Architecture and Design that Rock: Cradle to Cradle


Last year, Xavier University, with its finger on the pulse of what’s hot, hosted speaker and designer William McDonough, a co-author of Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things.

There are few lectures that stick in my mind sans notes; fewer still that I can’t get out of my mind a year later!

McDonough rocked the house that night with the message: “Don’t just make things that are less bad, make things that are GOOD.” McDonough’s belief in “value creation over risk mitigation,” struck a moral chord. (Imagine my glee when I learned that, this summer, Dwell on Design featured the designer as the keynote speaker at its Los Angeles design event.)

McDonough asked us to look deeply at the environmental, health, social, economic and other costs of what we build and manufacture now. LEED is a good step, McDonough said, then pulled out a chart that showed Cradle to Cradle design principles towering above and casting a shadow on LEED’s good intentions.

In Ohio, McDonough designed The Adam Joseph Lewis Center for Environmental Studies at Oberlin College & Conservatory. The 11-year-old building was recently hailed by Lance Hosey of Architect Magazine as “the most important green building constructed in the last 30 years.”

The buildings McDonough has built clean their own water, recycle waste, grow food and even produce more than enough energy for their occupants’ use. The energy surplus is sold to the grid to benefit the rest of us. Building materials are made in ways that don’t add toxins or pollutants to the biosphere. Technology is recycled in a ‘technosphere,’ and biological matter is recycled in the ‘biosphere.’ The two never mix.

Not bad, not bad at all. In fact, it’s GOOD.

McDonough received the Presidential Award for Sustainable Development in 1996; Time magazine recognized him as a “Hero for the Planet” in 1999 and 2007. See more about McDonough’s work and design principles at

Related Content