A vision for Ecological Settlement Design (by Declan & Margrit Kennedy)

Excerpt of the ‘Ecological Design Dimension’ of Gaia Education’s online course in ‘Design for Sustainability

Margrit Kennedy and Declan Kennedy spend their lives as activists, architects, academics and pioneers in the permaculture, ecovillage and alternative currency movements. This qualifies them as exemplary trans-disciplinary whole systems thinkers, designers, and doers. They are co-founders of the ecovillage Lebensgarten in Germany, while working as professors of architecture and urban planning in Berlin, they also taught the first permaculture courses in Europe.

Prof. Declan Kennedy (image)

Declan was the first president of the Global Ecovillage Network and Margrit became one of the world’s leading authorities in complementary and regional currency design. Here is their whole systems vision of ecological design for sustainable communities (reproduced with permission from Kennedy & Kennedy 1997: 228–230):

A settlement of diversity:

Where living and working are reconciled and long trips to work are unnecessary; where social and cultural activities, recreation and further training, community and individuality can exist side by side.

A settlement on a human scale:

With neighbourhoods to which residents can develop a relationship or a personal bond, but which have their own character as well. A settlement of nature corridors, with woods, orchards, streams or wetland marches separating the individual areas and linking them to the surrounding landscape; a place where plants and animals have the scope to thrive, something that has become all too rare in our civilization; a settlement which fits, in terms of its own bio-region, its landscape, its climate, its flora and fauna and the local culture; where open spaces and bodies of water typical of the area provide biological enrichment and orientation.

A settlement of short distances:

The density described above leaves our ecological settlement not much larger than 1.5 –2 km in diameter, meaning that everyone can walk from one end to the other in half an hour, or cycle or drive their solar mobiles across in five minutes; car and minibus sharing is available to the community for all medium distances; public means of transport — buses and trains — are faster and cheaper alternatives for longer journeys; efficient infrastructure planning is facilitated by service centres specializing in different aspects and located at public transport pick-up points.

A settlement which uses as little space as possible:

The size and density of the settlement depends on the degree to which the area it requires for its material supply and disposal are really available, without being a burden on the region and the prevalent cultural norms; expansion beyond this size leads to founding new settlement. This creates a network, instead of the cancer-like urban sprawl typical of our times.

A settlement of occupant responsibility:

All occupants are involved, to the extent they can and wish to be, in local, community self-administration, and in formulating and implementing the ecological settlement design; all decisions are made on the lowest level possible, based on the principle of subsidiarity; as far as possible, everyone uses the local range of services, production and trade, education and leisure, and supports links and communication with regional and international groups and networks.

An energy-efficient settlement:

Energy saving options and the rational use of energy for heating purposes and of electricity and transport cut energy consumption to less than 10% of its current level; energy is primarily generated on a renewable basis through sun, wind, tides, geo-thermal energy and organic mass; buildings are designed for optimum passive solar use, both cooling and heating; intelligent designs achieve a maximum annual consumption rate of 20kWh per square meter living space, which is amply covered by regenerative energies.

An emission-free settlement:

Reducing energy consumption, treating waste water in nature-based systems, limiting traffic and tree-lining streets, all lower CO2, SO2, NOx and other toxic gas emissions, as well as reducing dust particles; sod roofs and facades covered in climbers, as well as natural corridors between individual neighbourhoods, improve air and temper climate extremes.

A quiet and beautiful settlement:

By limiting traffic and noise pollution from production processes, the settlement is a place of calm and quiet, the architectural expression and urban design follows criteria of beauty, elegance and simplicity, fitting into the existing landscape and cultural heritage of the region.

A settlement which values water:

On-site rain water seepage and the blanket ban on toxic substances entering the ground water allow the settlement to have its own drinking water supply; water-saving fixtures and the separation of faeces and all other organic waste for composting and fermentation cut drinking-water consumption to less than 60 litres per person per day; grey water from washbasins and baths, showers, washing machines and dishwashers is purified in nature-based treatment processes, and then seeps back into the groundwater; the settlement preserves natural drainage conditions — this means that wherever possible, storage rooms at ground-level replace basements; vertical and horizontal filters become just as much an integral component of open spaces, in the form of wetland marshes, as rain water, which is creatively allowed to come to the fore in flow forms, open gutters, and streams and ponds.

A predominantly waste-free settlement:

Governed by the principles that every item of waste is a resource in the wrong place, the settlement belongs to a regional, national and international network specially devoted to this aspect of sustainable husbandry, which helps to prevent 90% of the current volume of waste, be it domestic waste, excavation soil, building materials or waste from commercial or industrial production, the little waste still produced here is sorted on-site, before entering the respective recycling, down-cycling or re-use process.

A settlement of healthy buildings:

Building materials and construction systems used in all buildings that are converted or constructed are healthy, save primary energy and go easy on resources in their production, use and dismantling (from cradle to cradle); they are (re)planned for multi-purpose use, easy conversion and expansion or reduction of size; electrical cables and appliances are installed and connected in accordance with the latest findings to generate as little electric smog as possible; before designing commences; zones of geo-pathological interference are detected, and thus locating bedrooms and living spaces on top of them can be avoided.

A settlement of native species and productive plants:

Special care is taken with selecting plant types, sizes and growing times; thus, the settlement contains fruit bearing bushes and trees, gardens, lean-to-greenhouses, facade espaliers and herbaceous soil coverings that meet a good proportion of the settlement’s needs for fresh fruit, vegetables and salad all year around, without much extra effort; the natural corridors, streams, pond and wetland marshes also produce edible and medicinal plants for human and animal consumption — these products are fresher and cost less in terms of embodied energy, waste and money than imports which have travelled great distances, although these will be used to ensure added variety at the table; sale of commercial products and exchange of surplus production creates permanent jobs and provides high quality products at reasonable costs for everyone.

A settlement of creative conflict solving:

Conflicts are seen and dealt with as a creative learning process; ‘using together instead of consuming individually’ — sharing jobs, cars, fruit-trees, playgrounds, buildings and open spaces for play, sport, leisure and communication also means going through learning processes together, leading a richer, but also more difficult, life as well.

A settlement of human values:

Settlements and cities can be seen as collective artworks; the individual and collective efforts of many generations lend them a special, unmistakable character, nowadays it is possible to simulate this historical development and make various alternatives (building anew or renewing existing quarters) understandable to all, quickly; this the complex process of reaching a consensus between the demands and needs of the occupants, the administrative authorities, the economy and the environment can be worked out more easily, until a plan has emerged that is tailored to the combined needs of those involved; it takes time to make this shared vision a reality, but it forms the basis of the settlement’s spiritual, intellectual and material expression.

In gratitude for the pioneering work of both Margrit and Declan Kennedy (Image)

… [this is an excerpt from the ‘Ecological Design Dimension’ of Gaia Education’s online course in ‘Design for Sustainability’. Your can enroll in this course at any time. The next installment of the ‘Ecological Dimension’ will start in early January 2018. The material in this dimension was co-authored by Lisa Shaw, Michael Shaw, Ezio Gorio, and Daniel Christian Wahl, author of ‘Designing Regenerative Cultures’ and Head of Innovation and (Programme) Design at Gaia Education.]

One of the retro-fitted houses at Lebensgarten Steyerberg (image)