April 22, 2020

William McDonough is Cindy Allen’s Latest Guest on Instagram Live

Another day, another Cindy Chat! William McDonough was the perfect guest for today’s Earth Day episode. The architect and author is one of the industry’s leading champions of sustainability worldwide, and has been for the entirety of his career. 

Going live from Charlottesville, Virginia, McDonough is safe in a rural area, but prepared to stay hunkered down for a while. He’s been working on, and “enjoying thoroughly,” the various digital communication tools that allow him to connect with his colleagues globally. “I don’t miss the airplanes very much,” he admitted. 

To impart some wisdom on Earth Day’s 50th anniversary, McDonough thought back to the inaugural celebration, which took place when he was a freshman at Dartmouth College after growing up in Japan and China. There he made the decision that his future career could only be in architecture. Not only that, but ever in constant awe of trees, McDonough explained how planetary science—at a level beyond comprehension for most—inspires him to “make things powered by the sun.” All of his projects, spanning from Jordan to Ireland, seek to create “order out of chaos,” and McDonough shared many stories about them with Allen. 

“Just go build it” is McDonough’s approach to design. That, and finding oneself a life-changing mentor, is his advice to those looking to start out in the industry. While this century’s new tools have been interesting and helpful, McDonough is firm in his belief that wisdom cannot come from artificial intelligence and thus it is important to have someone to help guide new generations in the moral and philosophical steps of a project, even though, as Allen pointed out, the classic mentor/mentee relationship is harder to find. Every 10 years McDonough “puts down his tools” to learn something new. 

Some highlights of McDonough’s environmentally friendly oeuvre that Allen shared over the broadcast include a carpet collection made from local mulch, this project is one where he saw “the product as a service;” a fabric collection made from Indian materials where none of the water used in production is wasted; and a building in Amsterdam that is self-heating with solar and hydro power. Of course, his groundbreaking book Cradle to Cradle was discussed as well.

Throughout their conversation, McDonough shared many stories with Allen detailing his colorful career, from driving famed clarinetist Benny Goodman to frequenting the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. But the story he’ll likely tell about today is that it was filled with “immense humility.” “This is a chance to come together and heal ourselves,” he advised viewers, noting that when we heal ourselves we de facto heal the planet. He parted with the inspiring words: “Design is the first signal of human intention.”

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