Orders and Dimensions in Permaculture

Permaculture Designers Manual




Section 4.17 –

Orders and Dimensions in Permaculture

It is in the order of branching (as in our river) that we can gain insight into the order of orders, and the functions of orders.

At each point of branching (or size and volume change) everything else changes, from pressures, flows, velocities and gaseous exchange, to the life forms that associate with the specific size of branches. This is how we make sense of the fish species in streams, and the bird species in a tree.

Each has its place in a set or order of branches, on the bark of stems or the leaf laminae of the tree.

This order, or size-function change, produces physical, social, and organic series. Not only species change with order, but so does behavior.

We cannot get a riot of one person, and fewer than 15 rarely clap to applaud as an audience. When we therefore come to construct hierarchies, the rules of order should guide us.

An array of orders is observed in a wide range of phenomena such as human settlement size, numbers in social hierarchies, trophic levels (food pyramids), and the size of animals in allied zoological families.

The size of the factor itself, times 3 for river branches, changes with the dimensions of the system, times 10 for trophic pyramids. Physical entitles from protons to universes display such order; with a consequent increase in the ratio, dimensions, and behaviors associated with size change (giant and dwarf stars behave very differently).

As designers, we need to study and apply branching patterns to roads or trails and to be aware of the stable orders of such things as human settlements or we may be in conflict both with orderly flow (can we increase the size of a highway and not alter all roads?), with settlement size (villages are conservative at about the 1000-people order, and unstable much below or above that number), with sequences of dam spillways and even with the numbers of people admitted to functional hierarchies where information is passed in both directions.

We can build appropriate or inappropriate systems by choosing particular orders, but we do better to study and apply appropriate and stable size and factor classes for specific constructs.

For example, in designing a village, we should study the orders of size of settlements, and choose one of these. This decides the number and types of services and the occupations needed, which in turn decides the space and types of shops and offices for a village of that size, and the access network needed.


In human systems, we have confused the order of hierarchical function with status and power, as though a tree stem were less important than the leaves in total.

We have made “higher” mean desirable, as though the fingers were less to be desired than the palm of the hand.

What we should recognize is that each part needs the other, and that none functions without the others.

When we remove a dominant animal from a behavioral hierarchy, another is created from lower orders.

When we remove subordinates, others are created from within the dominants. So it is with streams.

Thus, we can see how rivers change their whole regime if we alter one aspect.

We should also see that water is of the whole, not to be thought of in terms of its parts.

Thus we refute the concept of status and assert that of function. It is not what you are; it is what you do in relation to the society you choose to live in.

We need each other, and it is a reciprocal need wherever we have a function in relation to each other.

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