Want to get more for less? Design with Principles

Principles are different from dogmas. Principles are propositions, values, a guide for behaviours and evaluations. They can be moral or ethical, or represent essential rules of operation of a system, such as the laws of nature.

Unlike dogmas, principles do not require belief or faith, bringing with them the possibility and opportunity to make errors and learn within an evolutionary process. Errors of principle can result in consequences, and learning happens to the extent that consequences are integrated into experience. Learning from mistakes is an evolutionary feature of living organisms.

Permaculture is based on transdisciplinary principles, that is, they can come from any area of human knowledge, and in turn, applied in any area to obtain a desired effect.

Have faith in chickens

Patterns in PermacultureMany principles are described in the systemic approach of design. David Holmgren has established 12 principles for Permaculture. Bill Mollison named 35 principles. Both founders were influenced by the principles of Odum and Birch in the study of ecosystems.

Fukuoka, the “father of natural agriculture,” observed that rice sprouted naturally stronger on the edges of terraces where the soil was not disturbed.  He concluded, “Do as little as possible.” Bill Mollison a personal mentor said the same thing another way, “put the components in the right place and trust the chicken, it just needs its place in the world and it will take good care of you.”

This “reading” of nature is subjective to every observer, and the persistent practice in the application of patterns observed in nature develops the ability to adapt to the environment. On the one hand this adaptability to the limiting factors of the environment and on the other the ability to modify the medium to adapt it to human needs are the differential creativity and flexibility that define the principles necessary to live in harmony with the planet and society.

Permaculture Designs at Ecocentro IPEC

The living pathways specified in the above charrette is a strategy of occupation and accumulation of functions. It seems logical that on the built edges there are productive plantations that allow the people passing to collect food. This strategy will advance in complexity with the introduction of different surfaces and support structures for more productive “floors”, from vines that provide shade and food like passionfruit and choko to small fruit trees, such as Brazilian Cherry or Mulberry.  Living pathways were not “invented” by the group that presented this charrette. They are the result of overlapping standards and principles applied from a real problem: the need to specify paths in a project.

What is the function of the window?

According to Thomas Markus, the main function of windows is to provide connection with the natural environment of the exterior. A window fits this function better when it simultaneously provides a view to the garden or horizon views. When this function is fulfilled people feel more comfortable in a space and have better mental health.

Round Windows Superadobe HouseCircular openings have existed since before the architecture schools. The circular gates in China and Japan have always been used to create a sense of calm and transition into a quiet space. We can assume that the circular form represents an ancestral human archetype. A form that symbolizes a whole.

The archetypes exist within us all and manifest in our creations when we find the need.

How to install windows in Superadobe?

In 2004, at Ecocentro Ipec, we decided to use concrete manholes instead of wooden frames in the superadobe building.  We had little experience with this type of building  but we clearly knew the limitations we faced. We needed an economic and ecological solution for the installation of the many windows that were to make the student accommodation.

Believe it or not, wood has always been scarce, expensive and of dubious quality in Pirenopolis, Brazil. Much wood is brought in, still green from the Amazon without any concern for sustainable extraction. Concrete seemed like an ethical solution.

The constructive technique we were experimenting at the time was superadobe.  When compacting the earth on the horizontal wooden frames, an enormous effort was placed on the frames. In architecture, we can identify this same principle in the use of circular and organic shapes, adapted to simpler and vernacular construction methods. Typically, these forms require fewer tools and are more intuitive in their execution, inviting the lay person to participate in the natural building process.

The concrete manholes used in Ecocentro resulted from an overlapping of energy saving principles with an ancestral archetype, to fulfil specific functions and solve a construction challenge in the interior of Brazil. Today we see that concrete manholes are being being used in natural constructions all over the country. Undoubtedly, the arcs and circular forms still have much to contribute to our species, as well as the principle of the minimum of change.

In the language of design a fundamental feature of an ecosystem is the minimization of entropy.

And as Mark Twain wrote “there is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations. We keep on turning and making new combinations indefinitely; but they are the same old pieces of coloured glass that have been in use through all ages.”

Keep creating and let nature lead the way!

Author : Andre Soares is the Co-Founder of Ecocentro IPEC in Brazil and Founding Partner of Ecozoic.

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