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William McDonough

William McDonoughAKA William Andrew McDonough

Born: 20-Feb-1951
Birthplace: Tokyo, Japan

Gender: Male
Race or Ethnicity: White
Occupation: Architect

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Environmentalist Architect

William McDonough is an American architect best known for designing environmentally sustainable buildings, manufacturing processes, and materials. McDonough's designs are also noteworthy for markedly increasing productivity and energy efficiency, as well as employee health and satisfaction. McDonough is the author of The Hannover Principles: Design for Sustainability, which have become the guiding standards for sustainable design worldwide. His fame soared in 1999 when he was named one of Time magazine's "Heroes for the Planet". Along with German chemist Michael Braungart, McDonough authored Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things.

Born in Tokyo in 1951, McDonough spent most of his early years in Hong Kong, an eyewitness to rampant urban squalor, poverty, and disease. The discrepancy between human needs, city infrastructure, and natural resources was further underscored during a period of intense drought when families had access to water for only a few hours a day, once every fourth day. Meanwhile in the summer McDonough stayed with his grandparents out Washington state's Puget Sound. Living in a log cabin, nestled amidst natural splendor and abundance, his grandparents modeled a life of prudent reuse and recycling. Later, in his teen years, he moved to posh Westport, Connecticut, where he got his first real taste of the conspicuous consumer lifestyle, where people are what they own, own far more than they need, and produce an alarming amount of throwaway for the landfill.

These disparate influences sensitized McDonough to the need for a more sustainable relationship between people, the economy, and the natural environment. Thus it was that when he entered college, intent on a major in art, he fell in love with architecture. Architecture, he felt, "involved lots of people and expresses something important about human intention." Human intention set the tone for human action, and interaction, with regard to one another and the planet. In 1977, while still a student at Yale University, he designed Ireland's first solar-heated house, a significant feat given Ireland's notorious overcast climate and its need for cheap, renewable energy sources.

In 1985, McDonough was hired by the Environmental Defense Fund to build a new office. Warned that he would be sued if any of their staff developed health problems in response to his building materials, he attempted to investigate the materials himself, hoping to eliminate those with suspected toxins. Manufactures proved uncooperative however, claiming such information was "proprietary". This experience eventually led McDonough to co-found, along with German chemist Dr. Michael Braungart, MBDC or McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry, which works to help create materials that are non-toxic and ecologically sustainable. MBDC designed materials are free of carcinogens, mutagens and endocrine-disrupting chemicals.

Most of these materials, like many of McDonough's architectural creations, are what he calls "cradle to cradle" products. That is, after they are used they do not end up in the landfill, but can be used for some new purpose. Examples include carpeting that can be easily and economically reprocessed into new carpeting and a wool-and-cellulose upholstery textile that can be composted directly into garden mulch. In the case of buildings, McDonough designs so that structures could be put to more than one use. The famed such Gap Corporate Campus in northern California could be turned into housing or even retail shops once its present use has been outgrown.

But while environmental sustainability is a cornerstone of McDonough's philosophy, he places equal importance on economic feasibility and human interface. In a world in which environmentalists are frequently ridiculed by business leaders and working poor alike as idealistic tree-huggers, McDonough stands apart as a man able to deliver an eco-friendly product at a price that undercuts that of old school eco-destructive goods and materials. Architectural clients for example report tremendous satisfaction with his buildings in terms of cost, form, and function, but also gush about the savings in heating and lighting costs.

But McDonough's vision runs bigger still. The city, he says, is the ultimate human habitat, soon to be housing 80% of the world's population as well as playing host to all the highest aspects of human culture: music, dance, art, theater, as well as research, and education. McDonough envisions a future world in which the city is no longer an earth-fouling parasite, but rather a healthy organism operating in balanced symbiosis with the surrounding countryside. Filled with airy and attractive, yet energy-efficient structures that actually help clean the air and water around them, cities will import raw materials from the countryside and send back finished products, educated citizens, and non-toxic effluent and materials that fertilize and enrich the soil.

It is clearly a lofty dream. But McDonough's work thus far lends it a surprising degree of credence. According to PG&E, his design for GAP is the second most energy efficient building in the region. A line of fabrics he developed with MBDC is so free of toxic dyes and other standard culprits that the wastewater exiting the factory is actually cleaner than the water going in. And a number of his architectural designs, including his famed renovation of the Ford factory on Detroit's Rouge River, plants and trees are used to freshen the air, purify runoff water, and insulate buildings for greater heating and cooling efficiency. Meanwhile the furniture factory designed for Herman Miller increased the company's productivity to the tune of $3 million in just the first year.

Understandably McDonough's accomplishments, and his radical revisioning of the future, has garnered him a growing amount of attention. In 1991 the City of Hannover, Germany, asked him to draw up The Hannover Principles: Design for Sustainability to be presented at the 2000 World's Fair as well as at the 1992 U.N. Earth Summit. In 1996 U.S. president Bill Clinton awarded him the Presidential Award for Sustainable Development, and in 1999 Time magazine named him "Hero for the Planet". Other acknowledgements include the Hidden Villa Humanitarian Award (2001), the Presidential Green Chemistry Design Challenge Award (2003), and the National Design Award (2004). McDonough's awareness of the challenges and necessity of housing and providing for future populations, in a manner both economical and sustainable, has caught the attention of the Chinese government which has hired McDonough to help them develop housing for 400 million people -- a project McDonough likens to building all of the housing in the U.S. in just six years.

    University: Dartmouth College
    University: Yale University

    Gore 2000
    Healthy Child Healthy World Advisory Board

Author of books:
Cradle to Cradle (2002, nonfiction, with Michael Braungart)


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