Tuesday, December 28, 2010

William McDonough on Cradle to Cradle, the Importance of Delight and Celebration in Design

Andrew Michler of Inhabitat recently caught up with green architect and materials life-cycle guru William McDonough at Greenbuild 2010. My first exposure to McDonough came in the spring of 2009 when I read his acclaimed book, Cradle to Cradle, in one of my environmental studies courses. In the book, McDonough and chemist Michael Braungart advocate for a "transformation of human industry through ecologically intelligent design," or reimagining our current system of cradle-to-grave production into one where "waste equals food" and materials are upcycled to maintain their chemical integrity.

Michler and McDonough touch on many topics covered in Cradle to Cradle in the interview, and I've included some of the highlights below.

When asked about the difference between recycling (read downcycling) and upcycling, McDonough said that traditional recycling techniques not only take a tremendous amount of energy to operate but also degrade the material inputs into inferior accessory products. There can be tremendous value in keeping materials in their current form:
It’s like a Herman Miller chair that ends up in Mexico City fifteen years from now, if somebody throws it out the back and into the dumpster. Well, the scavengers will just come and grab it. It’s worth something. The reason it’s worth something is that’s steel, and that’s aluminum, and that’s polycarbonates, and that polyethylenes. It’s no longer a chair, it’s part of the materials intelligent pool. So the design is that aluminum can come off and go back to aluminum, the steel goes back to steel. They’re not monstrous hybrids that can’t be separated.
He also explained how these principles and the Cradle to Cradle product certification system he's developed are about more than solving environmental problems:
To me this is also a stewardship issue, but the great part is that it reaches beyond the construction site – it touches on health care, education and wanting to make buildings better.
Howard Williams, VP of Construction Specialties, agreed with McDonough and offered the following insight: "Ten years from now, this may still be GreenBuild because it’s going to be the original name, but no one is going to be talking about green. The reality is that it’s going to be either good design or bad design."

There are a lot of other interesting tidbits covered in the interview - including how McDonough has incorporated a butterfly sanctuary into a recent building design in Barcelona - that I don't cover in my synopsis above. McDonough is one of the most captivating environment thinkers of our time and recommends some pretty straightforward but radical changes to our current way of doing things, so click here if you're interested in learning more.

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