Saturday, August 31, 2019

Scale of Permanence as a Site Assessment and Analysis Tool

by Taj Scicluna
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The Scale of Permanence for Site Assessment and Analysis is an excellent tool that allows us to bring the ecological web of design together succinctly in a step by step process.

Firstly, for Assessment, use each topic of the Scale of Permanence to create overlays for your Base Map, and go through these onsite to draw diagrams and observations on the page, whilst recording information on your design process worksheet.

For example, on your Climate overlay you may map the sun, the shade, the prevailing wind, etc. (You may also need to do research for this to fill the gaps). On your design process worksheet you may write what month is the hottest, when the first frosts are, how cold it gets, growing degree days etc. This information may come from a primary source, such as a local person who has experience with the landscape and history of the property, or secondary source, such as data analysis online from weather stations etc.

Remember if you do not know the ‘answers’ you can look things up later, just remain curious. It’s great to write all the questions that come into your head and you can try and research them later if needed.

The Analysis can start when you are Assessing the site, however be mindful of the difference. Assessment is based on Observation, where as Analysis is answering the ‘How and Why’.

The Difference between Observation and Analysis:

Definition: Noticing or Perceiving. Permaculture Assessment Context: Yellow Dock (Rumex crispus) is growing here.

Definition: Separating a material or abstract entity into its constituent elements; studying the nature of something or of determining its essential features and their relations. Permaculture Analysis Context: Yellow Dock indicates clay soils high in iron, and wet boggy areas where water accumulates. 

Analysis is answering why (… does it do that? Is it growing here? Etc.) and how (… where does it come from? What effects it? Etc.)
We can start to ask questions about how what we are observing relates to the larger picture, what components it is influencing and what components it will effect in the future.

From here we can start to use Methods of Design, such as Relative Location based on the Needs Analysis of the components which the client wants on their property.

The task of a Permaculture Designer is to marry the needs of the landscape (as documented in the Site Assessment and Analysis) and the Client context (as documented in the client questionnaire and methods of design exercises) to create a synergy between the two, so humans can function as part of the ecological system.

Below gives you an idea of how you may use the Scale of Permanence for Analysis.

1. Climate 

Questions to Ask: 
  • What is the Climate Classification? 
  • What buildings/vegetation/social systems exist within natural landscapes of this climate classification? 
  • What are the extremes in Temperature? Max Temp, Min Temp, First and Last Frost
  • What are the Limiting Factors here? 
  • What are the potential Disasters and when did they occur last? Fire, Floods, Earthquakes
  • How have these disasters impacted the other Scale of Permanence topics? 
  • What is the function of this element/energy? 
  • How can we utilize and harness these elements/energies?

Analysis Tools & Resources: 
  • What are the connections between elements/energies/structures/wildlife here? 

2. Landform 
Questions to Ask: 
  • Obtain contour maps 
  • What does the slope indicate about the soil type? 
  • What are the geological processes responsible for the topography? 
  • What types of vegetation grow in areas of different gradients? 
  • Where are the keylines and keypoint on this landscape? (If there is one) 
  • Does the Client want a Dam, if so where would be the best site in consideration to catchment, wildlife, slope, soil, and distribution of the water? 
  • What gradient comprises the largest area you have to work with? 
  • What topography is indicative of natural pathways? 
  • What is the function of this element/energy? 
  • How can we utilize and harness these elements/energies?

Analysis Tools & Resources 
  • What are the connections between elements/energies/structures/wildlife here? 

3. Water 
Questions to Ask: 
  • Where are the downpipes, tanks, main catchment areas? 
  • Are there any erosion pathways? What is causing them? 
  • Is the erosion due to the speed of water, lack of vegetation, soil type etc.? 
  • Are there areas of poor drainage? Why? 
  • Are there any microclimates caused by water sources? 
  • How can we minimize erosion? 
  • How can we utilize these energies? 
  • Is there a place of natural water accumulation? Where are the healthy areas of vegetation that suggests an abundance of water? 
  • What months are wettest? What months are driest? What does this mean for the surrounding vegetation and wildlife? What does this mean for the household and human needs? 
  • Is water needed in the case of a fire? 
  • Is there ever flooding? How can we design for this? 
  • Does drought effect this area? How can we design for this? 
  • How much water is needed for property needs? Household? Garden? Animals? Calculate 
  • Will Irrigation be needed in certain areas? What kind? How much? And where will the water come from? 
  • What are the limiting factors here? 

Analysis Tools & Resources
  • What are the connections between elements/energies/structures/wildlife here?
  • How do water & topography connect? 
  • Where does the water enter and leave the property? How is it effected and what is it effecting? 
  • How can we ensure the water is cleaner when it leaves than when it arrives? 

4. Culture, Economics, Political, Social, Legal, Spiritual
Questions to Ask: 
  • Who are the Primary, Secondary and Tertiary decision makers on the property? 
  • Does the client have clear goals in mind? 
  • How does/can the surrounding community contribute and connect to the property? 
  • Does the property hold any historical and/or spiritual significance? How did the original peoples of the land use the land? 
  • Legally, what is the zoning of the property? Are there any overlays and laws to abide to?
  • Are the clients doing everything legally or not? What are they willing to risk? What are they not willing to risk? What is most important to them? 
  • Do the clients have good relation to the neighbours? 
  • Are their council regulations? What laws need to be considered in each scale of permanence area? 
  • Is the property going to be used for an enterprise? How will the property or the people living there generate income to pay for the development? 
  • What are the Limiting factors here? 
  • Is there enough of a budget to develop the property in relation to the clients goals? 
  • Is there enough time for maintenance to develop the property in relation to the clients goals? 
  • What are the inhabitants strengths? What are their gaps? 
  • Will anyone need to be hired (trade/exchange) to help in the development of the property where there are gaps? 
  • Is there a spiritual significance of the property/land to the inhabitants? 

Analysis Tools & Resources
  • Local Council Websites (check for zoning and overlays) 
  • Map nearby utilities (Libraries, Sports Centers, Community Houses, Community Hubs, Places where people meet, Areas of traffic, Hospitals etc.) 
  • Local Knowledge of history, cultural significance etc. 

  • What are the connections between elements/energies/structures/wildlife here? 
  • What are the connections between the outside community?

5. Access and circulation 
Questions to Ask
  • Where are the natural meeting areas? 
  • Where are the natural paths? 
  • Are there current areas of stagnation? Paths that are not working? Areas where the flow does not feel natural or easy? 
  • Where are the nodes? 
  • Are there any areas that are not working in terms of placement and ease of use? 
  • Parking for cars and bicycles? 
  • Is the property easy to access for cars, bikes, public transport, pedestrians? 
  • Are there wildlife paths and corridors to be aware of?

Analysis Tools & Resources
  • Local public transport websites and maps 
  • Reading landscape to find wildlife paths  

  • What are the connections between elements/energies/structures/wildlife here?
  • How do the surrounding wildlife access and circulate the property?

6. Microclimate 
Questions to Ask: 
  • Are there water tanks that can create a microclimate? 
  • What buildings/infrastructure/walls will create a microclimate? 
  • Does any of the existing vegetation need a microclimate to help it thrive? 
  • Are there any materials and resources on site that can contribute to microclimates needed? 
  • Does the slope create a microclimate and where? 
  • Do any areas need protection from wind? 
  • Are there any elements in the clients needs and goals that will require a microclimate? 
  • How can the existing vegetation supply a microclimate for elements needed? 
  • How can the elements needed supply a microclimate for existing elements? 
  • How can the elements needed supply a microclimate for each other? 
  • Are there any limiting factors here?

Analysis Tools & Resources:
  • Maps, trial and error, observation!

  • What are the connections between elements/energies/structures/wildlife here?
  • How do the microclimates connect with Access/Circulation and Areas of use?

7. Vegetation and Wildlife 
Questions to Ask: 
  • What predators surround the property? 
  • Are there any pests that inhabit the property and pose a threat to vegetation and animal systems? 
  • What kind of inclusion/exclusion is necessary? 
  • What are the native and endemic species of the area? What vegetation and habitat do they need and can that be created on site? 
  • How can the native and endemic species contribute to the elements of the design? 
  • How can the elements of the design contribute to the vegetation and habitat for native wildlife? 
  • Are there any endangered species of flora and fauna and can the design assist them in any way?
  • Are there wildlife corridors or can they be created? 
  • Are there surrounding National Parks or Reserves? 
  • Are there any limiting factors here?
  • How can the vegetation elements needed in the design fit with the existing vegetation? 
  • How can you create habitat for birds, insects, mammals, reptiles?

Analysis Tools & Resources
  • What is the connection between the inhabitants of the property and the vegetation and wildlife? 
  • What are the connections between elements/energies/structures/wildlife here?
  • Can windbreaks/firebreaks be also utilised as wildlife corridors or sanctuaries?

8. Buildings and infrastructure
Questions to Ask: 
  • Where are the utilities? Gas, electric, solar, hot water, taps etc. 
  • Where are the downpipes and where do they go? 
  • What is the sewage system?
  • What are the building materials? 
  • Are there any complications with the buildings and infrastructure? 
  • Are they safe? 
  • Can they be utilised for any multiple functions? Microclimates? Windbreaks? Catchment? Solar? Vertical gardens? 
  • Where are the windows, what are the views? 
  • Where are the doors, what areas do they access? 
  • Where does the greywater go? 
  • Are there any limiting factors here? 
  • What are the functions of each building and how may they be expanded? 
  • Are any buildings redundant? Can the functions be condensed into smaller areas? 

Analysis Tools & Resources:
  • Zone analysis

  • What are the connections between elements/energies/structures/wildlife here?
  • Are there energy flows and pathways between buildings? 

9. Soil (fertility and management) 
Questions to Ask: 
  • What is the geology of the site and how does it contribute to the soil type? 
  • What is the climate of the site and how does it contribute to the soil type? 
  • Are there different areas of soil type, drainage, silt traps etc.?
  • Can these areas be used for certain vegetation or elements within the design? 
  • What areas will the soil need to be built up? 
  • Are there areas of pollution, contamination and high heavy metal loads? 
  • What is nearby that may contribute to soil pollution? Runoff? Sprays? Other farms? 
  • What is the history of the site and has it been sprayed heavily? 
  • Are there limiting factors here? 

Analysis Tools & Resources: 

  • What are the connections between elements/energies/structures/wildlife here?
  • What are the connections with the soil/compost/garden/vegetable garden/orchard and animals systems within the design? How does this make a difference to their design placement? 

10. Aesthetics 
Questions to Ask:
  • What atmosphere would the client like to create, and what are the already existing sense of place determined by the landscape, climate and elements?
  • Consider the type of aesthetic the client wants, and ask if straight or curvy lines are needed, what shapes will create this feel? 
  • Think about where the windows and doors are, where the views will be, where the client/inhabitants will be sitting and what they will see, if there are entertaining areas etc. 
  • How can you create this aesthetic with building materials, vegetation, patterns and shapes etc?
  • Is there any kind of cultural/climate aesthetic you are trying to mimic here? 
  • And what will contribute to the creation of this within the design?

Analysis Tools & Resources
  • Client interview, intuition

  • Here is an opportunity to get really creative! Search for ways to make your site more beautiful while also improving relationships. Next, you can start to determine the best placement for the elements within the design, considering inputs and outputs, energy efficiency and relative location. 
Have fun!

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