Somewhere in the hinterland between pop culture and architectural infamy is the McMansion phenomenon: crazy-quilt erections mashing up random styles and periods. You can imagine their prospective owners poring over the design catalog: “We’ll take Mission-style windows…and ooh, Corinthian columns…and I love this Spanish Revival door…and oh wow, a Juliet balcony…and look at these eyebrow gables!…what do you think about this turret?….and we’ve got to have a Victorian widow’s walk…and lots of gingerbread….”  Based on romanticized wish lists, the results are usually oversized, energy gobbling monstrosities with no underlying unity of form and function.

We see our clients going through something of that kid-in-the-candy-store overwhelm when they realize the features and functions they could include in their sustainable property. When all the possibilities are so exciting, how to identify which are truly necessary, not to mention bring them into an integrated whole?

So let’s go back to those grade 8 math problems. Except this time, imagine that the X represents the Who, What, When, Where, and How of transforming your property wish list into reality:

Solve for x:

1 + 1 + x = y

Can you solve this equation?

The answer is NO.

You can’t solve for x if you don’t know your y.

Said another way….

You can’t solve for x if you don’t know your WHY.

Designing and managing land is no different than trying to solve a math problem. If you have more than one variable it is impossible to solve the equation.


In all of our consulting work and in all the questions we ask our clients, this is by far the most important question and always the first question.

If a man knows not to which port he sails, no wind is favorable. ~Seneca

All of the who, what, when, where, and how are the elements, techniques, and tools of land design and management.

They are the details.

The means to an end, not the end itself.

If you have not defined that end, if you have not clarified your vision, values, and resources, how will you know which direction to take in starting your journey…

…or how will you even know whether the port you reach is the destination you want?

(Sounds rather like the error Christopher Columbus made, no?)


Step One of our land design process consists of 2 exercises inside the Adaptive Habitat Tool for Google Earth Pro that it will help you to figure out your “Y”:

  1. In the AH Tool toggle open the “Step One: Clarify” by clicking on the triangle icon to the left of the folder icon. Once this folder is expanded then toggle open the “Vision, Values, and Resources” Folder
  2. Click the folder icon beside the “Summary: Vision, Values, and Resources” folder to open. Read the summary explaining the purpose of clarifying your vision, values and resources and be sure to check out the associated principles.
  3. In the AH Tool open the “(Your Name)’s Resources” Folder and complete the exercise to create an inventory of your current resources based on Ethan Roland and Gregory Landua’s 8 Forms of Capital framework. To edit this (and any other folder in the AH Tool right click the folder and select “Get Info” for Apple computers or “Get Properties” for PC computers. This will allow you to add in your text directly to the exercise books for future reference!
  4. Next, open the “(Your Name)’s Vision and Values” folder and complete the exercises

Once you have identified your values, your current resources, and your ideal vision for those resources, it is easy to solve for the last variable.


Solve for x:

1 + 1 + x = y

(No possible solution)


Solve for x:

Know Values +

Known Resources –

Know Vision = x

(Where X = who, what, where, when & how)

Ironically, Step 1 of our process is about addition through subtraction.

Its purpose is to limit the bewildering number of design and management variables and possibilities to a select few options that match your values and resources, so that you can start making informed decisions instead of random shots in the dark.

Get started with the action items above and you’ll be well on your way to designing the property of your dreams. Watch out for our next email, which is about the diagnosis (it’s kinda like visiting the doctor!).



Rob & Takota

p.s If you missed our first email about the importance of process, you can get caught up here

p.p.s Nobody builds a resource-gobbling eyesore on purpose; it happens when desire runs amok, without process, context, or informed reality checks. If you want expert guidance along the way, check out the detailed curriculum for our Guaranteed & Guided Land Design option, and give us a call to learn more!


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