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Cultural & Ecological designing
ferrocement garage - front view ferrocement garage - rear quarter view

The places we inhabit are reflections of our stewardship of them. Their ability to nourish, nurture and support us and our descendants, both materially and non-materially, is affected by our actions in relation with them. In other words, how we treat them is how we treat ourselves.

Responsible stewardship of the places we inhabit requires that we observe and learn from them. We can then apply what we learn as we design and implement rich, diverse, complex and robust systems that provide care for people and care for our places. We can choose to act in ways that support and regenerate the people, places and systems which support our own existence.

I offer counseling, consulting, facilitating, teaching and designing for elements of place that are fundamental to our existence:

...that is, systems that support human communities in both material and non-material ways. These elements of place are integrated with one another in designs that reflect the robustness of natural diversity and complexity.

The methods and techniques that I study, employ and teach can be applied wherever these needs exist, from mountains to deserts, forests to plains, drylands to wetlands, temperate regions to tropics, cities to suburbs to rural landscapes; at whatever scale is appropriate, from one's own doorstep or yard to neighborhoods, intentional communities, cities, counties, watersheds and bioregions.

Please contact me with questions or requests for specific examples relevant to your situation.

Food - Create abundance!

Food production systems are designed to be as self-sustaining as possible, imitating complex natural plant-animal systems in diversity and robustness. They are free of manufactured herbicides, pesticides and fertilizers.

  • Perennial food production - edible landscapes and food forests to provide fruits, nuts, berries, roots, bulbs and tubers, greens, herbs, spices, animal fodder and forage, and mulch and compost materials.
  • Annual food production - no-till and Biointensive methods for growing annual food plants as well as compost and mulch materials.
  • Animal systems - domestic and semi-domestic animals to control unwanted plants and garden predators and provide fertilizer and soil conditioning, food, fur, feathers, leather, bone, horn and more.
  • Aquatic systems - fish, crustaceans, water fowl, plants and more for food, fodder, mulch and compost production; also water storage and/or purification, aesthetics, reflective lighting, local climate moderation.

Water - Essence of life

Water is life - it benefits both to slow them down, soak them up, spread them around, appreciate and use them wisely and fully.

  • Keyline design - integrates locally appropriate water management and supply, flood- and drought-proofing, land use planning, soil enhancement, erosion reduction and more. Originally developed and widely implemented on ranches and farms in Australia, Keyline principles and practices are applicable to urban, suburban and rural contexts in virtually all climates. Keyline design provides powerful design tools for private landowners, communities, cities, counties and entire watersheds.
  • Catchment water systems - to harvest, store and use rain water falling on building roofs and other impermeable surfaces, from individual to community scale.
  • Graywater systems - to maximize utilization of nutrient-rich water from a variety of domestic sources, reduce fresh water usage, improve groundwater recharge and more.
  • Multipurpose aquatic systems - fish, amphibians, waterfowl, plants and more for food, fodder, mulch and compost production; also water storage and/or purification, aesthetics, reflective lighting, and local climate moderation.

Shelter - A universal need

"The walls, with the windows and doors attached to them, form the house, but it is the empty space within that creates the essence of the house. This is the rule: the material harbors usefulness, and the immaterial imparts the true essence."
-- Lao Tse

Our dwellings and other structures, as well as the spaces in, around and between them, are much more than simply storage units for our bodies. How we design and shape them, what they are built of and how we build them are all part of caring for ourselves and our places.

  • Living spaces design - designing interior and exterior built spaces based in how people will actively use and inhabit them and the human relatings that will take place in and around them. This results in comfortable, spacious-feeling dwellings that use less materials, physical space and energy to construct and maintain.
  • Place-based design - creating built spaces that are in concert with the place in which they are created. Factors include climate, terrain, materials, methods, aesthetics, cultural context and more.
  • Alternative building - industrially produced materials and methods that offer various ecological, cultural and economic advantages. Examples include recycled-content and re-used building materials, sustainably sourced materials, ferrocement, timber framing, cellulose insulation, non-toxic materials and more.
  • Natural building - materials that are minimally manufactured and from as close to the building site as possible, and methods that are human-scale and community-enhancing. Examples include cob, rammed earth, stone, round and hand-hewn timber, thatch, straw-clay and straw bale, wattle and daub and other ancient and contemporary options.
  • Hybrid building - combining alternative and natural materials and methods to suit climate, location, intent and budget.
  • Building materials salvage and re-use - maximizing the useful life of existing materials and reducing construction and demolition waste and cost.
  • Alternative energy systems - reducing energy usage through lifestyle and technology choices; solar, wind and water-powered systems to meet individual or community-scale localized energy needs.

Bioscape - All our relations

"Only after the last tree has been cut down,
only after the last river has been poisoned,
only after the last fish has been caught,
only then will you find that money can not be eaten."
-- Cree Indian Prophecy

Bioscapes are the various and infinite combinations of life forms and landscapes with which we share our biosphere, our planet. Bioscapes are the living systems that support us and provide us with food, water and shelter.

Elements of bioscapes include humans and other animals, insects, birds, plants of all types, aquatic life forms, microorganisms, fungi and so on. Natural land and water forms - rocks, mountains, lakes, valleys, plains, rivers, ridges - as well as human-built land and water forms - houses, parks, skyscrapers, dams, roads, canals, cities - are also elements of bioscapes.

Humans have named some bioscapes: forests, deserts, meadows, village squares, prairies, suburbs, farms, cities, greenbelts, oceans and so on.

Often the richest bioscapes are the ecotones - the overlapping places where forest mingles with meadow or prairie, water meets land, skyscraper rises next to vacant lot, river swirls into lake or ocean, neighborhood merges into neighborhood.

  • Community-based selective sustainable forestry - Working with natural processes and local communities to maintain or restore healthy, diverse forests that provide not only wood products but also food, medicine, clean water, human-powered recreation, animal habitat, sustainable livelihoods and more.
  • Integrated Bioscape Designing - weaving together multiple elements of human community with physical aspects of place such as climate and terrain, plants and animals, local water and land use patterns, shelter and other built facilities, food production, transportation, shared services, community spaces and privacy.

Integration - Living with living systems

"Everything gardens."
-- Bill Mollison

Providing ourselves with food, water, and shelter is easiest when we integrate those systems with each other and with our bioscapes - locally, regionally and globally. Each element of a system contributes in multiple ways to other elements, and is supported in turn by the multiple contributions of other elements.

A few simple examples involving food, water, shelter and local bioscapes:

Forested areas capture, slow and store water, conserve and build soil and provide food, shelter, fodder, fuel, habitat and natural beauty. Grazing animals in forested areas can reduce fire risks while adding fertilizer and controlling unwanted plant growth.

Domestic graywater can serve food forests, edible landscapes and pond and marsh systems that include forage for domestic and wild animals and retain water for local use and groundwater recharge. Land-based and aquatic plant/animal systems can purify graywater before it enters other bodies of water and also feed on it to produce food, fodder and fertilizer.

Water falling on a shelter roof can be used for drinking, cooking and washing. Interior and exterior built spaces can serve community needs for gathering, cooking, eating, celebration, quiet and privacy. Built structures can provide plantings with support and local climate alteration; plantings can provide shade, windbreaks and building materials for shelter.

Plants provide habitat, natural beauty, flood and drought prevention, shade, sun traps, play/rest/meeting space, fiber, fuel, craft and building materials. Animals control each others' and plants' populations and provide fertilizer and soil conditioning, food, fur, feathers, leather, bone, horn, companionship and more.

Copyright © 2010 John Schinnerer
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