The Permaculture Design Process – An Example

Dan Palmer
Photo © Craig Mackintosh

Some weeks ago Dan finished helping run a permaculture design course he has been developing for the PRI Kotare Village, NZ (Koanga Institute) at Kotare Ecovillage near Wairoa, New Zealand (read more about these projects here and here respectively). We had 24 participants and a key part of the course, just like in our VEG PDCs in Melbourne, is working in small groups through every step of the permaculture design process to complete a design for an area of the eco-village. Each time Dan returns he sees previous course designs being implemented on the ground, and it gives the design projects a very practical, real feeling to know that if they fit the bill they are most likely to jump off the paper and onto the ground! In this case there were six design projects to chose from, ranging from a 100 square metre greenhouse to a 50 hectare hill farm block.

One group not only came up with a great design, as did all the groups, but also did an exceptional job of documenting the steps they took in getting there. Let’s revisit Katrina Svensson, Travis Balabuck & Sharon Pitt-Harris’s two-week journey from design brief to finished design.

Let us start with the site, a gently falling 1/4 acre ridge block within the fledgling Kotare ecovillage:

After an initial walk over the site, our group conducted a people analysis interview with clients Simon and Jullietta. Here is a summary of the people analysis and Simon & Jullietta’s wishlist:

Next our team conducted a thorough site analysis, presented in this poster, shown here in full before we zoom in on different areas:

At the top we have a sector analysis overlaid with drainage patterns,
relative solar access, and distinction of flatter top area from
sloping areas around it.

Next the overall site dimensions

Microclimates, levels and aspects

Profile showing slope through a slice of the block

Now design begins, with an initial draft sketch of how different required areas
might map onto the site’s identified microclimates.

An exploration of how this might play out in more detail

Before going into further detail — before crash testing all the layouts,
flows, and connections between elements to see what can be improved.

Culminating in this poster presenting their final design

The main concept plan

A close up of flows and contour layouts of garden beds and paths

An overall summary of guilds and the zones of use they occupy

A few details such as the log-edged sandpit surrounded by espaliered pome fruits

Garden bench

Pergola for grapes (for making wines obviously)

A connections map that helped in the process

Great work team — I have a strong feeling next time I am at Kotare Ecovillage I will see some of your ideas unfolding on the ground! Thanks to all for a great course.


  1. I’m impressed with the in-depth method used, how did come to position the house on top of the hill, is it not better slightly (halfway) down the slope?

  2. Great set of pictures Dan – this is what design is about. I wonder if the slides are available for use in permaculture courses? As a download maybe? Coz I reckon they would be useful in explaining what designing is all about.

  3. Russell,

    I can’t speak for them, but I like the position of the house. Considering that it is only a gentle slope and a very small plot (1/4 acre), positioning it back further gives them a larger flat area on the northerly side of the house. Good microclimate.

  4. Thanks for the comments all. If anyone does want higher-res images I’m happy to share them – just get in touch via our website. We have just started another PDC here in Melbourne and are right up at the early stage of the process again. I never get bored of how sound design process generates (or provides a medium for the people and land to generate) a sound and harmonious design (as a starting reference point for implementation and management and the endless cycle of observe, design and redesign therein).

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