Conceptual and master planning: Idea generation and refinement

When the vision and assessment states are processed through cataloguing, we then use numerous tools of idea generation and refinement to get to the final design stage.  The vision and assessment stage produce a lot of information to digest and build a context for what, why, where, and how you are designing.  To move into idea generation we further process that information holistically as to produce concepts of design.

SWOT Analysis

The first step I use is a SWOT analysis as it rehashes the information analytically into a quadrant grid of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.  On a piece of paper, you write out these four sections created by dividing the paper in four with a cross.  This allows you to ping back and forth because they are all interrelated.  For example a strength might be good hillside sun exposure but that may create a threat of fire.  A weakness might be a lack of water or erosion but creates an opportunity of earthworks or water catchment.  This step shouldn’t take too long but will enhance the design later on.  One needs to leverage strengths, admit weaknesses, create opportunities, and mitigate or nullify threats.  If you understand these well, the elements needed to do the step below will more naturally flow.

Mind Maps

To further see the full picture and incorporate the knowledge of a SWOT analysis, we use mind mapping next to tie functions and elements together.  The principles of permaculture show that we need to integrate functions and elements to produce sound designs through the creation of redundancy.  Thus in this step we layout a large piece of paper or use mind mapping software (lots of open source ones free for download) beginning with the functions.  I now list them in my design guidelines as the following:

  • Building Soil Fertility  – BSF
  • Appropriate Energy Production  – AEP
  • Integrated Infrastructure Development  – IID
  • Quality Access Development  – QAD
  • Regenerative Food Production  – RFP
  • Cottage Industry Development  – CID
  • Holistic Animal Husbandry  – HAH
  • Water Cycle Completion  – WCC
  • Domestic Water Use  – DWU
  • Creative Biodiversity Promotion  – CBP
  • Efficient Waste Cycling  – EWC
  • Beneficial Social Interaction  – BSI

Each one of these functions becomes a bubble in the mind map and lines radiate outwardly to other bubbles (elements).  Certain elements, as they should, will be connected to several functions since the principle of each element should perform many functions states this redundancy. When you are going through you can check for this redundancy by adding arrows to cross check.  And you can check that your functions are fully supported by at least three elements as the principles also dictate.  As you move through this mind mapping, the elements needed to produce a robust design will become more apparent. Then with these elements you need to arrange them in the landscape which is the next phase, schematic design. Remember to connect inputs and outputs through the idea of a functional analysis and creating functional interconnections.

 

Southern Spain Elements and Functions Mind Map

Schematic design/ Zones of Use

The elements that you came up with on the mind map are then written on small cards and you have spare blank pieces of paper available to make additional elements available for the design as you progress.  You can go back and add these elements to your mind map if you so desire.

One of the permaculture elements cards created by myself and Anita Tirone for schematic design

You arrange the squares on an overlay of the base map or a new layer in the digital realm to create a spatial relationship between the elements. If you don’t like what you see you simply pick up the cards and rearrange.When a card is in place you then give create an outline of its placement and label it or place a symbol there if it is a smaller element. In this way they become bubbles with labels and you can start to see how much space each element is being tentatively given.  I really recommend that you time the schematic design because truly the possibilities are endless with arranging the element squares on the overlay of the base map. You can create themes to help frame the idea generating schematic design such as one heavy on animals, one with an endless budget, or what would an ecovillage development look like on the land.

The key here is to not overanalyze in this step.  You are allowed to get it wrong because this really should be the idea generation phase and the final design is the refinement of this schematic after the winnowing of ideas that the master planning phase creates.

Mater Planning with Lists and Review

Your schematic design should have bubbles such as food forest or orchard and cards laid like a house or solar panels.  The time to analyze your design and bring greater detail is now through the Habitat (Infrastructure) Defining species list.  For example in you orchard you could list the three to five main species such as plum, peach, persimmon, paw paw, and pear.  For the infrastructure part you could name the main facets the building like light clay straw exterior walls, earthen floor, metal roof for water catchment, and passive solar orientation.  With this last example it helps you conceptualize just a bit more but you haven’t stated its exact dimensions nor its floor plan, which would come through in the final design especially in the detailed part.

This step allows you to begin to dial in the design and gives enough detail that the pattern is beginning to unfurl.  Not every client will want a detailed design of every single element or space but by having the location and a little bit of insight into the main frame of that location they will take on the detailed design overtime.  Or overtime they will ask you to design that space further.  Even if they want you to do it immediately it still is a logical next step.

A way I present this to clients or in my own design work, is called  a themes and elements list. I take an area, especially on larger properties, and begin to spell out the themes and elements that belong there.  Again I use this tool when scales are bigger and each design will have to deal with scales differently.  I have worked on tiny urban plots and 320 HA or 800 acre ranches.  Of course your process is going to vary as details are immediate in the urban scale and on such a large piece many themes and elements will have to come together for a coherent design.

Although not listed in my design process for students, what I have observed is that after the timed part of the schematic design is over and the habitat defining species list is done, they go back and review it, alter it, and create a more holistic design.  It takes time to really absorb all the info that is present in a design.  I see them add more elements to be more reflective of the principles.  It’s a very hard task to ask to see the expression of movement of energy and succession within a site so any further tools one wishes to employ such as a secondary flow analysis is worthy.  This would allow you to see if you have taken care of flows like water with earthworks or roof catchment for example.  Also you would examine how fertility is being moved through the site efficiently or are you creating work by not having elements in the most efficient ordering.  Furthermore, the access or people flow part needs examination, which when designs are created and then implemented the one factor I have found preventing them from becoming lasting features in the landscape is the people flow was altered in a way that the element created more work than was necessary.  I often find this within garden/ food forest design where too much edge hampers the future management.  I also find that students will remove some elements in their schematic maps because of just this.  While the schematic map was meant to generate ideas, this master planning begins to think with more realism and says no that element will not work because of various flows, sectors, climatic factors, and the people factors of abstract nature like time, skill, budget, and social capital.

Below shows an animation of a flow analysis being built and then when it changes by adding a large backyard swale.