Monday, June 7, 2010

Architect William McDonough - Innovation Through Design Leadership

William McDonough + Partners is an architecture, community design and consulting firm that executes a diverse array of projects from our studios in Charlottesville, Virginia; San Francisco; and Amsterdam. Their office consists of architects, planners, and leaders in sustainable design; where all of their work integrates eco-effective design strategies rooted in Cradle to Cradle thinking. They practice a positive, principled design approach that draws inspiration from living systems and processes. The firm's founding partner, McDonough, has had a leading role in defining the American sustainable design movement. The firm has created pioneering architecture and community designs that consider the long-term consequences of design; many of these are landmarks in the movement, such as the Bay Area offices for Gap Inc., the Adam Joseph Lewis Center at Oberlin College, and the Ford Rouge Center. Their solutions to architecture, planning, and community design problems range across scales from the molecule to the region as they examine the economic, ecological, and social implications of design. In every project, they seek to expand on enduring standards of design quality.

Throughout the practice, the firm has designed unique single-family dwellings for families as well as a host of other moderate-scale building types. It is a hallmark of the practice that they continue to work at all scales and on a wide range of building types—the cross-pollination of eco-effective design intelligence across scales and types is invaluable.
By integrating design quality and systems thinking, their services are customized to the specific needs oftheir clients—from building and community designs to project frameworks—all embodying the Cradle to Cradle philosophy.They engage in diverse designs across a wide range of scales, types and locations. However, all the work shares a common purpose: to create places where people and nature can thrive together. The firm is one that is a collaborative, principles-driven design firm.  They see the unique characteristics of each place and project as a source of inspiration and innovation. The foundational principles that they bring to each project derive from their vision of the future: a delightfully diverse, safe, healthy and just world—with clean air, soil, water and power—economically, equitably, ecologically, and elegantly enjoyed. 

As designers, they promote a positive vision of the future, based upon the belief that many of the environmental problems we face are, at root, design challenges.
Their work is grounded in the Cradle to Cradle philosophy developed by founder McDonough and German chemist Michael Braungart in their 2002 book, Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things. Cradle to Cradle encourages us to step back from the routines of daily problem-solving and rethink the frame conditions that shape our designs. Rather than seeking to minimize the harm we inflict, Cradle to Cradle reframes design as a beneficial, regenerative force—one that seeks to create ecological footprints to delight in, not lament. It expands the definition of design quality to include positive effects on economic, ecological and social health in addition to the traditional architectural standards of commodity, firmness and delight.

Cradle to Cradle rejects the idea that growth is detrimental to environmental health;
 after all, in nature, growth is good. Instead, it promotes the idea that good design supports a rich human experience with all that entails—fun, beauty, enjoyment,
 inspiration and poetry—and still encourages environmental health and abundance.

As with all Cradle to Cradle designs, our work is inspired by natural systems and seeks to embody four principles derived from nature:

• Waste equals food. In nature there is no such thing as “‘waste”’—the waste of one system becomes food for another. The elegant functioning of natural systems can serve as a model for the design of buildings and communities that eliminate the concept of waste. Materials can be designed to be safely returned to the soil (biological nutrients), or re-utilized as high-quality materials for new products (technical nutrients).

• Use current solar income. Living things thrive on the energy of the sun. Buildings and communities powered by the sun capitalize on this abundant resource while protecting human and environmental health.

• Celebrate diversity. Around the world, photosynthesis and nutrient cycling, adapted to locale, yield an astonishing diversity of forms. By embracing the unique challenges and opportunities offered by each place, designers can create buildings and communities that fit elegantly and effectively into their own niches.

• Anticipate evolution. As designers, we humbly accept that no human creation lasts forever and no design can solve all issues at once. Allowing for adaptation and change ensures designs can accommodate evolving needs.

The firm  leads it's design teams in the pursuit of place-specific, high-performance designs. Their collaborative design approach begins with a detailed analysis of each site, program and community, identifying the economic, environmental and social forces that will give form to the design solution. They then synthesize these unique characteristics with broader criteria for habitat creation, watershed protection, mobility, energy production, material health and recapture, and indoor environmental quality.

For each project, they create a design framework built upon clearly articulated principles (what is valued), short, medium and long-range goals (what projects hope to accomplish), and specific design strategies (how goals will be achieved). This framework establishes the project’s direction and serves as a reference point throughout the building’s lifespan—it establishes priorities and focus by asking the right questions at the right time.

The design teams begin with their clients and their communities and extend to the multidisciplinary consultants with whom they collaborate from the earliest stages of the project. They then foster a team dynamic that gives everyone a voice while providing the right expertise at key decision points. This method can be seen in their models and homes with the Lower 9th Ward's Make It Right Project in New Orleans.

If you would like to learn more about McDonough, his firm, Cradle to Cradle or the Make It Right Foundation, please visist.


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