Permaculture Design

“The art of good permaculture design is in deciding which techniques and strategies will solve a particular challenge in the most ecologically and socially sound manner.” – Toby Hemenway, The Permaculture City

The permaculture design principle, “each element performs multiple functions” describes the core principle of everything I do. From repurposing urban infrastructure to reviving urban spaces and nature-centric design projects, the permaculture design principles inspired me and countless others to change what design can mean:

Permaculture Design Principles

  1. Everything works at least 2 ways.
  2. See solutions, not problems.
  3. Co-operation not competition in work, communications, and economics.
  4. Make things pay (If you’ve got it, use it – tools, land, animals, etc.).
  5. Use everything to its highest capacity.
  6. Bring food production back to cities.
  7. Help make people self-reliant.
  8. Minimize maintenance and energy inputs to achieve maximum yield.
  9. Reduce Consumption.

If you’d like to learn more about permaculture design and how I can help you, your community or organization with permaculture design strategies, get in touch here.

Below are 14 “Primary Principles for Functional Design,” by Toby Hemenway. I owe a lot to Toby’s writings and books on permaculture design. It is with gratitude and appreciation that I share these from his website:

  1. Observe. Use protracted and thoughtful observation rather than prolonged and thoughtless action. Observe the site and its elements in all seasons. Design for specific sites, clients, and cultures.
  2. Connect. Use relative location: Place elements in ways that create useful relationships and time-saving connections among all parts. The number of connections among elements creates a healthy, diverse ecosystem, not the number of elements.
  3. Catch and store energy and materials. Identify, collect, and hold useful flows. Every cycle is an opportunity for yield, every gradient (in slope, charge, heat, etc.) can produce energy. Re-investing resources builds capacity to capture yet more resources.
  4. Each element performs multiple functions. Choose and place each element in a system to perform as many functions as possible. Beneficial connections between diverse components create a stable whole. Stack elements in both space and time.
  5. Each function is supported by multiple elements. Use multiple methods to achieve important functions and to create synergies. Redundancy protects when one or more elements fail.
  6. Make the least change for the greatest effect. Find the “leverage points” in the system and intervene there, where the least work accomplishes the most change.
  7. Use small scale, intensive systems. Start at your doorstep with the smallest systems that will do the job, and build on your successes, with variations. Grow by chunking.

Principles for Living and Energy Systems

  1. Optimize edge. The edge—the intersection of two environments—is the most diverse place in a system, and is where energy and materials accumulate or are transformed. Increase or decrease edge as appropriate.
  2. Collaborate with succession. Systems will evolve over time, often toward greater diversity and productivity. Work with this tendency, and use design to jump-start succession when needed.
  3. Use biological and renewable resources. Renewable resources (usually living beings and their products) reproduce and build up over time, store energy, assist yield, and interact with other elements.


  1. Turn problems into solutions. Constraints can inspire creative design. “We are confronted by insurmountable opportunities.”—Pogo (Walt Kelly)
  2. Get a yield. Design for both immediate and long-term returns from your efforts: “You can’t work on an empty stomach.” Set up positive feedback loops to build the system and repay your investment.
  3. The biggest limit to abundance is creativity. The designer’s imagination and skill limit productivity and diversity more than any physical limit.
  4. Mistakes are tools for learning. Evaluate your trials. Making mistakes is a sign you’re trying to do things better.