MSc in Integrative Ecosocial Design
Gaia University

Richard Kühnel

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Final Review

The following provides an overview of each project phase and its related output in a summarized form, including, if not covered somewhere else in this output, what has been learned.

Career Review

Writing the career review was quite incredible for me. I processed a lot that had been just below the surface. Deciding which time frame to choose and finding the story in all that has happened, almost reliving and re-experiencing many of the events, helped me to complete a period in my life that was quite difficult, interesting and demanding. Working as software developer and analyst in corporate US at the time of the Internet bubble turned out to be quite difficult because of the amount and timeframe of the project work. I learned during this time some important things about myself. One of the most fascinating realizations was that even though quitting was such a relieve, I felt responsible for the department I had managed even long after leaving and it took a while until I could let go. Just amazing - relieved to be out of it and not able to release the attachment to it! Parallel during this time period some major events happened. We bought a house in town, Berta had serious surgery with a long recovery and both her parents passed away within 3 years of each other. It was a difficult time for both of us.
Once I had left work things started to change as described earlier in the "History" section of the "Vision and Intention" page of this output.
The career review is the first time I looked at what I had learned in a 25-year professional career working as systems analyst and designer. It is also the first time I wrote so extensively and clearly about my dreams and what I want to do. Thinking about the whole process, I am looking forward to explore other time periods of my life in a similar way in the future.
During the survey phase of this program I also I attended a men's group for about 1 1/2 months, had personal coach for one month and worked on money issues, which included attending a seminar called "The Millionaire Mind Intensive". I realized that I will not be able to keep these commitments up for the duration of this project and discontinued them just before the end of 2006.



When working on the survey I felt such a freedom to just explore and include anything and everything that I could tie to the project I had chosen. Just discovering what I want to learn in so many different areas, including permaculture, design, sustainable living, and ecology was exciting. To dream about the potential our property has, all the things we can implement - just incredible. I always feel like I want to learn everything. I also see even with all these interests I never lose one core interest: To learn about myself, heart and spirit, and be a conscious, awake human being.
The survey also includes the first definition of the project, which was modified later, relevant property details for permaculture design purposes (see the "Property Description and Data" section on the Parameters page of the survey), goals and expectations for this project (see earlier in this output for details on the "Learning Plan " page), learning expectations, needs and wants and the beginnings of the project and budget planning.

It was for me incredibly hard for a few weeks to distinguish between the survey, and the analysis and design. I had to come to grips with the fact that I would not be able to research all the available information around this project that I wanted to use for the analysis and design phase. It was extremely difficult to distinguish between the survey and the project mind maps. I can't quite remember what resolved this. During this time I decided to create my outputs as a web site. I was struggling to understand the self-evaluation form. The hardest part was not to do the whole project in the survey and to distinguish between the phases. I think I have learned tremendously by following a design framework. I also think I could have used more time on the permaculture related research and information gathering. I did learn more about working with photos, bringing mind maps online, and started building the resource and bibliography sections.

Analysis & Design

Many aspects of this project have been researched and developed during this phase. The following is a list of some of the achievements that are especially noteworthy.

  • I consider the article "Design and Designing" as one of the highlights and significant outcomes of my work during this phase. I request that none of the article is used without my permission, until it is published in print. It brings together many years of thinking as a designer of large software systems (as a systems analyst) as well as planning events, large and small, that are informing my evolving understanding of ecosocial design, forming a basis for my future work. It also establishes a verifiable time of releasing a new word to the public domain, "ecosocionomic", which is a combination of "ecological, social and economic".
  • The description of how to create a project plan is one of my first attempts to put this type of design work into words in a step-by-step fashion. It occurred to me that over the years I acquired many technically oriented skills that are automatic and come easy to me, even with something completely new. As a matter of fact, it seems to be in my skill set to establish a framework, system, design methods of organizational structures or create a model for a particular purpose and situation ad hoc, as if out of thin air. If you ask me how I do this, I have to say I don't know. I usually feel that I am able to organize about anything. There seems also to be a close relationship in certain ways between organizing and designing. This is a start to un-cover underlying processes that make this possible.
  • It took me a while to find a way to use the web pages of my outputs I created on my site without any changes on my portfolio area on the GU Moodle site (GEL). I finally succeeded.
  • Even though not developed exclusively for this project, I programmed the script that performs the slide shows on my web pages. This is copyrighted by Gentle Harvest and myself and may not be used without my express permission.
  • I did improve my skills of web site design and development. Adding this additional layer of project work and making my outputs fully web based made output creation more time consuming, at least in the beginning. I think it was worthwhile. There are a few things I would do differently the next time, like increase the font size, avoid using tables, some of the basic layout, etc., yet I am quite satisfied how it turned out and the flexibility it allows once everything is set up.
  • Another main accomplishment in this phase is the design of the financial portion of this project. This includes the general strategy of funding and repaying the borrowed amount, strategies to raise additional money and to reduce costs.

The output for this phase was probably the most difficult one to produce. We had already started implementation and I had to finish this output at the same time. It also is the turning point in the design process from planning, thinking and researching to implementing. It was the most fascinating one to produce and also showed me areas I need to catch up with - making sketches, drawings and reading the landscape.

Implementation I & II

The following describes briefly the main elements and sub-projects that have been undertaken during the implementation phases. It includes reasoning of how they fit into the paradigm of sustainable living. Links are provided for the details, including the full text or the page regarding the element, photos and video clips where available. In general, these two phases were different from the others. It was the moment to put physically into place all that had resulted from planning, designing and thinking and left very little room for anything else. Every day consisted of a short planning session, getting everything organized and then working. It was physically quite demanding and also wonderful to see how things started evolving.

  • Neighborhood Meeting (Full Text | Slides)
    This is one element of the social design. It was fun to organize it and we had a lovely afternoon together. The intention was to get to know each other and introduce our neighbors to all the planned activity that would be happening during the next few months. In the future I would like to add a presentation or some other element besides talking and eating snacks. The meeting was held the day before we started with the implementation work.
  • Replacing Sewage Pipe (Full Article)
    Twice, we have had problems over the last years with a clogged sewage pipe. We were planning to replace the sidewalk and add a porch. We decided to first check the sewage pipe. Due to its poor condition we needed to replace the sewage pipe, which runs under the future perennial vegetable garden and the sidewalk.
  • Sidewalk (Full Text | Slides | Clip, 2.5 MB) and
    Driveway approach (Text | Slides | Clip, 1.01 MB)

    This involved a somewhat difficult decision. We knew that sooner or later the city would have required us to replace the sidewalk as it was in a bad condition. Even though the sidewalk is on city property, the adjoining property owner is responsible for it and liable for any accidents. We also found out that the alternatives (brick or rubber) the city would allow would be at least three times more costly. So we decided to go ahead and replace the old concrete sidewalk with a new concrete sidewalk and also use concrete for the driveway approach. We reused almost all of the old sidewalk concrete for a footpath, retaining wall and stepping-stones in the planting strip. The concrete is mixed at a plant about 1.5 miles from our home. So at least the transportation to our site added just a small fraction to the total embodied energy of concrete.
  • Extending Shed Roof (Full Text | Slides)
    Over the last few years the need for a protected outside area became apparent for a potting bench and to temporarily store some materials that need protection from rain, like cardboard. We reused lumber and metal roofing we had salvaged from an old shed that we took time some time ago as well as footers from the deck we had taken down previously.
  • Garden Area (Full Text | Slides)
    This was one of the first projects we tackled and it took a while and happened parallel to others. We ended up adding 8 more garden beds and also re-doing one in the previously existing garden area, creating a double keyhole bed. We increased the garden area by 100%. Increasing food production is one of the major mid term goals for many reasons: food quality, reducing the embodied energy of food, becoming more self-reliant, specially in times of supply interruptions, observing and learning from natural processes, creating additional habitat for plants and animals, joy, fresh air and physical activity and creating a small additional income stream for surplus. It also provides the opportunity to develop a combination of raised bed / Hugel culture, cold frame and hoop house. We will need to look into the watering system and adjust or change our current solution of using soaker hoses, as some beds are insufficiently watered, apparently because the water pressure is too low.
  • Path on West side of House (Text | Slides | Clip, 4.7 MB)
    This side is quite shady due to the closeness of the neighboring house and had started to overgrow. In order to create more storage space and have access from the back to the front of the house without needing to carry tools and materials over the deck we put in a footpath that reused broken up concrete, so called "urbanite", from the old sidewalk. At the same time we tried hard to ensure that water will drain away from the house to garden- and flowerbeds in the front yard by sloping it appropriately as well as starting with a 10-inch layer of gravel and a drain channel.
  • Planting strip (Text | Slides)
    The planting strip is also owned by the city, but still our responsibility. As we don't want to maintain lawn, we decided to eventually landscape it and grow mostly perennial flowers, some cut flowers for our own use, low bushes and forbs in an attractive way as a buffer between the road and the front yard and make it visually beautiful.
  • Parking space and footpath (Text | Slides)
    Our spot for parking the car and access to the house door have been dirt with gravel mixed in. It got really soft and muddy during the rainy seasons in spring and fall. As Berta has clients that are coming to the house, potentially using crutches or a wheel chair, we needed a wide enough, durable and resistant surface that left space for a parking area. We wanted to make it as permeable as possible and look beautiful. The design we chose, not quite completed, uses clay bricks as pavers for the footpath and gravel for the parking spot. We don't know yet how the gravel will work for parking, snow removal and cleaning it up.
  • Porch (Text | Slides)
    Originally we had planned to build an attached greenhouse. Due to building and city codes we are ending up with a porch. This porch will have an access from the outside as well as from our entry hall and will serve eventually to grow seedlings and food year round by using removable windows. Besides some concrete for the footing and the walls, we used green building materials as much as possible. The walls are Faswall blocks, the framing will be wood and the roofing glass. So far we avoided any toxic materials and any mineral oil products.
  • Deck
    Our deck was starting to become quite dangerous with nails sticking up 1/2 inch, some boards were broken on the edges, the support system sliding away and the decking sagging. We were thinking to replace it with a new, somewhat redesigned and more functional deck, including a porch on one part, additional storage space and planters. We removed most of the old deck except in front of the house entrance, either reusing the boards for the new raised beds, edging for the brick foot path, temporary framing purposes or storing them for later use. Now we are thinking to possibly not build a new deck but a patio, just above grade. This would save a lot of material and allow us much more freedom in the shape as well as give us more growing space. We covered the previously shaded surface with a layer of cardboard and added a thick layer of mulch that we got delivered for free from a landscape and tree service business that does a lot of wood chipping work. This is a temporary solution to prevent anything growing until we put the deck or patio in place.

The main thing I learned during the implementation phases was to prepare and communicate as well as possible in regards to the plans and tasks, otherwise it is easy to end up with something one does not want. In general the communication with everyone involved was going pretty well. Occasionally there were slight misunderstandings. Occasionally we had really inspiring conversations of how to live a sustainable life and what that even means.

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