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Stacking Functions Pattern [Permaculture
Posted on September 8, 2016 @ 03:25:00 AM by Paul Meagher

I am enjoying a new book by Shawn Jadnricek called The Bio-Integrated Farm (2016).

There are several reasons I like the book:

  1. He offers up new Permaculture designs for greenhouses, ponds, food growing systems, pest control and more.
  2. He goes into rigorous detail on how to implement these designs, often involving some math.
  3. He is practicing/teaching permaculture concepts in an academic context at the Student Organic Farm at Clemson University. The co-founder of Permaculture, Bill Mollison, was often reluctant to partner with universities for a variety of reasons; however Shawn has found a way to make Permaculture practical and innovative in an academic context.
  4. Shawn puts the principle of Stacking Functions at the center of his approach to Permaculture design. This is just one design principle in traditional Permaculture; however, it is interesting to see it being used as the central design principle.

Stacking functions is sort of like designing things so they can be multifunctional, however, the multiple functions are not so much a property of the thing itself but how it inter-relates to other aspects of a system. A pond, for example, can be designed as an aesthetic feature of the landscape but there are a host of other functions it could serve and when we design ponds so they serve multiple functions then that would be considered a good permaculture design or bio-integrated design as Shawn likes to call it. Shawn argues somewhat mysteriously that if your design serves 7 or more functions then it often takes off - requires less maintanance and leads to greater abundance. In the case of a pond, we could also design it so that is used to harvest rainwater. If we position it right we can also use the reflection as a source of heating to another building. If we populate it with fish we can harvest those fish for eating. If some of the fish we include are good at catching mosquitoes then it can help reduce mosquito populations. We can of course use the pond as a source of irrigation for crops. If there is fish poop in the water it can also be a source of fertilization as well. We can also use the heat from the water, run through hoses on a grow bench, to germinate plants. These are just some of the functions a pond can have and which they do have in Shawn's pond designs.

In my last blog post on Patterns of Innovation I discussed 3 patterns used to create innovative designs. I think we can add another innovation pattern called "Stacking Functions". Whenever we are confronted with a design task there is always the opportunity to consider whether we can add more functions to our design and when we do so we might hit upon a combination that leads to greater utility and less maintenance work and for that reason might be a design that is copied as a new innovation. I think we can go overboard and sometimes we just want a toothbrush to brush our teeth. Our tendancy, however, is probably in the other direction. We often underdesign by not considering other functions a design element might have. We don't place it in a wider context and consider the other functions it might have in that context.

To learn more a bit more about Shawn and the Student Organic Farm he manages you can watch this YouTube video:

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