Yestermorrow Design/Build School in Waitsfield, Vermont offers over 80 hands-on courses per year in design, construction, woodworking, and architectural craft and offers a variety of courses concentrating in sustainable design. Now in its 35th year, Yestermorrow is one of the only design/build schools in the country, teaching both design and construction skills. Our hands-on 1-day to 3-week workshops, certificate programs and semester programs are taught by top architects, builders, and craftspeople from across the country. For people of all ages and experience levels, from novice to professional.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Regenerative Design Certificate Redux by Jesce Walz

Yestermorrow's Regenerative Design Certificate program, led by Joel Glanzberg (, expanded my sense of possibility and hope. It drew connections between my interests in design, building, community, and process, it provided practical ideas for application, and offered examples of projects done by individuals with deep senses of integrity, justice, and harmony. The course honed my project plans by helping me to let go of some of the questions I arrived with, “How can a building be regenerative? How can my project be regenerative?” replacing these with understandings.

One of the most valuable of these understandings is that humans have a role in nature: we are naturally disturbers. The world is in need of healthy disturbance, and nature actually needs us to remember our role. Currently, we disturb in a destructive way. We can, however, learn from the past and disturb more symbiotically, with attentiveness to what needs to be burned, harvested, repaired, etc. If we cease to produce “for the sake of producing,” and begin to create what is essential, what is of lasting value, we will begin to heal many rifts.

Ultimately there isn’t a “regenerative building.” Rather, a building is regenerative if it is designed in relationship to its context and the values of its inhabitants, and in a way that allows it to evolve with changing needs. This kind of design makes a building essential to those who dwell in it. If it essential, it will be maintained, cared for, and will adapt beyond the lifespan of a “sustainably designed” building that is simply an idea projected into the world.

“Sustainability is a floor we can all stand on, not the ceiling that we are reaching towards.”

Tools and Frameworks:

There were several tools and frameworks we were given in class that I will carry with me indefinitely, and hope to continue building upon.  These frameworks were developed by Joel Glanzberg and his associates at Regenesis Group, specialists in living systems, place-baced planning, design, development, and education.

Nested Wholes:  
“Whenever I draw a circle, I immediately want to step out of it." -- Buckminster Fuller. 
In thinking about a project it is tempting to list, pie chart, and struggle to define an area of working. However, life is more dynamic and multi-dimensional than this, and nothing quite fits into these boxes. Often when working on a project, I get stuck trying to understand its scope. How much context does the project need to respond to? My vision for sustainability? The needs of the neighborhood? My watershed? Addressing systematic oppression? This was a good way for me to feel jumbled, discouraged, and lost. In reality, everything exists within nested wholes. Imagine an internal circle, another which surrounds this, and yet another surrounding this. There may be are several versions of these wholes for any given project, they remind us of the importance of context and perspective.

Used courtesy of Regenesis Group
Multiple Capitals and Stakeholders: There are many things of value within, and much that is affected by, any project. Businesses are beginning to address this through “B Corps” (benefit corporations) and people working towards the “triple bottom line” (People, Profit, Planet). The five capitals go beyond this. They include human, social, ecological, built, and financial capital. Each of these is also an instrument (each can be used to help make something happen), and there are stakeholders related to each capital (investors, staff, the watershed, land, co-workers, friends, suppliers). Each of the capitals can be leveraged to grow the others. A regenerative project includes all capitals and allows them to flow between one another.

Will, Being, & Function:
This relates to the “nested wholes” framework. We used the nested wholes of “will, being, and function” (or “why, how, what”) to write purpose statements and understand the deeper values behind our projects. The important part is that at the center of each project or purpose statement is the “will” -- what we really want to accomplish and why. What we really want to end up

Used courtesy of Regenesis Group
with is not just a “product” but a specific outcome with a specific effect. A particularly transformative aspect of this for me is the realization that “being” -- how we are to be -- is the bridge between “will” and “function.” I am often guilty of either coming up with lofty ideas that I don’t know how to manifest, or whipping out projects without the level of intentionality I’d hoped for. Who and how I am when working has a lot to do with the outcome.

The Task Cycle:
Task cycles allow us to lay out the process that will ultimately lead to the successful completion of a project or goal, whether it be making fire from sticks, organizing a party, or starting a business. A few of my “take-homes” from the task cycle include:

Used courtesy of Regenesis Group
  • The value of restraints: restraints are things that we come up against when trying to do a project. Restraints also exist in nature. The wolf’s hunting patterns are restraint to the deer; the deer’s grazing is a restraint to the mountain’s vegetation. Without restraints, everything would be out of balance. At times they are helpful. At times I am my own restraint. Rather than making value judgments, we need to value and understand both restraining and activating forces in order to do a project well.
  • The importance of reconciling rather than compromising: oftentimes there is a temptation to compromise, call it “good,” and move on! Yet compromising is usually win-lose, or even a lose-lose situation. The wolf and the deer do not “compromise” as predator and prey, they simply embody their roles and keep things in balance. To move towards regeneration we need to examine our context and restraints, forming a design that reconciles, harmonizes, and allows for evolution of life. 
  • Process-oriented design: It is tempting to design a product, gather what is needed to make it, and then make it. As mentioned above, in regenerative design, we begin with a purpose rather than a product, we consider the context/place, and then figure out what to make and how to make it.
Practically speaking, all of this empowers me to move from ideation into action when facing tasks that I normally might abandon. The task cycle provides a straighforward process for laying everything out on the table, understanding the real goal, addressing obstacles, and figuring out what’s needed to move forward. I went into this class expecting that it would be a little “woo-woo,” and came out of it seeing that everything we learned is quite concrete and essential. One way I’ve explained this to friends is that “these frameworks relate to everything from making cookies to deciding what to do with the next few years of my life.”

Personal Impact:

It is difficult to measure how this has honed my particular project (a sustainable renovation & community house in a rough urban setting). I began this class with a Holy fear of doing any project here at all. I’m sensitive to the importance of context and have seen some questionable examples of projects imposed on urban neighborhoods, so I hoped the class would teach me a “right” way to design. Instead it helped me to ask some important questions and reach some valuable conclusions.  As a result, at this point, I’m less attached to doing “my project” than I was when I initially arrived at Yestermorrow. This is because my time there has shown me a bigger picture and given me more perspective. There are land trusts, Living Buildings, urban farms, community development and education groups, co-housing experiments, and more. Everything is connected, and for years a whole field has been emerging that is beginning to manifest in every sector of society.  

During class, we examined “the difference that makes a difference.” This difference is the small thing we can change that will have the greatest effect on everything else. For me, this difference is continuing to trust and take one step at a time along the path as it unfolds. If I use the tools and hope I’ve received to work towards creating healthier wholes in any sector, space will be made to work towards justice and restoration.

1 comment:

  1. Hello Dan and Yesterfolk! Thank you for posting this. It's important to note that many of these teachings come from Joel Glanzberg ( who lead the course at Yestermorrow last November. Thank you to Joel, Bill Reed, Regenesis (, and others for these frameworks.