Thursday, August 30, 2012

Appropriate Design & Knowledge Transfer


Appropriate Design.
Google 'Appropriate Design' and the first few results you get are a handful of Green Design Firms  Self-Sufficiently Sustaining their Sustainability through 'appropriate design'.

As a kid growing up, the word 'inappropriate' was often used to describe my behavior - so what exactly is appropriate design, and who or what exactly are we being 'appropriate' to or for?


"Local relevance and local needs are often considered key to appropriateness. A technology or practice is considered "appropriate" if its costs and benefits are appropriate to the locality in which it is used. "  - wiki -


Local relevance.
Traditional Cultures have co-evolved closely with the place a peoples have descended from, shaping both people and place.

For example, the extensive taro cultivation of Ancient Hawaiians evolved to as a response to the peoples' efforts first to survive, and then to thrive within the ecological limits of the islands; in turn, the terraced lo'i (taro paddies) and kauhale (family housing clusters) in the ahapua'a of Ancient Hawaii forever altered the wild tropical rainforests that Ancestral Hawaiians would have encountered upon their first arrival by voyaging canoe.

Similarly (though in a radically different part of the world), the nomadic herding culture of the Mongols evolved as their people's response to first survive, and then to thrive in the extreme conditions of their place. 

Animal herds are the peoples' primary energy storage (food supply) which can survive -40C winters; animal dungs provide fuel for fires, and provide fertility for the grasslands in the delicate balance that is life on the steppe.   Over the millennia, the Mongolian landscape has co-evolved with the movement of animals & people across its rambling, arid highland plains.

The notion that 'lands belong to people' is a symptom of disconnect between people and land in modern culture - all traditional cultures that are still intact today have a shared notion of 'belonging to their land' - in other words, a universal recognition that their ability to thrive as people is nested within the ability of the landscape around them to thrive:

We take care of the land, and the land takes care of us.

'Local relevance' takes us back to this idea of designing solutions which utilize locally available resources to solve the specific challenges presented by a locale's landscape, and the culture which has co-evolved within it; in other words, solutions which are appropriate to place and culture.

Knowledge Transfer.
Gardening techniques & tricks that have been developed for a seasonal agriculture may not be appropriate for a culture that has developed a perennial agricultural system in response to its landscape.

At first glance in Vanuatu, it may appear that there are no garden beds (that we may recognize) within the village, a shift in our perception reveals a complex & diverse agroforestry system of edible & useful species planted within the village and extending into the surrounding lands.

The fastest-growing traditional crop here is likely sweet potato, which is ready for first harvest in around 3 months; compare that to the Mongolian growing season of 90 days.

So, when working in foreign lands & cultures, we must work to match our design solutions to place & people. 


Photo: Knowledge replicating out into community as one of our student's next door neighboor is now feeding her banana patches w/ organic matter instead of burning it.

For example, in the shallow topsoils of the tropics much of the nutrient is held in the biomass of the plants growing there.  The practice of burning any & all organic matter (in the interests of maintaining tidiness) breaks this cycle, turning valuable nutrients into char & smoke.

Once a foundational understanding of permaculture principles is established (in this case, the principle of 'cycling energy'), students can begin to relate these into locally appropriate action & practice.



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