Bill McDonough and the architecture firm featured in Western Art & Architecture story

You can see the full article here.

And here’s an excerpt–

In the mid-1980s, architect William McDonough was commissioned by the Environmental Defense Fund to build a headquarters in New York whose construction materials were to be as non-toxic as technology would allow and whose signature traits would include energy efficiency.

The 20,000-square-foot [office] was a watershed in environmental friendliness for workers and could boast the novel application of sustainable practices in an industry routinely rapped for circumventing them. But the scope of the project would stretch far beyond its political and even its structural merit. For McDonough, it was the equivalent of crossing the Rubicon, a passage from the old days and old ways of building that neglected to take into account the true cost of consuming nonrenewable resources and tended to be cavalier about the carcinogenic constituents in everything from floor coverings to light fixtures. McDonough would go on to be the first recipient of the Presidential Award for Sustainable Development in 1996 and to co-author with chemist Michael Braungart Cradle to Cradle in 2002, a 200-page epistle concerning ecologically beneficial — or “eco-effective” — principles aimed at preserving the planet, product by product, structure by structure.

…. What distinguishes an architect like McDonough from the merely well-intentioned is that he both advocates and applies methods of production which aim to ensure that the life of a material moves from cradle to cradle, so to speak, instead of from cradle to grave. In a concept predicated on design and building but not limited to it, McDonough proposes products whose utility is as versatile as their lifespan is infinite. Toward that end, the architect who earned the epithet “Hero for the Planet” in 1999 from Time magazine collaborated with Braungart to create such items as a fabric strong enough to serve as upholstery, but safe enough to eat. And at the close of the fabric’s aesthetic life, it can gain new vitality or be reborn as a source of compost. There is nothing outlandish about products whose value is enhanced by components that lend themselves to a constant cycle of rebirth. But short of a revolution among a myriad of industries — though one may be in the offing amid existing economic and energy conditions — there is, for every idealist and his counterpart pragmatist, a universal syntax that aids sustainable practices.

If nature serves as the archetype for making things, then the metaphor for architecture is a tree, which McDonough and his co-author argue is never isolated from the systems around it. A multitude of measures that make up the canon of green building might best be likened to the law of parsimony, where the simplest solution is the most elegant one. In the context of ecologically sensitive design, what is old is new. That premise is in play in such concepts as daylighting — positioning of windows to make optimal use of natural light — and in the use of thermal mass to ensure temperature stability and reduce costs associated with heating, ventilating and air conditioning. ….