Toby Hemenway—Principles



• Care for the Earth • Care for People
• Return the Surplus

Primary Principles for Functional Design:

1. Observe. Use protracted and thoughtful observation rather than prolonged and thoughtless action. Observe the site and its elements in all seasons. Design for specific sites, clients, and climates.

2. Connect. Use relative location: Place elements in ways that create useful relationships and time-saving connections among all parts. The number of connections among elements creates a healthy, diverse ecosystem, not the number of elements.

3. Catch and store energy and materials. Identify, collect, and hold the useful flows moving through the site. By saving and re-investing resources, we maintain the system and capture still more resources.

4. Each element performs multiple functions. Choose and place each element in a system to perform as many functions as possible. Increasing beneficial connections between diverse components creates a stable whole. Stack elements in both space and time.

5. Each function is supported by multiple elements. Use multiple methods to achieve important functions and to create synergies. Redundancy protects when one or more elements fail.

6. Make the least change for the greatest effect. Find the “leverage points” in the system and intervene there, where the least work accomplishes the most change.

7. Use small scale, intensive systems. Start at your doorstep with the smallest systems that will do the job, and build on your successes, with variations. Grow by chunking.

Principles for Living and Energy Systems

8. Use the edge effect. The edge—the intersection of two environments—is the most diverse place in a system, and is where energies and materials accumulate. Optimize the amount of edge.

9. Collaborate with succession. Systems will evolve over time, often toward greater diversity and productivity. Work with this tendency, and use design to jump-start succession when needed.

10. Use biological and renewable resources. Renewable resources (usually plants and animals) reproduce and build up over time, store energy, assist yield, and interact with other elements.

11. Recycle energy. Supply local and on-site needs with energy from the system, and reuse this energy as many times as possible. Every cycle is an opportunity for yield.


12. Turn problems into solutions. Constraints can inspire creative design. “We are surrounded by insurmountable opportunities.”— Bill Mollison

13. Get a yield. Design for both immediate and long-term returns from your efforts: “You can’t work on an empty stomach.” Set up positive feedback loops to build the system and repay your investment.

14. The biggest limit to abundance is creativity. The designer’s imagination and skill limit productivity and diversity more than any physical limit.

15. Mistakes are tools for learning. Evaluate your trials. Making mistakes is a sign you’re trying to do things better.

Rules for resource use: Ranked from regenerative to degenerative, different resources can: 1) increase with use; 2) be lost when not used; 3) be unaffected by use; 4) be lost by use; 5) pollute or degrade systems with use.


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