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Five natural design frameworks

Hi everyone, I’m Luis Gil from REPESEI (Iberian Southeast Permaculture Network)

I would like to begin this article by thanking the entity that made it possible: Permaculture Denmark. Thank you for providing us the necessary information, advice and connection to the Erasmus+ programme, through which we have been able to receive a grant to cover the costs of the nature-based design framework course. Thanks to Candela, promoter and participant of this enriching experience and to Catherine, bridge with Permaculture Denmark. I would like this to be the first of several collaborations between the two networks, the Permaculture Denmark network and the Iberian Southeast Permaculture Network.

But what am I talking about?
Well, the course that took place from May 14th to 18th in Lisbon on natural design frameworks. At the end of the seasonal spring meeting at the Ecosystem Restoration Camp, Candela and I left for Lisbon. When we arrived we got immersed in the landscapes, the culture and the Portuguese university. It was in the facilities of the University of Lisbon, annexed to the botanical garden, where we received the course and a lot of learning.

A design framework is a set of ethics, principles and practices that guide us when interacting with a medium. For example, when making a permaculture design on a land we would base our design on the 3 ethics, as well as on the 12 principles of permaculture. We can start by observing the land, understanding it and from there adapting it at the same time that we are modifying it to guide it towards a more sustainable state until we get to make it as permanent as possible.

The 5 design frameworks that we focus in, in addition to other collaborative design tools such as “The WeLand”, were: biophilic design, biomimetic design, regenerative design, resilient design and permaculture design.

I will try to explain each of them as fully and briefly as possible:

Biophilic design

For many people is the beginning of their learning about nature-based design. This design framework is based on the appreciation, recognition and the value of the natural world. Haven’t you ever been surprised by the height of a tree? Or the strength of a river? Or the flight of a bird?

By remembering the link that unite us with the wildest and most natural world, by putting it into value, we are simultaneously recalling a very important part of our interior, the most instinctive and primitive part, the part that has existed for the longest time on earth and that has led us to what we are today as human beings. Being able to reconnect with the natural world opens the door to an ecosystem that has been developing in harmony for millions of years. It is through this door that the necessary inspiration begins to flow to recreate the beauty of the natural world on paper, in a garden, a house or an entire city.

As we see many of the examples of biophilic design are based on introducing natural elements into urban and interior spaces such as trees and plants, scattered light sources imitating the leaves of trees or organic forms.

Biomimetic design

The biomimetic design gives us the possibility to emulate natural technologies. From the connection with the natural world we can observe the forms, processes and ecosystems we are finding.

Relying on nature as a mean of inspiration and learning gives us the clues to understand the mechanisms that govern this world. With these clues and through their abstraction, analysis and study it is possible to imitate nature. Copying nature provides us solutions to problems in a stable and adaptive way, solutions that have been successful for millions of years.

Imitating the hexagonal shape of some corals to build strong, flexible and lightweight structures, or taking inspiration from burdock (a type of thistle) and its ability to attach itself to hair and invent velcro, or even understanding how peacocks’ feathers work by refracting light to give colors to fabrics avoiding decoloration, are just some examples of biomimicry.

Regenerative design

When we find damaged, degrading or collapsing ecosystems it is time to talk about regenerative design. Knowing what an environment was like to return it to its original state or to help it regenerate to a more optimal but different state is the key to regenerative design.

Most of the problems that the current extractive production model is facing are the destruction of the ecosystem in which it operates and, with it, the loss or increase in the price of the resources that were being extracted. A clear example is the soil of intensive farming. When forests are cut down to establish intensive monocultures, a high level of profitability is achieved at the beginning, which diminishes as the soil wears down and contaminates to the point where it ceases to be fertile and becomes unprofitable over time.

But if instead of fighting with the natural world we help it run its course, letting it do its job, we find that it has an immense capacity for regeneration, through many interconnected pathways that generate endless solutions. By adapting technology to the needs of the land it is possible to accompany nature in its process while obtaining the necessary resources to live in abundance.

In this way, and using the information provided by degraded soil, we can rely on the power of nature instead of brute force to find multiple ways of regeneration. Nourishing the soil instead of feeding the crops may seem impractical at first glance, but the more nourished and healthy the soil is, the more fertile it becomes. In fertile soil, plants grow stronger, more resistant and bear more fruit, making it much more profitable in the long run to nourish the soil than to continue to degrade it with chemical fertilizers and poisons.

Resilient design

This design framework focuses on flexible solutions capable of absorbing and resisting anomalies. A resilient design is able to adapt to adverse conditions to return to its original state once the problem is overcome.

One of the keys to this design lies in having a great diversity capable of providing a multitude of different solutions to the same problem. Thus, even if some of the solutions fail, if we have a good diversity, it is much more likely that the solution to the problem will be found in another way. A clear example can be found in forests, where the connection between the roots of plants allows the exchange of nutrients, the more diversity of plants we find, the greater the diversity of nutrients will be available to the entire forest and even if one species disappears, if there is diversity many others will be able to continue their work and occupy their ecological niche.

As a result the redundancy of elements in a system makes it much more resistant to change and therefore more sustainable.

Permaculture design

Up to this point we have practically defined many of the characteristics and principles of permaculture design thanks to the previous design frameworks.

We can talk about design in permaculture when by connecting with nature and observing it, we can find ways to flow with it, regenerate it and make it more resilient until we reach a permanent ecosystem. To be able to understand culture as permeable, to observe it flow through generations and join its course is surely a good way of doing permaculture.

In this way, permaculture design has a wide range of development pathways or petals that cover most areas where human beings develop, being a holistic design system. Natural agriculture, breeding, bio-construction, self-management, integral health, community management and appropriate technology are the most common petals or areas of permaculture.

In this way, permaculture design is a holistic design framework, it has a wide range of development pathways or petals that cover most areas of human culture . Natural food growing systems, free education, bio-construction, self-management, integral health, community management and appropriate technology are the most common petals or areas of permaculture.

By applying permaculture to a project, we can achieve better results with less effort. An example of permaculture applied in a farm would be to make fertilizers and compost with animal and vegetable scraps and with them feed the fields that in return will feed the animals, feed us and give us health, medicines and materials to create tools or build. As well as spaces where we can raise our children and live in community and also provide a surplus to trade and finish covering the needs of the farm.


For me it has been very enriching to contact other permaculture networks such as the Danish and Portuguese ones. To understand that, even though we are far away, we are on the same path and dream. It makes me feel grateful and happy.

By being able to investigate and explore other design frameworks based on nature, finding similarities and complements with permaculture, it has given me new tools that I am already sharing with good reception in the networks I am part of. I’m also starting to integrate them into my designs with favorable results and I hope that over time they will be successful.

The language immersion has been an opportunity to learn specialized terms and grammar and at the same time has forced me to express myself in English, the basic language of the course, reminding me of the importance of this language in order to connect with international networks. Somehow I think I’m beginning to appreciate the English language a lot more than I did before.

To conclude, I would like to tell you that Portugal is a very interesting, unique and mysterious country to which we do not usually give all the attention it deserves.



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