PDC-All-Year

Design Exercises in Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC) Courses


Melbourne PDC Design
Photo © Craig Mackintosh

It is standard format, in the PDC curriculum, that students are given an exercise to design a landscape with a design brief so they can make the move into design while being mentored by their Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC) teacher. This is not a test but an exercise, enabling students to make the first step into design while still taking part in the PDC program.

During the 72-hour course students receive a body of diverse knowledge which, despite covering a number of disciplines and emphasising the connectivity between those disciplines, can seem surprisingly simplistic and easy to understand until students are put into design groups and given a challenge to design an area of landscape with a design brief. If the brief is likely to be a real life scenario then the possibilities expand and the design system complicates itself into innumerable choices of interactive complexity.


Zaytuna Farm PDC
Photo © Craig Mackintosh

This is a wonderful event during a course where students suddenly flower into the design process after a week of intense information assimilation. Student’s minds are expanding, not just through the knowledge that they are taught in the course but through the knowledge and the life experiences that they already have becoming relevant through the eyes of permaculture.

The hard drive, to use computer analogy, of the student’s mind is reformatted and re-filed so that the memories relevant to the design lessons become more important, more obvious as an example that you can use, so that when you go into the design exercise all these possibilities of your life experience change into relevance and the challenge is interesting and engaging.


Quail Springs PDC, California
Photo © Craig Mackintosh

Really, this is one of the most important designs that a person is ever involved in during their permaculture career because it is the first time they will apply the design system with a brief just as one would get from a client. One also has to figure out how to work a landscape with its particular variations and restrictions — from then on all those basic parameters that you have to work around when designing are repeated over and over. There is virtually no obsolescence in permaculture because the principles of nature are eternal, infinite. Compost is compost, sun angles are sun angles — they will vary from site to site but they are more or less constant in the way you analyse them.

In design you are completing a picture so that the systems have total integrity and your approach to designing waste systems, energy systems and living systems must reflect this. Also local economy and the energy audit in relation to production and processing and end use efficiency have more or less the same fundamental approaches.


Marda PDC, West Bank
Photo © Craig Mackintosh


Melbourne PDC Design
Photo © Craig Mackintosh

A student’s first design exercise in their PDC is the most important in the sense of the realisation of true design experience. It is imperative that students are given a design project that reflects a real life situation incorporating what they are likely to encounter later in their careers as professional designers. When you give a presentation it becomes very easy to see what you know, what you don’t know and what you need to concentrate on to improve your particular deficiencies in design understanding and skills. The presentation is an exercise which indicates not only what you know now after the course but how much more you need to know.

More and more now we see student design presentations improving in content and quality and they continue to improve further, partly because we now have incredible information and presentation systems to use as aids — we have Google Earth, Sketch-up and Google maps for example. Most presentations today are done from a laptop to a digital projector and presented in extremely high quality and would be of great value in the professional world.


Hong Kong PDC
Photo © Geoff Lawton

When you randomly assemble a group of students, they have not chosen the people they work with. There can be up to 10 in a large course design group, and they are then given a design brief and have to work together. This tests their communication skills and their tolerance, so we find that at least 50% of the exercise is a people exercise where students have to find the balance between listening and being heard. We have to not only understand design but we have to understand each other, we have to be peace makers and team players and this is a very interesting social exercise which emphasises how we have to choose our teams carefully. It doesn’t matter where you are in the world, you will always have the same approaches to design and it would appear the same result.

What you gain out of a 72-hour design course is a new profession in design capability. You have been launched on the ocean of permaculture in a boat that leaks a little. Those leaks are your weaknesses in comprehension that point to areas you need to concentrate on, so that you can competently engage in this rapidly expanding permaculture design world as a professional Permaculture Designer.


Turkey PDC
Photo © Geoff Lawton