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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

out of the ordinary

 

Every once in a while the universe sends me a gift. I don’t always recognize it immediately and it doesn’t ever look the same:

It may be something stopping things from the way I expect them to go and giving a little space in time to slow down or take a walk.

It may be a detour in traffic that takes me along a route I haven’t traveled.

It may be a person showing up in the middle of my busy day.

A few days ago a visitor came to meet with me at the ecovillage. I had agreed to this semi-consultation with some hesitation and set a time frame of half an hour.
The conversation quickly drew me into a space of curiosity and expansion- touching into ancient teachings and philosophies and healing.

We moved from cob and its possibilities and limitations to exploring heaters and other clay work.

My guest had fascinating ideas and knowledge of ancient healing practices and subtle energies and we spoke about health challenges of our conventional housing and ways of doing things.

I learned that the energy of cooking on electric stoves is not supporting our well-being: both the person exposed to a high level of EMF’s in the vicinity of the stove and the food that’s being prepared are affected. Choosing a gas burner is a better choice and best from this point of view is cooking over a wood fire.

stew from a cob oven

Looking into this a little I found this conversation about gas/electric on the cyber macro health forum

Something to think about!

You probably gather that the conversation didn’t stop at the half hour mark- during the conversation I felt a sense of timelessness. That is the magic and I am deeply grateful for it.

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Housesitting

Lately it seems that most of my time is spent at the computer: planning, writing, communicating, sketching, and even some entertainment courtesy of youtube and TED.
So when we took on a house-sit near Duncan the one main concern was: can I get online?
We’ve been here for a few days now and I am getting used to the sounds of the house, the vistas and the abundance of space. I notice that I move from kitchen to upstairs office to kitchen to bathroom to office to kitchen etc.- and I don’t spend much time in the other areas of the house.

Here’s an exercise I do with participants of my workshops: Draw a plan of your house and trace with a pencil your daily movements. You will notice which places are always visited and which only rarely. Some never get used! Try this for your place and let me know what you discover.

Of course, coming from a 300 squarefoot living space into this ? squarefoot home is triggering all sorts thoughts.
So far I really like:

  • This house is facing the sun!!!! (Sadly this is worth mentioning)
  • The kitchen cabinet hardware that prevents doors and drawers from slamming shut- it slows them down to a gentle stop.
  • The spacious shower- no elbow bumping!
  • Watching all the birds both at the bird feeder and farther away in the wetland by Quamichan Lake
  • Lots of uninterrupted work time (but that’s really not a design feature of this place just  opportunity and intention)
  • Reading some Wendell Berry (ditto)

So while this Sunday is rather stormy outside I will now return to other pages on my computer…..

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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….