The McDonough Philosophy

Architect William McDonough, the Man Time magazine recently selected as one of its Heroes for the planet, has a lofty goal--to balance ecology, equity and economy in all that he creates.

May 31, 1999

Architect William McDonough, the man Time magazine recently selected as one of its Heroes for the Planet, has a lofty goal - to balance ecology, equity and economy in all that he creates.

Dean of the School of Architecture at the University of Virginia, McDonough hosts the PBS program "Planet Neighborhood" and is founder of William McDonough + Partners, Charlottesville, Va. A visionary in the best sense, he reminds us of our past with the same vigor as he celebrates his proposals for our future. Time’s Roger Rosenblatt writes, "...more than architecture, one sees that his utopianism is grounded in a unified philosophy that - in demonstrable and practical ways - is changing the design of the world." McDonough is striving in very real terms to "balance ecology, equity and economy."

McDonough defines his own mission this way:
"We aspire to create places full of wonder which celebrate the human and natural environments. Although we work within traditional design criteria of aesthetics, performance and cost, we add to them concern for ecological intelligence and justice. We see these issues as sources of innovative design solutions and new measures of quality. We hope to inspire not only our clients but also the design profession with models leading toward ecologically intelligent architecture.

We have to recognize that every event and manifestation of nature is "design." To live within the laws of nature means to express our human intention as an interdependent species "aware and grateful that we are at the mercy of sacred forces larger than ourselves. We must obey these laws in order to honor the sacred in each other and in all things. We must come to peace with and accept our place in the natural world."

Inspired by his observations of living systems, McDonough’s designs follow three simple principles:


  • Turn waste into food. Every process must be defined and designed so that the products themselves, as well as leftover chemicals, materials and effluents, become "food" for other processes.

  • Rely on current solar income. Solar energy diminishes and may eventually eliminate our reliance on hydrocarbon fuels, but effective use of solar energy means designing systems that sip energy instead of gulping it down.

  • Respect diversity. We need to evaluate every design for its impact on plant, animal and human life. For a building, this means, literally, what will the birds think of it? For a product, it means where will it go and what will it do when it gets there? For a system, it means weighing immediate and long-term effects and deciding whether it enhances people’s identity, independence and integrity.

    Also See:
    Re-Imaging the Future

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