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Permaculture in the design of buildings

green roof Permaculture

green roof Permaculture

Much attention in Permaculture is directed to growing things and planning sustainable land-use. I invite you to think for a moment about Zone 0: the home. How can we apply Permaculture thinking here?

My passion for a long time has been with the design and building of houses and work-spaces that are friendly to the occupants as well as the environment. I call it “Building as if people mattered”.

sketch for a family home

What do I mean by that?

Here are 7 main qualities I hope to achieve with my designs:

  1. Connected to surroundings = fits into a Permaculture design of the land which includes looking at weather patterns, neighbors (human and animal) and other activities on the land. I look for the best possible relationship between all these factors, which results in ease of use and natural benefits like cooling or warming.
  2. Well fitting = enough room for the purpose or the activities that will happen inside. I think about getting the most use out of least amount of space while making it easy to operate inside. Designing with “what will you do in this space”.
  3. Planned for expansion = I encourage my clients to start by building something affordable, and in the planning include possibilities for future expansion. For example: build openings into walls that may become doors, think ahead when designing a roofline.
  4. Healthy for people and planet = I choose non-toxic materials, locally harvested or produced as one part of this. Another aspect is plenty of natural light, fresh air and beauty for the soul. Systems should consist of complete cycles, where whatever comes in will be treated in such a way that it will return to Mother Earth without causing harm after we’re done using it. This applies especially to water, but also to construction materials.
  5. Maintenance friendly = Let’s build it so that repair is easy: good access to shut-off points for water, gas and electricity. Invest in durable infrastructure (good pipes, wiring). I also teach people how to do basic maintenance and repair, on earthen walls and plasters for example.
  6. Materials put to their highest use = consider strength and structural needs when choosing what to build with. Cement and concrete are high strength and often overused in applications. I look for smart ways of reducing these high impact materials like vaults and using materials like stone and earth.
  7. Beauty = put love into the building by adding personal touches. I involve people in the process of building and invite their creativity. The energy we put in will radiate out.
personal touch interior

Touched by human hands: this interior is custom fit in all aspects.

Developing a sustainable lifestyle is easy when houses are planned to support us. Becoming part of natural patterns, paying attention to inputs and outputs can be facilitated by design.

In the end our experience is enriched and we feel more connected to Nature.

attached greenhouse with lots of daylight

Sunrooms feel like being outside and give extra living space in shoulder seasons

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Water: sweet and salty

November 13

It only took a couple of days for our seeds to sprout . I planted some cowpeas earlier this week and now they are up and growing on the “fence”. The Mchicha greens also show and now I’m watching for the Zucchini.
It’s the presence of water that creates the magic of course. We use a lot of it at the Shamba:

  • Everything that’s planted needs to be watered daily.
  • The animals need drinking water
  • The builders use it for making bricks and mortar.
  • The kitchen needs water for cooking and washing.
  • People need water for washing.
  • We wash our clothes.
  • And the neighbors come to get water from us.
shower platform in banana circle

Part of what we’re trying to do is get more use out of the water by setting up greywater systems from every building so that used water from sinks and showers gets distributed for irrigation.
Our “Banana Shower”is the first step. We all enjoy the beautiful set up in the middle of the garden and the plants will love it too.

building the shower

The kitchen building will be sending its waste water to the garden as well. I am looking  for a simple solution for distribution of water without small parts (as we use in drip irrigation). Send me ideas! I look forward to having the books from Oasis Design to help us make decisions. Thank you Art!

Back in the garden: we are now preparing beds for more planting: layering seaweed and manure under mulch, and letting this sit for while before we plant.
Gabriel split a cluster of lemongrass and now we have several new starts which will provide us with lovely flavored tea. It’s pretty exciting to be part of all this!

The design for the kitchen is finalized and we will break ground on Monday- first by digging up a banana cluster and transplanting it.
The building will have a core storage room, a dishwashing area, cooking area, watchman’s station, shower, and upstairs a sleeping place for one of the staff. It will be located at the entrance to the “compound” with a fence connecting to it in the future.

the building site before starting

Making the trip to Bagamoyo town is not a big deal- the hardest part is making up my mind!
Today we all went in for a birthday pool party at the Millennium resort. A great excuse to lay on a lounge chair and read a book while the children were playing in the water with the current volunteers from Baobab. I slipped away for a dip in the ocean: it was warmer than the pool, salty and pretty choppy water. Yes its the Indian Ocean- you gotta love it.
Good timing for a day in town: this morning we found that we had no water at the site- and there’s that topic again….