Living Design Process

Report of Living Design Process Deep Dive in Whakatane, New Zealand, January 2018


After about a year of discussion and preparations, New Zealand’s first ever Living Design Process (LDP) gathering happened from January 17-21, 2018.

You could say it unfolded in six phases: lead up, site preparations, three days of intensive discussions, a one day introduction for a larger group, a day of closure and goodbyes, and then into site pack up. Here I’ll take each in turn, in the interests of creating some kind of enduring record of an unforgettable time.

The Lead up

As we put it on the event description page:

A diverse group of designers has been coalescing over the last several years, brought together by the shared goal of seeking the core fundamentals of good design process.

We’ve arrived into a new space, that we can now share, that reliably creates forms of intense beauty and function, apparently equally effective over a huge range of scales and contexts – from living–scapes to living-rooms; from menu-planning to life-choice-planning.

The collaboration has progressed to the point that it’s now time to open an intensive face-to-face space to really piece it all together. We are getting together over 4 days in January to workshop this material – and we’ve decided to open the final day up for a limited number of new participants.

Though it is slowly growing, this ‘diverse group of designers,’ at least in its New Zealand incarnation, for the last few years has been comprised of Dan Palmer, Louise Shaw, Peter West, James Andrews, David Hursthouse, and Courtney Brooke.

Within this group, Dan, Louise, Peter and James have been sitting with the possibility of some kind of event for well over a year. Initially a permaculture design certificate seemed like the path of least resistance but sitting with that, and as this domain we’re calling LDP started to reveal itself as a place we had all arrived at and wanted to explore more together, we realised we wanted to do something new.

Party of the energy came out of conversations we were having in the process of feeling into what the event wanted to be. Here is an example of a conversation between Dan, Pete and Louise that we recorded and put up as a podcast.

We gradually honed in on the idea of a four-day event where others were invited to come and learn about where we were up to and to get involved at this early, germinal stage. So we put it up as an offering and waited to see what the interest would be.

About five weeks before the event we sat two truths arose – one was that hardly anyone had signed up.1 Trish and Nandor had expressed how keen they were but as friends already inside this evolving conversation it was clear they better fitted into the facilitation team than with other participants new to it all. Four new people expressed interest, then two of them pulled out due to life circumstances. The other truth is that we were feeling a very strong urge to simply dive into the topic together without the pressure of a bunch of smiling faces expected a well-facilitated introductory. Sitting with these truths a new format emerged and after crash-testing it stuck: a three-day intensive deep-dive with Dan, Louise, Pete, Manda, Pip, James, Courtney, Courtney’s partner Zev, Trish, and Nandor.

Some of our Individual Intentions for the Event

Here is some of what was shared in advance of showing up


I’m looking forward to several days of expansive and relaxed time getting to know a little bunch of new friends as we simmer together inside a sauce of design innovation. I’ve been doing professional permaculture design for 10 years in North Carolina (U.S.), and I’ve reached a point where I want to up my game, in terms of my experience of inspiration in my design work, as well as a sense of impact in the world. I’ve identified several challenges/limiting factors in my own design work, and have some ideas about how to respond to them, including an interesting email conversation with Dan and Courtney and others about some dimensions of Living Design Process. So I imagine this gathering will give me a chance to dig deeply into my design practice via exposure to other folks’ various design practices, find new transformative insights which will help myself and others, and create something tangible to share with a larger audience, all while having a fun, sweet, connecting time and eating delicious storied foods.


I want to spend the weekend really connecting with this sweet brilliant net of minds around the various aspects of Living Design Process. My intention for these days together is to look at how Living Design applies not only to landscapes but also other types of systems, so that not only the process but also the product is living.  I want to help create a focused exploration of design practice and find the places to massage out the rigidity of the design process, those acu-points which affect the ability of the design to live. I also want to explore the pattern language of systems that accumulate organically over time, rather than through master planning.


I want to improve my understanding of what this so called living design process is and isn’t, be able to better communicate what it is to others. I also really want to move slowly and collaboratively through the foundational understandings in order to feel better about moving forward from a firm base. After this hui I’m hoping to fill out the about page on the ldp website! It would be amazing if I leave with:

  • A crash-tested and fleshed out provisional set of firm names around living design process
  • Advice on how to move forward with several of the experiments in LDP I’m part of
  • A better informed and explored understanding of what LDP is
  • Feeling empowered to be living this stuff more inside daily life
  • Deep excitement about being part of a wonderful network of collaborators exploring these realms together



Why am I coming?  Well, I am coming because the whanau is coming together to share, hear and distil truths.  An alchemical convergence where experience, careful thought and heartfelt expression are folded in together to become a conglomeration from which an elixir is distilled.  That elixir is the next step in the early life of this thing we call Living Design Process and a thousand dying lambs couldn’t keep me away.


I am coming because James said that I should and anything that Louise, Pete, Dan, Manda and James cook up is worth a look, I reckon. I am interested in learning more about Living Design Process so that we can use it to build our house and so that I can incorporate it into the ‘everyday’.

I had a busy year last year with work/study so this week for me is about enjoying living with you all, catching up, hanging out with kids in the sun and rain, and having some good conversations around Living Design process. Looking forward to seeing you all xx

Some Words Louise and I wrote down and wanted to Explore together


  • Context/form
  • Design stream
  • Emergent form
  • Fractal
  • Generative
  • Holon
  • Loose/fixed parts
  • Muchness
  • Necessity
  • Negative/positive forces
  • Opportunities
  • Chaos/Order
  • Pattern
  • Potential
  • Pre-mortem
  • Self-conscious / Un-self-conscious
  • Site repair
  • Tensions / Tension articulation / Unresolved tensions
  • Unfolding
  • Whole analysis

Louise and Pete had also observed this continuum including four possible relationships to what they call a livingscape:

  1. Not in livingscape
  2. In livingscape
  3. Participating in livingscape
  4. Meta cognition Fully active and aware of evolving process / Awareness of design stream


  • part-whole
  • organ-organise-organism
  • aspect / inspect / sidespect
  • order / chaos
  • presencing / listening
  • feeling
  • context / form
  • tension / force
  • resolve
  • situation
  • adaptedness / fit / belonging / longing to be
  • essence / uniqueness / distinctiveness / singularity
  • generating / generative
  • emerge / reveal / unfold
  • wholeness enhancing / destroying transformation
  • articulate / differentiate
  • “undivided wholeness in flowing movement” (David Bohm)
  • And, of course – life/living/alive !!

Site Preparations and Processes

The core setup team was Louise, Pete, Dan and Manda. Here is the site we selected – a freshly emerging forest planting at one end of Dan’s parent’s seven acres of fertile NZ river flat. Amongst the ten-year-old redwoods, gums, oaks, and much else, the event hub was to be in the clearing where you can see the two house busses on the right.


Here it is after some thinning, mowing, and house bus moving…


We of course did our best to embody living process in setting up the site. Here Sarah, Pete, Toby and Louise seek the best kitchen layout…

And here’s the view from the top story (discussion space by day, presentation cinema by night) of the 1964 Bedford house bus that served as the beating heart of the venue, tucked in amongst the gums (Eucalyptus regnans – the tallest flowering plant in the world):


We also cleaned up a beautiful shady circle amongst the redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens – the tallest non-flowering plant in the world) for discussion and presentation. Here’s looking from the redwoods to the bedford:


We built toilets, tables, kitchen benches. We ran water pipes and pruned trees. And from this busy time collaborating, a magic venue emerged from the fledging forest…


Three Days of Intensive Discussions

Individual Intentions

We started by sharing what we each wanted out of our time together:

Marc Aundre

  • Exploring indigenous design and where that meets contemporary design


  • Co-evolution with family landscape and ecology.
  • A continuing of a conversation with an enormous potential with the intention of (re)direction of our passionate energies.
  • Explore and condence our understandings into a form that can be shared easily with others.


  • A collective consciousness working effectively to create a cohesive, coherent language to express what we have all been exploring in LDP.


  • Exploring build vs grow concept to create living systems (hatching things from biocultural DNA)
  • Revive my design work passion that (creates/designs systems) has a life


  • How living design process interacts with our abilities to be landbased peopes that are organically growing an indigenosity where we don’t need to have a master plan and also don’t need one.
  • Tying my passions and explorations of living hearth.


  • Get feedback on my own LDP application at my place.


  • Cutting through the fluff –shaving off and weeding out fluff.
  • Knocking it around gently.


  • Exploring/clarifying in my own head what LDP is.
  • What the steps and frameworks are so I can really bring it to everyday life.


  • Soaking up/exploring how it connects to my intentions to apply it to multiply owned Maori land.


  • Learn more/explore the connectivities of this topic with those moments of feeling truly human and organically creating.


  • Hopefully being midwives for each others epic ideas.
  • Exploring what feels right.
  • Exploring our own potentials
  • Exploring the scope for globally impactive ideas that can affect positive change movement.
  • Retrace early steps –travel from then to now – a purification process for the thoughts and roots of LDP which is starting to take shape in the lives of many people.

Joint Intention

This sharing led into this joint intention we then co-crafted…

Some Outcomes We Desired

To come once in…


…and a few photos from this intense several days where eleven of us (Louise, Pete, Pip, James, Manda, Dan, Courtney, Zev, Trish, Marc-Andre, Nandor) dove into the space of living design process together:

Marc-Andre, Louise, James, Pete, Nandor, Courtney, Dan, Pip


Courtney, Zev, Toby, Louise, Nandor, Pip, Marc-Andre, Pete


Towards the end of the third day, before about 20 new people showed up, we had a design session locating where the important function of car parking (getting people out of their cars for a smooth and fitting entry) was addressed. It was a ideal example of living design in that after working on the intention and sitting with the existing option and its tensions, another option (people parking next door and walking in) emerged from tracing the context. After sort of flirting with the common tendency of to then enter a pro and con conversation, we walked the site again, where, having immersed sufficiently in the context, an unexpected third option came up which resolved all the forces at play. Within moments we were chainsawing and slashing and cleaning up the new car parking space, which went on to work beautifully.

Hanging out in the carparking area the next day and explaining the process by which it came to be


One team then broke of to set up the bbq area, dad happily putting his little blue tractor into service…


One Day Introduction for Larger Group

We were blessed to have our dear friend and elder Mike O’Donnell arrive on day three. Mike helped hold the space for the beautiful opening and closing of this part of the gathering.

Many others fed into this holding including Manda and Trish sprinkling water and smoking people in, and Marc-Andre singing a powerful indigenous song about the eagle and the hawk. With bales from Pete and Louise’s pastures the redwood circle was perfect.


After Zev led an intro exercise, Courtney opened the session by using two questions to lead people into exploring the difference between contemporary (Which Mike pointed out is generally both a con and temporary) design and the way in which the rest of nature creates stuff.


I then went through those two questions sharing my own take:


Used a magnet and filings to get across the context-form distinction…

Suppose we are to invent an arrangement of iron filings which is stable when placed in a certain position in a given magnetic field. Clearly we may treat this as a design problem. The iron filings constitute a form, the magnetic field a context. Again we may easily judge the fit of a form by placing it in the magnetic field, and watching to see if any of the filings move under its influence. If they do not, the form fits well (Christopher Alexander, Notes on the Synthesis of Form, 1964)

And then one of my favourite moments of day four was realising that this clip of a germinating oak tree was a perfect next thing and after several of us scurrying around getting the generator and projector etc set up, everyone standing outside the cabin, looking in the French doors, taking in this clip to a sound track of Mike playing the most beautiful music on his flutes.

We next explored one provisional attempt to try and consciously (and unconsciously) move back into a process reliably capable of generating life, wholeness and beauty.


After much open discussion we then moved onto the example of how the car parking got parked where it did, Louise explaining the example here:

Before we went and walked and felt the process for ourselves:

When the time came we said goodbye to four people (the rest all stayed the night) and headed down to the Whakatane river bordering the property for a dip-en-masse.


Day of Closure and Goodbyes

After a beautiful closing circle in the morning where everybody shared, and Mike gifted mum and dad a water vessel filled with the waters of Tarariki, it was time for photos, goodbyes, and letting the fire which Marc had dutifully kept burning for two day and nights, to die.



Back row: Trish, Brett & Rosie, Caroline, Zev, Dave, Sarah, James, Pip & Fin, Marc-Andre, Dan, Isaac, Emma, Sally, Zoe, Mike

Front Row: Ari, Louise, Pete, Courtney, Saphira, Keith, Susan, Mel, Tammy, Rowan, Maybel, Manda, Toby


Pete, Courtney, Louise

Brett, Toby, Marc-Andre, Pete, Courtney, Zev, Dan, Louise, Robin, Manda, Morley

Courtney, Dan, Zev

Nikka, Manda, Sarah, Dave, Toby, Robin, Marc-Andre, Pete, Brett, Louise

With my mum and dad, Susan and Keith


Site Pack Down

From this at the beginning of the event…

To this on Monday afternoon after about four hours of pack up (with the toilet and bbq all the stayed there for next time when the mighty bedford rolls back into position once again):


Yes, there will be more of these. Stay tuned for a larger event at the same time, in the same place, in January 2019.

Note re photos: Big thanks to Trish Waugh for sharing several of the below photos, the rest taken by me.


  1. as you might expect for an event on a new topic with almost no promotion, I suppose

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