Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Wonderful People Doing Fabulous Things - William McDonough

“I believe we can accomplish great and profitable things within a new conceptual framework—one that values our legacy, honors diversity, and feeds ecosystems and societies . . . It is time for designs that are creative, abundant, prosperous, and intelligent from the start.” William McDonough, Architect.

There are a lot of ugly buildings out there. Who in the world designed them? Why would anybody want to build an eye sore or energy sucker? Are not human beings more healthy and productive in attractive surroundings?

During the 1950s to 1970s, this ugly movement was called Brutalist – meaning it was actually considered artistic. What in God’s name were they on?

Thank heavens for people like William McDonough, one of many architects the planet needs right now. McDonough believes that design and architecture must take their inspiration from natural processes.

McDonough’s work caught my attention when I read about him in Utne Magazine’s October 2005 issue. According to the short blurb, McDonough is helping the Chinese government design seven new cities from scratch. The Chinese government is planning to build housing for 400 million people in the next 12 years.

To compensation for farmland lost to urbanization, McDonough says: “we’ll move farms onto rooftops.…The farmers can live downstairs. And when you look at the city from a distance, it will look like part of the landscape.”

In their new book Cradle to Cradle, McDonough and his business partner Michael Braungart, who is a German chemist, argue that a new Industrial Revolution is underway, one that is moving away from “opportunistic design.” According to them, the new revolution is based on knowledge of natural systems such as nutrient cycling and solar energy – nothing goes to waste. The book itself is completely paperless – made from recycled synthetic materials. As an example, the Gap’s new headquarters in California, designed by McDonough, boasts a roof that grows native grasses, attracting birds and insects.

McDonough, along with Braungart, also work with Ford and Nike. Their design celebrates diversity, creativity, sunlight and fresh air.

Not only environmentally sound, McDonough's design save money. Herman Miller's furniture factory increased that company's productivity 1 percent ($3 million) in the first year, garnering Business Week's prize for the best and most productive building in America for business.

McDonough has won countless awards, including President Clinton’s Presidential Award for Sustainable Development (the President's Council on Sustainable Development was quietly abolished by George W. Bush).

In 1991, the city of Hanover, Germany asked McDonough to write out the general principles of sustainability for the 2000 World's Fair. These "Hanover Principles" have since become a mainstay of the sustainable design movement.

1. Insist on the right of humanity and nature to co-exist in a healthy, supportive, diverse and sustainable condition.

2. Recognize interdependence. The elements of human design interact with and depend upon the natural world, with broad and diverse implications at every scale. Expand design considerations to recognizing even distant effects.

3. Respect relationships between spirit and matter. Consider all aspects of human settlement including community, dwelling, industry and trade in terms of existing and evolving connections between spiritual and material consciousness.

4. Accept responsibility for the consequences of design decisions upon human well-being, the viability of natural systems, and their right to co-exist.

5. Create safe objects of long-term value. Do not burden future generations with requirements for maintenance of vigilant administration of potential danger due to the careless creation of products, processes or standards.

6. Eliminate the concept of waste. Evaluate and optimize the full life-cycle of products and processes, to approach the state of natural systems, in which there is no waste.

7. Rely on natural energy flows. Human designs should, like the living world, derive their creative force from perpetual solar income. Incorporate the energy efficiently and safely for responsible use.
8. Understand the limitations of design. No human creation lasts forever and design does not solve all problems. Those who create and plan should practice humility in the face of nature. Treat nature as a model and mentor, not an inconvenience to be evaded or controlled.

9. Seek constant improvement by the sharing of knowledge. Encourage direct and open communication between colleagues, patrons, manufacturers and users to link long term sustainable consideration with ethical responsibility, and re-establish the integral relationship between natural processes and human activity.

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