Saturday, August 16, 2008

William McDonough: The wisdom of designing Cradle to Cradle

Architect William McDonough believes that green design can prevent environmental disaster -- while also driving economic growth. He champions “cradle to cradle” design that considers the full life cycle of a product, from its creation with sustainable materials to a recycled afterlife.

Architect William McDonough practices green architecture on a massive scale. In a 20-year project, he is redesigning Ford's city-sized River Rouge truck plant and turning it into the Rust Belt's eco-poster child, with the world's largest "living roof" for reclaiming storm runoff. He has created buildings that produce more energy and clean water than they use. Oh, and he's designing seven entirely new and entirely green cities in China.

Bottom-line economic benefits are another specialty of McDonough's practice. A tireless proponent of the idea that absolute sustainability and economic success can go hand-in-hand, he’s designed buildings for the Gap, Nike and Frito-Lay that have lowered corporate utility bills by capturing daylight for lighting, using natural ventilation instead of AC, and heating with solar or geothermal energy. They're also simply nicer places to work, surrounded by natural landscaping that gives back to the biosphere.

In 2002 he co-wrote Cradle to Cradle, which proposes that designers think as much about what happens at the end of a product’s life cycle as they do about its beginning. (The book itself is printed on recyclable plastic.) From this, he is developing the Cradle to Cradle community, where like-minded designers and businesspeople can grow the idea. He has been awarded three times by the US governemt, and Time magazine called him a Hero of the Planet in 1999.

"His utopianism is grounded in a unified philosophy that -- in demonstrable and practical ways -- is changing the design of the world."

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