Permaculture Designers Manual



Section 3.11 –

Incremental Design in Permaculture

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Almost all engineering design is based on small changes to existing designs, until some ultimate limit in efficiency or performance is reached.

The whole process can take centuries, and the end result can be mass-produced if necessary.

Kevin Lynch (1982) in his book Site Planning writes of site designing by incremental adaptation of already-existing designs: design by following physical systems that have been shown to work.


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He believes the best site planning of the past to be a result of this process, and that it in fact works very well unless some external and  important condition (e.g. market or land ownership) changes.

He maintains that this fine tuning of successful design for a specific climate and purpose can be totally inappropriate if transferred out of culture, climate, or if applied to a different purpose.

It is, however, the most successful way to proceed after selective placement and energy conservation is paid sufficient attention.

Known effective design units and specifications, whether of roads, culverts, houses, garden beds, or technologies have been subjected to long tests, and have evolved from trials (or prototypes) to working and reliable standards.

Even if “old-fashioned”, like overshot water wheels, they may yet represent simplicity and efficiency hard to beat without a considerable increase in expense and complexity.


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Such continual adaptation is the basis of feedback in systems undergoing establishment, where we make additions or changes to houses or plant systems.

It is not the way; however, to satisfy the demands or a complex system which (like a private home and garden) has to satisfy a complex set of priorities.

Nor does it cope with changing futures, new information and sets of values, or simply self-reliance and self-governance.