Di-Functional Modelling

Gaia in the Garden (2004)

This project began life as Gaia in the Garden, a chapter in a book with the working title ‘The Anarchists Garden’ (how to grow food fuel and raw materials in a post petroleum age).

Within that chapter a framework to structure data for building sustainable agronomic projects was created. The range of applications, climates and scales one could encounter meant the framework needed to be highly plastic. The array of possibilities was as vast as one could imagine and all situations needed to be accounted for. One thing however drew everything together, the soil.

From an agronomic perspective everything is dependent on the soil and it’s ability to function; one must farm with the soil in mind. Thus the starting point for my framework was the concept of Soil Quality how to measure and improve it.

Soil quality is though not an easy concept to define. Very much the consequence of the interactions between the physical, chemical and biological components it emerges out of its slumber as those interactions occur. It is as transient as it is dynamic and flourishes when there is nothing to stop it. More a reflection of the state of the system than the sum of the properties Soil Quality has long proved difficult to measure.

Building on from undergraduate studies (soil quality, soil strategies) I developed the 3-4-5 Nutrient Model; a system that organizes the principle nutrients according to the environmental mechanisms (clay mineralogy and organic matter cycles) that control and maintain their supply. These mechanism were similarly reflected in the metabolic functions the minerals had within the plants that require them. They were, to the Anarchist, the raw materials of life (the chemical component)

The physical component of the soil; the solids (soil particles), liquid (water) and gases (air) were, in this functional model responsible for the liberation, maintenance and transport of the ‘raw materials’. Transport to the primary produces (plants), the consumers (animals) and the decomposers (bacteria and fungi); the biological component. Whilst a simple model it lay the foundation for modelling the global processes at the local scale:

Gaia in the Garden 

DFM planet earth

Progressing beyond the simple model above to the point where the current and future state of a system can be quantified requires large amounts of Data from taxonomic and research databases. To be useful this data needs to be related to the local resources (soil, nutrient status, hydrology) and the pressures other crop and livestock choices generate, as well as those from the wider community (natural and anthropogenic) that share those resources.


Whilst taxonomic data is essential to construct the model it was not conceived with this purpose in mind (Systema Naturae) and does not have the plasticity needed for functional organisation (Functional Ecology). It serves only as an initial reference point to which the morphology, physiology and  habitat characteristics of the taxon can be linked and structured so that those characteristics can be matched with site specific conditions.

single dfm01a

Drawing from the older taxonomic structures DFM re-structures the data to reflect the specific dynamics of the system under consideration.

These new systems could themselves be linked so that eventually the old taxonomic structures are surpassed by their dynamic and functional offspring.



next : Building a DFM


Free Cultural Works (CC-BY-NC-SA) Malcolm McEwen 2011


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