It is a pioneering company on the national stage that combines the principles of permaculture with the different areas of conventional engineering. Terracrua Design is situated at an intermediate point between the two, with the aim of creating or co-creating new forms of dealing with the land and the landscape.
That’s the work it has been doing in various projects, public and private, as well as in training and
education, where its role has been to do things in a different way. In total, the company has nine permanent staff, a group of agents for change in education and the environmental aspect, in
the rural and urban environments and in school teaching.

Terracrua Design is a different kind of company that works on the basis of an innovative model of ecological design. Terracrua Design brings together engineering and architecture, landscaping and ecology and the principles of permaculture. A new concept of design that combines principles and strategies that go beyond sustainability and includes innovation, economic viability and social and
environmental responsibility in a holistic model. Established as a company around two and a half years ago, Terracrua Design provides a range of services, consultancy, planning and management of regenerative ecological projects, but its foundations were laid some nine years ago. “We started in 2009 as an informal group originally set up with a training component,” says Nuno Mamede, one of the company’s founders, at the same time as he explains the reasons behind the name Terra Crua (literally “raw earth”). “It was the name we gave to our informal collective because we essentially carried out natural construction and 90% was delivered in the form of workshops, sometimes to help small owners with few resources to establish specific elements, small houses, support buildings for agriculture or appropriate technology.”
At the age of 38, Nuno Mamede has a considerable career behind him in different fields. His interest in different social forms started when he was an adolescent, and, after living in various places and analysing various communities in Portugal and Spain, he started to devote himself to organic farming.

At present, he is one of the most prominent trainers in the field of permaculture in the country. In recent years, he has devoted himself to the study of topography, landscape and ecological systems. “At the beginning, we held workshops throughout the country with the intention that each of our programmes
would leave something lasting that would benefit the local people. As time passed, we realised both the importance of the environment and of bringing together the different elements in the best way, elements that fulfil different functions,”
he explains, at the same time as he mentions the three people who have inspired him during his career: “Lesley Martin, with whom I completed the course of design in Permaculture, and Rosemary Morrow and Jillian Hovey, with whom I attended training courses, and who are all major reference points for me.” Nuno Mamede works today as a consultant, designer and manager of regenerative ecological projects in a company that comprises nine people, divided between the office and the outside world, together with an external team of consultants and other external staff, depending on the project.
“We have a permanent team of nine members of staff, including people trained in different areas, such as landscape architecture, feng shui, biodynamics, civil engineering, bioconstruction, permaculture, permaculture design and environmental education. I believe that working in an association is important; I am continuing to work and be a member of several associations, but two and a half years ago we changed from being an informal collective to a company. It was necessary to streamline processes, to make it easier to undertake work and to have a legal entity to carry out our function and essentially
to put permaculture on the job market,”
he says, adding that he hopes that people will appear
who are interested in doing similar work. “We feel a little bit alone, but I know that the will
is there for more ecological design teams to come into being, and that is something that would be
very positive for everyone,”
he stresses.

From permaculture to ecological design But, in the end, what is the difference between permaculture and permaculture design, also known as ecological design? “In essence, permaculture is a kind of idea or philosophy, rather conceptual, concerning three ethical principles: caring for the land, caring for people, and sharing resources, with the aim of them all working across the different sectors of human activity. However, the majority of people who work in permaculture are more focused on family and individual
he clarifies, and then presents the differences in the concept of ecological design. “It is about introducing a method, a design methodology and a planning system that can be applied and replicated in any area of human activity, to forests, roads, to rural or urban environments.

“What we are doing is something new. We are trying to bring engineering together with architecture, with landscaping, and always based on the three pillars that are our ethical principles. As a company, we opted to construct a model that doesn’t make people hostage to a consultant. We are not interested in having projects that last forever. Our aim, when we do a project, is for the client to able to continue implementing it, needing us as little as possible, because, if a person is dependent, it’s because permaculture design is not being implemented and the information is not being passed on well,” he emphasises.

Since it was established in 2015, Terracrua Design has worked in different fields, ranging from projects
in urban areas to rural sites, to the creation of dams, properties for rural tourism or family-run guest houses, agricultural production facilities, riverside regeneration, creation of orchards, and many others. “The aim is to design systems based on a concept of regeneration that are so good, so productive, so abundant and so diverse that people have more time for themselves and their families, that enable them to be involved in other activities apart from work and have an improved quality of life. My personal aim is to implement appealing projects from an ecological point of view, that are based on principles of sustainability and ecological regeneration, but that are appealing for people who are more involved in industry, in agricultural production, or in the primary sectors, and are starting to accept these ideas more, not so much from a perspective that is excessively alternative, remote or idyllic, but that is viable in the present and attractive in terms of a financial investment.”

This new concept of a company and its activity, which combines the ecological side, and respect for and regeneration of nature, with the perspective of industry and production, places the company between two worlds which, until now, have been characterised more by their separateness than by their proximity. “Our positioning is precisely in the middle ground, bringing the best there is from the world of permaculture together with the necessities of day-to-day life. Our focus is not on trying to change the world all at once, but trying to change each sector with our ideas,” the director says.

More environmental school education

The work done by the Terracrua Design team goes way beyond just working on the ground, and also includes direct contact with society. Training processes targeting the public were the company’s starting point and they are still one of its main concerns, with projects that range from children and state schools to adults. “At the moment, we are also introducing permaculture into courses at the Institute of
Employment and Professional Training (IEFP). It is a process that is already under way,”
Nuno Mamede announces. Apart from this work targeting adults, the team he leads has carried out various programmes of environmental education in schools in recent years, through vegetable plots using permaculture, recycling of kitchen waste and feeding a vegetable plot with certain waste products and closing a cycle. “The problem is that these projects are annual. The work starts in September and, when the plot starts to show what it can do, the school year ends and the plot normally dries up during the summer. It might be better to develop mixed orchards in each school, combining the aesthetic side with the fruit production side, and even be able to supply the canteen. It would enable all the children in the first year, at least once a week and for around an hour, to be involved in outdoor activities together with the teachers: watering, pruning or planting something. It would be something that the children would see growing during the next four years at school and this would help them to understand that things take time to flourish. As well as providing seasonal fruit, organic fruit, without it coming from monocultures or from using pesticides.” In the opinion of the director of Terracrua Design, one beneficial change would be the re-planning of the outdoor areas at schools.

“We see schools that are sometimes exposed to the sun in the summer, or with their northern side completely unprotected from the wind, and that’s what we do, adapting the things we produce to the needs of the space, offering protection from the wind, protection against erosion, safeguarding them
from high temperatures… It could be quite easy to redesign the schools without spending a lot of money. Apart from which, in schools, we are often dependent on buses to move the children from one place to another and this all costs money, which could be spent on more local, permanent projects,”
he says.

The importance of urban composting

“Sustainable is keeping the boat on the surface purely to avoid sinking to the bottom; regenerative is steering the boat in a particular direction. We use the concept sustainable for people to understand what we do but the search for sustainability would have been something for the 1980s. Now there’s no time to conserve what there is, because there is starting to be very little to conserve.” Nuno Mamede says these words with a mixed expression on his face, of acceptance and the need for change. That is why the importance of working in urban environments has become clearer and clearer for the Terracrua Design team. “We work more with the rural environment, but we are particularly interested in the urban environment, and, apart from education, composting is perhaps the main topic. It’s a simple way of leveraging an ecological initiative that enables one or two jobs to be created in any city.” It was in this area that Terracrua Design set up a partnership in a joint project with Loulé Municipal Council.
“People showed an interest, and, on a small scale in the city, with 20 people, we managed to create
half a cubic metre of composted material per month. It may be something symbolic, but we closed a cycle with our waste: reducing pollution, creating soil, and, in this soil, creating food. We use this as a tool for education and people have reacted very well,”
he says, following up on the topic presented. “Based on studies that have been done, some 32,000 tonnes of solid urban waste are produced in Loulé every year
and around 50% to 60% of this rubbish goes to landfill, which could be put to good use if it was composted. In some parts of the Algarve, we have plans under way for urban composting in the city and for using this compost in public gardens or on social vegetable plots that exist almost everywhere. There are several examples of success in other parts of the world where the municipalities often don’t even have to finance this work because there are state and EU funds for purchasing an electric vehicle to collect this material and for creating jobs. It’s just a matter of bringing it all together,”
he stresses, concluding by alerting people to the importance of ecological design at the present time. “The moment has come when we must design ecologically, there’s no other way, and that awareness exists at a global level. Something has to be done. The problem is that we don’t know exactly what to do, and we are all very fragmented. An architect only designs houses and often does not have much contact with what’s being implemented on the ground; a biologist only sees things through a microscope and maybe the response should be to combine all this knowledge with practical experience and start to design and adapt systems before it’s too late.”

Loulé | Alexandre Moura | Traduções: Bill Reed & Kersten Funck-Knupfer | Fotografias: Alexandre Moura