Permaculture is about designing sustainable settlements. It is a philosophy and an approach to land use, which weaves together microclimate, annual and perennial plants, animals, soils, water management, and human needs into intricately connected, productive communities

Bill Mollingson & reny Mia Slay

  • Whole system(s) design is the fundamental approach to any permaculture project. We must cultivate a designers mind by becoming systems thinkers.
  • 50% of whole systems design is trial and error! Try it, measure the results and adjust accordingly
  • Creating designs that focus on the relationships between each component, rather than the focussing on the component itself
  • Be aware of waste, make plans to decrease it (by using it for good).
  • Bringing yourself into the correct relationship with ALL of the resources you consume


Designing or identifying a whole system can quickly become overwhelming because of the sheer volume of relationships that happen in the simplest of processes. A permaculture whole systems design can be broken down into four parts.


Observe patterns in nature, such as what happens with (soil, climate and water cycles) and use them as a guide. Mimic and work with these rather than against them. Develop structured plans based on these observations. 


A set of guiding permaculture principles help us make decisions and plan approach. One such principle is observing and adhering to the patterns in nature. Whenever we’re stuck, need help prioritising or dealing with conflict, we are guided by principles.


Well defined processes help to manifest ideas into reality. One such process framework is GOBRADIME, which will be discussed below.


Location is critical, it is necessary to bring context to a project and is often critical to the success of a system design.

Problem: Humans take more than we give, thus producing waste that is toxic to the whole system

Solution: Find systemic opportunities to meet needs by putting our waste into play, then our waste becomes a resource

3 Main Permaculture Principles

People camping in Swansea

People Care

Permaculture in Garnswllt

Earth Care


GOBRADIME Permaculture Design Process

GOBRADIME is an acronym

  • Goals: What are your SMARTER goals for this design
  • Observation: Learn what you can about the design problem/ challenge using all of your senses
  • Boundaries: Establish visible and invisible parameters.
  • Resources: Everything is a resource and everything has a need. Ensure there are plans to use waste.
  • Analysis: Consider all information accumulated so far.
  • Design: Phase planning, overlays, patterns to details
  • Implementation: Use a task-based process that moves the design from idea to reality, one step at a time.
  • Management: Monitor, maintain, messes, mistakes. Learn and discover.
  • Evaluate and enjoy: Nap in the hammock, share what you learned and do it all again!!

Paradise Design Game

Step 1: Make a list of every component you think you might want to include in your whole systems design. Vegetable garden? Orchards? Food forest? Solar hot water? Wind power? Workshop? Animals? Whatever you want, make a list (or, use index cards if you want to spread out!)

Step 2: For each item on your list, note which of the other components this item could somehow connect to. Does your shower connect to your garden? How so? Does your kitchen connect to your chicken coop? Where? And so on.

Step 3: Then, play with drawing it out. Don’t worry about drawing maps to scale or getting all the details! Think of it more like a game, and make a drawing of your silly ultimate fantasy whole system design.