Invisible Structures in Permaculture

What are invisible structures and why are they such an essential part of your sustainable homestead and/or community project?

We’ve touched on this topic several times throughout our course; today we will revisit some ideas and add a layer of information.

Economic, Social/Political, Legal…

These are sectors, they are boundaries, and they are opportunities. In our courses, we include a heavy emphasis on personal and emotional structures. This week’s class will be a revisitation of some of the parts of this we have already touched upon, and an invitation to deepen and expand your evolving design project to include a generous helping of invisible structure design.

Invisible Structures, revisited

Every single step, layer, and detail of your design is connected to an invisible structure.

Remember the Spiral Design Wheel, from way back in week 14, when we learned about Cyclic Opportunity?

Look at it here again, and think through how each cycle, principle and step on the design process has invisible structures that should be considered. 

Do some brainstorming and mind-mapping about this before moving on.

design wheel with cycles 26

Classes we have had so far that connect directly back to invisible structures.

What sets permaculture apart from other approaches like agroecology, biodynamics, and organic farming is that, while all of the above emphasize an ecological ethics when it comes to WHAT happens on a site, permaculture is the only one that recognizes the massive value and impact of also being hyper-selective about WHERE you put it. This network of careful decisions IS the invisible structure that makes the whole system work. ​

Yes, everything is connected, but by way of review, here are some quick links to the parts of our yearlong journey that have gone into more detail specifically about politics, ethics, and economics. Because we are an International course, we haven’t studied anything about legal structures–you’ll have to do that on your own, in your own region.

Meanwhile, take a moment to revisit these classes:

Week 2, about Whole-Systems Design and Week 3, about Ethics/Access to Land are very much about invisible structures. After you’ve had a chance to explore the resources in today’s class, revisit these early classes and see if you perceive them differently than you did at first.

Week 31 focused on this alternative economics, which is a big piece of the “invisible” sturcture. We also have an excellent article on this topic by PWG faculty member Aline van Moerbeke, here, and another great article by faculty member Lucie Bardos, here.

saving seeds workshop in Montana


  • Review all of your notes and observations, and search for evidence of invisible structures. What did you miss? What needs to shift about your goals, plans, and boundaries?
  • Make a map layer of your design that is all about documenting the connections between the varied organisms and mechanisms on your site. How does placement change those connections? What needs to move?

Relevant Links and Resources​

This topic is so much about just being with yourself and tuning into new ways of seeing things, but here are just a couple more resources:

This article, from the Garden at the End of the World blog, gives a lovely overview of the Permaculture Invisible Structures concept.

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