16
Apr
08

AGS contributor William McDonough on Sustainable Design

Ford Plant

The May 2008 issue of Vanity Fair presents an extensive article about William McDonough FAIA, in which Matt Tyrnauer traces McDonough’s career path from prophet — not without honor, but regarded as a bit too much of a maverick — to founder of an intellectual cult. “I used to get called loopy,” McDonough admits to the interviewer, “but I was used to it.”

His evangelist’s flock comprises politicians, high-techies, and fat cats who lap up the fine points of his remarkable theory of ecological design-what he calls “Cradle to Cradle,” a repudiation of the Industrial Revolution’s linear, cradle-to-grave system of manufacture, consumption, and junk-heaping. Cradle to Cradle, in McDonough’s words, “does not just reduce waste, it eliminates the concept of waste,” stipulating that products be manufactured in new ways that will allow them to be reduced to their essential technical or biological elements in order to be re-used.

You’ve got your celebrity architects, and then you’ve got your visionary architects, your Buckminster Fuller-grade thinkers who will be remembered 200 years from now, if we’re still around, and that’s what McDonough wants us to be, and is doing his darnedest to make it so. Here he discusses his collaboration with a radical thinker from Germany’s Green movement, Michael Braungart, and their development of the “design chemistry” concept. He gives credit to his mentors, including Thomas Jefferson, and loves to relate the “Duh!” moments of his life, when the light bulb went on in his head about some aspect of the life cycles of beings and objects on earth.

When McDonough looks at the industrial revolution “as a retroactive design assignment,” the results ain’t pretty. This guy is so smart it’s scary. Tyrnauer calls him the “harbinger of a movement to redesign design itself.” He draws out McDonough’s thoughts on the industrial revolution, ecological responsibility, energy, and growth, which — yes — he’s in favor of.

McDonough is the most quotable public figure to hit the boards for a long time, and his ideas about automobiles, government regulation, and every other subject he touches are starkly original. When he talks about a green roof, for instance, he means literally green, as in, covered with plant life, like the Ford Motors plant pictured above.

Green roofs help to prevent water-runoff and pollution problems-water feeds plants, instead of running into sewers-as well as heating and cooling problems, since the roofs absorb solar heat. Picture a habitat for hundreds of species of plants and animals, instead of an overheated platform for an air-conditioning unit.

McDonough has been profiled and/or interviewed by, among others, Time, Fast Company, Metropolis, Wired, Forbes, BBC News, and the Washington Post. He wrote the Foreword for Architectural Graphic Standards, 11th Edition. He designs whole cities for China and advises NASA about moon and Mars colonies. Word has it he’s working with Google to conceptualize their new corporate headquarters.

Though he is the torch-bearer for sustainability, many of McDonough’s buildings don’t have LEED certification because (oh, the irony) they were built before LEED even existed.

SOURCE: “Industrial Revolution, Take Two” 04/07/08
photo courtesy of Rob Goodspeed , used under this Creative Commons license

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