Saturday, February 13, 2010

William McDonough on Sustainability

When you hear the word "William McDonough", what comes to mind?  Well, first of all, he's a famous architect, educated at Yale University.  A biographical sketch of McDonough states:

McDonough is a world-renowned architect and designer and winner of three U.S. presidential awards: the Presidential Award for Sustainable Development (1996), the National Design Award (2004), and the Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Award (2003). Time magazine recognized him as a "Hero for the Planet" in 1999, stating that "his utopianism is grounded in a unified philosophy that—in demonstrable and practical ways—is changing the design of the world."


mcdon 901CherryOffices
901 Cherry Offices, Gap Corp, San Bruno CA

(All photographs used in this blog entry are from portfolio pages found on Mr. McDonough's web site HERE)

So, when my girlfriend asked me if I'd like to attend his lecture at the University of South Carolina one evening last Fall, I thought his lecture would be like some others I've attended -- a showcase of neat architectural designs. 


mcdon greenhouse

Greenhouse Factory, Holland MI

McDonough's ideas on sustainability go so much further than bricks and mortar! 

If you are interested in sustainability, you would do well to familiarize yourself with this man's ideas and proposals! 


mcdon rooftop farming

Rooftop farming, Guanxi Province, China

Fortunately, the University of South Carolina has left open a link to the streaming video of his lecture.  It is so-well-worth your time to watch this video! 

The link to view the one hour lecture is at the bottom of the following page:  CLICK HERE

McDonough presents a paradigm for sustainability that we should all bear in mind as we think about what it means to live in this world, how to work toward sustainability for all people.  This is about SO MUCH MORE than just design of living space! 


mcdon houseliketree
Design for house that functions like a tree uses sunlight to generate energy, cleans water, sequesters carbon, provides natural habitats, and produces oxygen and food

Yes, architecture is part of William McDonough's work, and part of his vision, and part of this lecture.  There are some neat slides.  But that's only the beginning of what he has to convey.   

This link is not a cheap flick showing pretty pictures of houses.  It is a one hour lecture about sustainability that will change your thoughts about sustainable Design.  That's Design with a capital D.  The big picture includes a tessalation (and I'll leave it to you to learn what that is all about): 

  • What is required for a design to be sustainable, in our living and working environment?  
  • How can design be ecologically, socially, and economically intelligent?  
  • What are criteria for a Cradle to cradle design protocol? 
  • How can we make designs sustainable for the long haul, not just for one or two generations but for thousands of years?  

Think about this for a moment.  What does it take for a design to be sustainable?  If you were to start from scratch, how would you redesign your world so that it were ecologically sustainable, socially sustainable, and economically sustainable? 

  • Social:  Sustainability means something that we enjoy.  If something gives us no gratification, if we get nothing rewarding from it, why would we want to do it? 
  • Economic:  Sustainability means that something must be economically viable.  If an idea or project has no economic viability, it's not going to sustain itself over a long period of time.
  • Ecological:  Sustainability means that something needs to be sustainable over a period of thousands of years.  At the moment, our society is frittering away resources in ways that will make those resources unavailable to our children's grandchildren.  What can we do differently to fix that? 

These are just a few ideas meant to entice you to consider devoting an hour to watching this lecture. 

mcdon bernheim

Visitor Center, Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest

The actual architectural designs you will see in this lecture are, indeed, interesting and beautiful.  But it's the underlying theory that's critically important. 

McDonough's vision is creative, cutting edge and represents a new paradigm for thinking about design of our environment as well as what is important to society about design.  Namely, our society needs to change its mindset from being a throwaway-use-em-up culture to being a culture built around wise utilization of resources and sustainability.  To be sustainable, the design must be beautiful.  To be sustainable, the design must be economically viable.  To be sustainable, the design must be environmentally sustainable. 

One of my personal favorite lines from this lecture, is McDonough's assertion (rejecting the throwaway culture) that he disapproves of the use of the term "consumers" when referring to people.  People have value as people.  It warps our imagination and our consciousness to view people as merely "consumers" of throwaway products. 

Another thought:  When you throw something away, WHERE DOES IT GO? 

Just keep thinking, the ideas are provocative!  I hope you will watch it! 

In this lecture, you will find hundreds of ideas that just make sense.  McDonough's creative genius is that he puts common sense themes together into a comprehensive vision.  Perhaps our policy makers may not get all the way there, perhaps society won't 100% adopt his vision.   But even if we get halfway there, we'll be a lot better off than we are right now, a lot more sustainable than this present policy direction we are moving in.  

The link to view the one hour lecture is at the

bottom of the following page:




Yes, one hour is a long time in our sound bite society.  I urge you to take the time; it's well worth the investment. 

I hope very much that the University of South Carolina will leave this streaming lecture online for a very long time. 

Additionally, HERE is a link to his TED talk.  I am not embedding the video because I personally prefer the U of SC lecture.  The U of SC lecture gives more detail about the design process and goals. 

To learn more, you can also read McDonough's book, Cradle to Cradle

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