical Function – A practical designing tool is the formalization of inheritance in order to identify a poor set of links. For example the object “Fertilizer” can be specialized in objects “Humanure”, “Trees canopy”, “Leguminous” , etc. By emphasizing the necessity of having the “Fertilizer” parent object part of the model as a critical function the next step is to identify the list of specialized objects and realize the presence or absence of the specialized object (visually) implementing the function.

Business Processes

An important evolution, again having as an objective to handle complex systems implementation is the Business Processes Approach. This method allows to create a very useful and necessary link between the operational functions and the core business activities. It helps to ensure the fitting between having a “business yield” and the sometime non complete/non well assessed/poorly designed set of features. It opens as well some creative thinking about the Design evolution of the farm often too much idealized.

The idea is to define an Operational Process (in a business perspective), for example “Producing and selling a product”, and describe every step necessary to perform the operation from start to end.

Each of the step describes in an operational point of view

  • the resources needed including human, material, biotic,
  • function needed (manual, automatic, scale and cost of implementation and operation, etc.)
  • the use (frequency, input/output, latency,..) of the farm functions needed to perform the process from start to end.

The sizing, cost and viability can then be assessed in a complete way.

This transverse vision ensure the completeness of a specific  activity and point out all the elements required by the process, including outsourcing with partners if necessary.


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