Minimal Footwear's Role in Landscape Design

Kieran Smith
‘Tread lightly upon this earth, seeing, understanding but never imposing.’

Todays guest post is by Kieran, a landscape architect and travel blogger at SIM Tourist.

As a landscape architect, a lot of my work is ultimately about re-connecting people with nature; ‘rewilding’ through environmental design. I was inspired to write this post by noticing how my minimalist earth runners sandals have helped open my senses, and how this sensory experience helps initiate an awareness of and resonance with natural systems; as is embodied by the philosophy of permaculture.

Permaculture is difficult define concisely, but is a broad and inclusive philosophy that entails sensitivity to the land. It aims to align human activity with natural systems, and consists of agricultural and social design principles that are centred around the patterns and features observed in natural ecosystems. Naturally, the outcome is sustainable, and does not deplete the resources of future generations. The principles of permaculture are not restricted to the garden, nor are they restricted to the environment at large, but permeate all aspects of life.

In landscape design, the site survey forms a crucial part of the design process. If you believe in a genuis loci’, or ‘protective spirit’ of a place, then the site survey is what allows you to unveil this and understand its unique identity as something that should be the ultimate informant of whatever you choose to do with it. However, this identity is often elusive. 

One of the first core principles of permaculture is observing and interacting. It is subtle, a slowing down of the mind and an attuning to the senses. Permaculture relies on an understanding of your site and local conditions. It relies on connection, to place, to sensation, to spirit: An attentiveness to environment.

What better way to facilitate this connection than through the wearing of minimalist sandals. Footwear that allows the patterns of sun and wind to reveal themselves in sensations on your skin. Nature is subtle and detailed. It reveals themselves to those who listen, and wearing sandals brings a tactile awareness of  these natural systems, promoting a conscious connection with the living breathing natural community beneath your feet.

Startling parallels can be drawn between the adoption of a sole, and the literal and figurative disconnection from the earth that follows. Connection leads ultimately to a richer understanding of and natural alignment with natural systems, and disconnection to  alienation and ultimately ecological disaster.

Once a site survey has revealed a ‘genius loci’, then this identity can be built upon through placemaking, where local assets and unique features can be capitalised on to express this identity.  Here the sensitivity and keen perception that went into the site survey is rewarded through the revelation of identity, which in turn provides much valued inspiration.

Along with identity, natural processes are key to permaculture and successful landscape design. To work with the shifting patterns of temperature, rainfall, pest populations and the multiple forces of nature is an important skill. The goal being to try and work with these processes rather than try to control them. What on a smaller scale fosters awareness and tactile sensation, on a larger scale promotes an understanding of larger systems at play in the landscape. This work was epitomised by landscape architect Ian McHarg, who was one of the pioneers in bringing environmental concerns to landscape design. This was achieved by working with natural features, and recognising natural ‘ecological value’ in the landscape, as detailed in the seminal book ‘Design with Nature’.

The message of the book is clear; working with natural systems is ultimately the only sustainable solution, and anything that promotes connection to the earth can help address not only individual balance but also ecological crisis.

Author: Kieran SmithSIM Tourist