Permaculture and Landscape Architecture

Landscape Architecture for Landscape Architects Forums SUSTAINABILITY & DESIGN Permaculture and Landscape Architecture

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    Edward Flaherty

    Dear all,


    Just recently, I asked on larch-l (archive: about permaculture, is it the new landscape architecture?

    I received two types of responses:

    1) Not new, been around for 30 years; and,

    2) Its important but it is fringe and can endanger your professional standing.


    Can anybody please share how they look at permaculture and landscape architecture in their work these days?


    Thank you,

    Edward Flaherty


    James H Wheeler

    As a recent BLA grad with interests in permaculture, i find myself trying to implement ecological and agrarian research into common design to create more efficiency. Makes sense right??? The impression i have always received is that it’s too idealistic and impractical. Not what the general public (clients that pay your bills) are interested in.

    I recently purchased Bracket [on farming]. It explores sustainable agriculture design around the world and the relationship farming has with society and architecture. Check out a brief article here with links.

    I think the problem might be response #2 –  fringeness.

    Roland Beinert

    Permaculture is more a way of an approach to design than a design profession. Of course, there are certified permaculture designers out there who do some work similar to landscape architects, but they are few and far between. They tend to concentrate on overall site design and garden design. Permaculture is all about function, so permaculture designers are not likely to think too much about creating space or aesthetics like we do. Their training is very short compared to ours (typically two weeks). Permaculture addresses more than just outdoor spaces, so permaculture designers address things we never would have to deal with in our profession. So, I don’t think they are the new landscape architects. They can do some things we do, but not even close to everything we do and plenty of things we would never need to do.
    I think they are more of a complementary profession to ours, actually. They tend to focus on things that we are sometimes not all that great at. We sometimes design without thinking too much about the long term maintenance of a project, for example. Permaculure designers set up things so that a lot of the maintenance is unneeded. I always got a lot of helpful advice from the permaculture designer at my first job.
    I think the training is worth it, and I will get certified when I have the time and the money to do so. But passing the LARE comes first, I think. Permaculure certification is not a substitute for being a licensed LA.

    Brett T. Long

    I have been contemplating this very question for quite a while.  Every landscape architect should be striving to promote and integrate many of the concepts and methods of permaculture.  I am not sure how we can claim we are creating sustainable landscapes without utilizing or at least considering these concepts. In another forum someone used the phrase “ornamental insanity.”  The idea that our overwhelming priority in our work is to make things meet visual standards first has been nagging me since my first year of university.  I took a pretty good blow to my design ego when I began to discover untrained “hippy dudes” creating beautiful landscapes that are also major food producers, capturing grey water and composting all of their green waste.  These gems were all blending seamlessly into the pooped out properties around them.  These landscapes are contagious and one by one these folks are transforming their neighbor’s lots.  It made my all native planting designs and low volume irrigation designs seem pretty shallow.  No pun intended.  I am a believer.  I obviously can’t turn all my projects into a communal farm, but I can use my skills to be an advocate and educate my clients and my community and bring the spirit of permaculture into every project.  As a result I am more confident in my designs and make no apologies for my efforts to bridge the gap between permacultre and landscape architecture. 

    Edward Flaherty

    Hi Roland,

    You wrote, above: “We sometimes design without thinking too much about the long term maintenance of a project, for example.”


    I see that in my work, too.


    Then the next question is obvious: How can a profession such as Landscape Architecture claim sustainability without a strong contribution in short, medium and long term maintenance?

    Edward Flaherty

    Hi Bret,

    You wrote, above: “The idea that our overwhelming priority in our work is to make things meet visual standards first has been nagging me since my first year of university.”


    I understand your concern on that.  Doesn’t that make Landscape Architecture something rather transitory…disposable…a commodity…a fickle piece of fashion with a durability expectation hardly more permanent than a tweet?


    Where is the measurable gravitas that the word landscape implies?


    Just my two cents.



    Edward Flaherty

    Thank you, James, for sharing that Landscape Invocation link…good content.


    FYI, I have found that the mountain villages in the Bernese Oberlands in Switzerland, demonstrate a very interesting integration of all uses of plants…with limited arable land due to very steep slopes…some valleys and villages have been organizing sustainability for more than 500 years…sustainability gets serious when there is not enough to eat.


    The Geography Department, University of Bern has a simplified landscape overview of one such mountain village, which I have linked therein.


    All the best with Landscape Invocation!

    Roland Beinert

    There are many different aspects to sustainability. Maintenance is one aspect of sustainability that we are not all that good at. There are other aspects of sustainable landscape design that we are very good at. We know how to choose materials well, and we are good with stormwater and conservation of native species. So to be fair, we can still claim to do sustainable design to some extent.
    Permaculture designers are taught to think about systems and the importance of working with nature rather than against it. This is part of the reason why they are better at designing for long term maintenance. Some of this could easily be incorporated into LA courses in college.

    Les Ballard

    Isn’t permaculture and any other knowledge you can assimilate another tool in the box that should be kept sharp?  Knowing coppicing, or the theories behind the five senses unicorn tapestries and the meanings of the flowers and animals, or how to sharpen a pencil properly, or arrange flowers in the Japanese fashion and seeing a few Zen gardens, aren’t all these things and almost anything else you can name part of what moulds us – the tool that makes the world people will inhabit in the future?  You may not think of yourself as a tool, but you sure are at least a part of one lol.


    Permaculture is associated with co-operatives (hippy communes to some) more often than an ideal to strive for.  Not all housing estates, for example, can aim for a 3 pond sewage water purification system but, if you do not understand that principle, why not?  Go study and keep being a knowledge sponge all your life as being a sponge is your lot and, when you are asked to give the Goddess a bath, application may ensure your preparedness for the challenge and rejuvenation of her skin by your soapy, spongy efforts.  Sorry for the poetic analagies if they irk you, it’s just how it all pours out of my fusty old coral of a brain lol.  Meanwhile, in the UK and probably elsewhere, there are co-op associations such subjects as permaculture can be enquired about as their members are the said co-ops/communes, etc.  Finally, the Findhorn Community has been going since Noah was a boy and is worth entering into a search engine. 

    Luv n Lite

    Brett T. Long

    I beleive that Landscape Architecture is the tool, not the product. My training and understanding of natural systems goes beyond suburban societal and cultural norms of landscaping. The challenge is bringing good, sustainable, possibly fringe ideas to mainstream architectural design. The priorities are most often set by the owner/client rather than the designer. Advocating and educating over time will help change the priorities of the stakeholders. Demand for clean water, habitat, and other resources will eventually create real change and more opportunities for integrated solutions. Every project provides an opportunity to include regenerative and sustainable methods.  The question is how far we can push within the context of a project. 

    Brett T. Long

    John Lyle and the Center for Regenerative Studies provided a cornerstone to my education and degree in Landscape Architecture.

    Scott Jones

    Landscape architecture includes everything in the outdoor built/planted/modified space.

    know and practice as much as you can.  There will be specialists in different aspects/focuses, as there are with licensed doctors and lawyers.

    The license is a formality, like with many other professions.

    It doesn’t mean your more qualified or competent in some focuses than non-licensed people, – it’s a license which indicates some expected competence and adequate accomplishment.

    Landscape architecture is what you make it.

    Matt Ritson

    As part of my graduating thesis i looked at how the principles of permaculture could be used to assess the sustainable integration of urban agriculture into cities. What I found was that many of permacultures core principles manifest themselves out of necessity when some form of ‘crisis’ occurs, eg the Special Period in Cuba.  David Holmgren, co-originator of Permaculture, offers 12 principles which he believes should guide all design processes;  

    1. Observe and Interact, 2. Catch and store energy, 3. Obtain a Yield, 4. Apply self regulation and accept feedback, 5. Use and Value renewable resources, 6. Produce no waste, 7. Design from patterns to details, 8. Integrate rather than segregate, 9. Use small and slow solutions, 10. Use and value diversity, 11. Use edges and value the marginal, 12. Creatively use and respond to change

    Looking at the 12 principles I think many LA’s would say they approach design through some of these lenses every day. It is my personal belief that Landscape Architects will increasingly draw on the design approach offered by Permaculture and other ecological design concepts, eg. biomimicry, in the coming years and decades as circumstances increasingly dictate (although it would be great if we didnt wait that long) that we begin to look for new solutions in a resource depleted world.          

    william martin

    Surely a  more sustainable approach is a social and moral obligation? (and professorial)

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