A Vision of Ecological Design


Article Series: Ecological Design for Sustainable and Regenerative Futures. Read about the series below.

by Declan Kennedy

Declan demonstrates the vastness of his experience with a truly comprehensive vision of Ecological Design — a vision as enticing as it is practical. Since this vision is listed as so many points, it also could be considered a comprehensive checklist of design criteria for sustainable settlements. Declan emphasises that ecological design is a process, and since the biggest challenge the world over is the ‘ecological renewal’ of existing places, this process invariably will include multiple stakeholders. The ultimate aim, according to Declan, is to make places that are ‘easier to love’.This article is a real lesson in deep sustainability.


When an ecological settlement- and this concept covers both new construction and renewal projects — works well both technically and socially, it is not only the highest quality product that building and conversion can offer at the present time, but also a process of development. It is a process that changes people and their relationships to one another, as well as their relationships to buildings, open spaces and supply and disposal technology. The aim is to make a place easier to live in, easier to love, and consequently more sustainable. My vision of an ecological settlement, whether it is a new or an old one, a section of suburbia or the renewal of an existing area of a town or a city, looks like this:

And Ecovillage 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.

An Ecovillage on a Human Scale — with neighbourhoods in which residents can develop a direct relationship or a personal bond, but which have their own character as well.

An Ecovillage of Nature Corridors — with woods, orchards, streams or wetland marshes separating the individual areas and linking them to the surrounding landscape; a place where plants and animals have room to thrive, something which has become all too rare in our current civilisation.

An Ecovillage 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.

An Ecovillage of Short Distances — the density leaves our ecological settlement not much larger than 1.5 km in diameter, meaning that everyone can walk from one end to the other in less than 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 specialising in different aspects and located at public transport pick-up points.

An Ecovillage which Uses as Little Space as Possible — the size and density of the ecovillage depend on the degree to which the area required for material supply and disposal is within close proximity, without being a burden on the region or the prevalent cultural norms; expansion beyond this size leads to the founding of a new settlement; this creates a network instead of the cancer-like urban sprawl typical of our times.

An Ecovillage Based on Occupant Responsibility — all occupants are involved, to the extent they are able and willing, in local and community self-administration, and in formulating and implementing the ecological settlement design; all decisions are made at 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, while supporting links and communication with regional, national and international groups and networks.

An Energy-efficient Ecovillage — energy saving options — including the rational use of energy for heating purposes, 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 and organic mass sources; buildings are designed for optimum passive solar utility, in both cooling and heating; intelligent design achieves a maximum annual consumption rate of only 20 kWh per square metre of living space, which is amply covered by regenerative energies.

An Emission-free Ecovillage — such practices as reducing energy consumption, treating waste water in nature-based systems, limiting traffic and tree-lining streets, all lower carbon dioxide, SOx, NOx and other toxic gas emissions while simultaneously reducing dust particles; sod roofs and cob facades covered with climbing vines, as well as natural corridors between individual neighbourhoods, improve the air and temper climate extremes.

A Quiet and Beautiful Ecovillage — by limiting traffic and noise pollution from production processes, the ecovillage becomes a place of calm and quiet; the architectural expression and ecovillage design emphasise criteria of beauty, elegance and simplicity, fitting into the existing landscape and cultural heritage of the region.

An Ecovillage which Values Water — on-site rain water collection and seepage and the blanket ban on toxic substances entering the ground water allow the ecovillage to have its own drinking-water supply; water-saving fixtures and the separation of faeces and other organic waste (for composting and fermentation) cut drinking-water consumption to less than 60 litres per person per day; grey water from showers and baths, washbasins and washing machines is purified in nature-based treatment processes, and then seeps back though swales into the ground water.

The Ecovillage Preserves Natural Drainage Conditions — this means that, wherever possible, storage rooms at ground level replace basements; vertical and horizontal filters become an integral component of open spaces, for example in the form of constructed wetland marshes, as moving water is creatively allowed to come to the fore in flow forms, open gutters, streams and ponds.

A Predominantly Waste-free Ecovillage — governed by the principle that ‘every item of waste is a resource in the wrong place’, the ecovillage belongs to regional, national and international networks specially devoted to this aspect of sustainable husbandry; this practice helps to eliminate the disposal of over 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 is then sorted on-site, before entering the respective recycling, down-cycling or re-use processes.

An Ecovillage of Healthy Buildings — building materials and construction systems used in all buildings, whether converted or constructed, are healthy, save primary energy and conserve resources in their production, use and recycling (as per the principle of ‘Cradle to Cradle’); they are (re)planned for multi-purpose use, easy conversion and expansion or reduction in size; electrical cables and appliances are installed and connected in accordance with the latest technology to generate as little ‘electric smog’ as possible; before design commences, zones of geo-pathological interference are detected, and thus locating bedrooms and living spaces on top of them can be avoided.

An Ecovillage of Native Species and Productive Plants — special care is taken with selecting plant types, sizes and growth times; thus, the ecovillage 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 round, without much extra effort; the natural corridors, streams, ponds 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 traveled great distances, although these will be imported 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.

An Ecovillage trading within its regional exchange system — a complementary currency that works for everybody and protects the earth. It is created de-centrally — everyone makes her/his own vouchers — all that is needed to create this exchange medium is a printer or a copying machine — but they can be used internationally. It is legal in almost all countries. The notes are guaranteed by a human value that is known to everyone — trust — and still free from speculation. It is comprehensible to everyone.

An Ecovillage of Creative Conflict Resolution — conflicts are seen and dealt with as creative learning processes; ‘using together instead of consuming individually’; sharing jobs, cars, fruit-trees, playgrounds, buildings and open spaces for play, sport, leisure and communication also mean going through learning processes together, leading to perhaps a more challenging but also richer life.

An Ecovillage 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 and accelerate this historical development while making various alternatives (building anew or renewing existing quarters) understandable to all; thus, the complex process of reaching consensus between the demands and needs of the occupants, the administrative authorities, the economy and the environment can be resolved more easily, until a plan has emerged that is tailored to the combined needs of all those involved; it takes time to make this shared vision a reality, but the shared vision forms the basis of the settlement’s spiritual, intellectual and material character. Many of the ideas expressed here can be found in the concept of ‘Transition Towns’, as formulated by permaculture designer Rob Hopkins.

In its book, The First Global Revolution , the Club of Rome made an appeal to humanity by stating: “We need a vision”, because, they argued, “global problems cannot be solved by market mechanisms alone”. The vision sees the way ahead as the thousands of small ‘smart’ decisions that reflect a new awareness, shared by millions of people, which will help ensure the survival of society as a whole. The strategy of ecological design has the advantage of not only being feasible, but also of corresponding to the vision many people share of a world in which they would like to live. Making the vision a reality only requires the will to take calculated risks and shed old prejudices and patterns of behaviour. In view of the problems bombarding us from all sides, this can only be seen as a hopeful perspective.



Many of us feel that our current consumer lifestyles are no longer sustainable nor desirable, on a personal to global level and that our ecological systems appear to edge closer and closer towards collapse, but we believe that more sustainable or regenerative ways of living our lives are possible, feasible and viable, but what are these alternative ways of living? In trying to Design for Sustainability we seek to consciously reinvent ecological living from the ground up, honing in on aspects such as sustainable production and consumption, regenerative agriculture and food production, appropriate technologies for water and energy systems, green and sustainable building and construction, and weaving all together through whole systems and regenerative design approaches and methods to achieve one planet living design and development outcomes.

Gaia Education’s online course in Design for Sustainability offers you an opportunity to learn practical effective ways to create the change we all seek in your community. The Ecological Design dimension of the course starts on 15nd January 2018 and there are a limited amount of places left for this year, so sign up now.

This series of excerpts from the Ecological Key, a collection of articles collated in the book ‘Designing Ecological Habitats- creating a sense of placeoffer background material to the curriculum of the Ecological Design dimension of both Gaia Education’s face-to-face EDE and our online GEDS programmes. This series highlights some classic articles from that compendium. Enjoy!

This article features in Designing Ecological Habitats, the second volume of Gaia Education’s ‘Four Keys to Sustainable Communities’ series (officially endorsed by UNESCO). The book is available for purchase here and on Gaia Education’s online shop:


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