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Exhibition: Ecology, Economy, Equity: The Architecture of William McDonough + Partners at the Atlanta International Museum

"Being less bad is not being good" is a tune we all should learn.

by Kristen Richards
October 15, 2002

“Imagine the most high-tech building possible, and then consider this design assignment: Design a building that makes oxygen, sequesters carbon, fixes nitrogen, distills water, provides habitat for thousands of species, accrues solar energy as fuel and food, builds soil, generates microclimate, changes with the seasons, and creates delight.” ● William McDonough, FAIA


In the growing field of ecologically intelligent design, the firm of William McDonough + Partners (WMP) has been a pioneer and leading practitioner in opening the way for a new generation of architects and designers – and consumers – regarding what was once rather sniffingly called “green design.” At the helm, there really is the impassioned Bill McDonough, backed by a team of partners, associates, and staff no less impassioned. It’s difficult to imagine any treatise on “green design” not referring to WMP projects and studies over the last two decades. Perhaps the most mainstream acknowledgment came from Time magazine in 1999, when Bill McDonough was recognized as a “Hero for the Planet” in a cover story, The Man Who Wants Buildings to Love Kids.


The Atlanta International Museum is hosting the first major retrospective of WMP projects called “Ecology, Economy, Equity: The Architecture of William McDonough + Partners” through February 28, 2003. The exhibition features architectural models, text panels, preparatory drawings, site plans, an “eartharium,” and interactive computer stations that detail projects including the Herman Miller "GreenHouse" Factory and Offices; the Adam Joseph Lewis Center for Environmental Studies at Oberlin College; and the Museum of Life and the Environment, a project currently in design in York County, South Carolina, which will be a unique combination of cultural and natural history.


Instead of limiting ourselves, McDonough suggests we should marshal our design intelligence to fulfill our needs differently. This exhibition explores avenues of applicable expressions to find increased understanding of this "second industrial revolution.”


In their work, McDonough and his colleagues ask how the human footprint may have a wholly beneficial impact on the environment. Instead of using less energy, buildings can produce energy. Instead of reducing waste, design can eliminate the concept of waste. Instead of making materials less harmful, designers can use materials that improve human health. This approach, which McDonough calls "eco-effective," measures success equally in three areas: ecology, economy, and equity. The architecture of William McDonough + Partners successfully demonstrates that healthy, humane design can be environmentally, financially, and socially productive, as well as aesthetically uplifting. Inspired by the abundance of nature, in which growth is good and waste does not exist, these buildings are rich with daylight, fresh air, and the larger landscape. They point the way to the "next industrial revolution," in which all design will celebrate life. This work is meant as much for future generations as for our own.


"Given the mission of the museum to address art and design of world culture, we are excited to have a chance to address evolving themes of ecological design through an exhibit of our recent work," says Chris Hays, one of three design partners with the firm. "Being blessed with a rich diversity of project types and insightful clients has allowed us to delve into environmental issues that are relevant to global discussions while simultaneously responding very specifically to the places we build. We hope the exhibit will not only raise challenging questions, but will also demonstrate that through research and the creative process, ecologically effective solutions are possible."


Over the last few decades, the environmental movement has expanded to affect virtually every area of human activity. Global warming, deforestation, and other consequences of industrial society have become part of our collective awareness. At the turn of the millennium, these concerns are bringing about a sea change in the field of architecture. An enormous amount of material and energy are required to construct, operate and maintain buildings, which, according to WMP, account for 40 percent of American energy use, 10-15 percent of the Gross Domestic Product, and 25 percent of the global wood harvest. The construction industry is a significant arena in which to improve upon environmental performance, and such efforts have come to be known as "sustainable" or "green" architecture.


While sustainability typically is characterized by negative or neutral standards that define what not to do, McDonough and his collaborators have distinguished themselves by diligently pursuing a hopeful, positive agenda. "Eco-efficiency," a guiding principle of conventional sustainable practice, means "doing more with less": use fewer resources, reduce pollution and waste, and minimize damage to human health and the environment. Yet, this agenda seeks only to mitigate existing problems, not eliminate them. In McDonough's words, "Being less bad is not being good."


This new industrial revolution involves thoughtful design that is sustaining, not just sustainable, and is the principle behind MBDC (McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry), an industrial design firm – or more precisely – a product and process design firm co-founded by William McDonough and German chemist Dr. Michael Braungart. Their book, “Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things,” embraces abundance, human ingenuity, and positive aspirations. It proposes a positive new design strategy based on principles seen in nature: waste equals food, use current solar income, and celebrate diversity. They present a new industrial system, modeled on the nature's principles, that can solve rather than minimize the problems industry creates, allowing both business and nature to thrive and grow.


A pipe dream? We think not.


The Atlanta International Museum’s Artistic Director, Angelyn S. Chandler says, “We have received an outpouring of support and interest from the community with this timely subject. The work in this exhibition moves beyond ‘smart growth’ or energy savings to inspire a new way of thinking about design.”


A free public event on November 7, “Leadership & Legacy: Eco-effective Commerce Can Be Profitable,” will be a panel discussion with local industry leaders including Bob Hascall, Emory University; Pam Sessions, Hedgewood Properties; Ray Anderson, Interface, Inc.; and R. Jeff George, Hardin Construction; and moderated by Dennis Creech, Southface Energy Institute.


Projects illustrated:


Aspect Communications, San Jose, CA

Client: Aspect Communications

Program: Office Building, Parking, Amenities

Area: 110,000 square feet

Status: Completed 2001

Architect of Record: Form4

Design Landscape Architect: Nelson-Byrd Landscape Architects

Landscape Architect of Record: April Phillips Design Workshop

Photograph: © Steve Whittaker


Nike European Headquarters, Hilversum, Netherlands

Client: Nike, Multi-Vastgoed

Program: Corporate campus including offices, commons, health and fitness amenities, gymnasium/videoconference hall, retail space, and restaurants

Area: 375,000 square feet

Status: Completed 1999

Architect of Record: T+T Architekten B.V.

Landscape Architect: Nelson-Byrd Landscape Architects

Photograph courtesy William McDonough + Partners


Bear Street, Banff, Alberta, Canada

Client: Arctos & Bird

Program: Mixed-use retail and residential

Area: 35,000 square feet

Status: Under construction

Architect of Record: Zeidler Carruthers Associates

Design Landscape Architect: VMDO Landscape Studio

Landscape Architect of Record: Scatliff + Miller + Murphy

Drawing by Pete O’Shea, ASLA


901 Cherry, Offices for GAP, Inc., San Bruno, CA

Client: Gap Inc.

Program: Corporate campus and offices

Project Area: 195,000 square feet

Status: Completed 1997

Executive Architect & Interior Design Architect: Gensler

Landscape Architect: Hargreaves Associates

Exterior photograph courtesy William McDonough + Partners;

Interior photograph © Mark Luthringer


Herman Miller SQA “Greenhouse”

Holland, MI

Client: Herman Miller SQA

Program: Light manufacturing and offices

Area: 295,000 square feet

Status: Completed 1995

Architect of Record: Verburg & Associates

Landscape Architect: Pollack Design Associates

Photograph: © Tim Hursley


Lewis Center for Environmental Studies, Oberlin College

Oberlin, OH

Client: Oberlin College

Program: Classrooms, offices, atrium, and auditorium

Area: 13,600 square feet

Status: Completed 2001

Landscape Architect: Andropogon Associates

Photograph: © Barney Taxel


Museum of Life and the Environment

York County, SC

Client: York County Culture & Heritage Commission

Program: Exhibit space, classrooms, & administration

Area: 120,000 square feet

Status: Schematic Design

Landscape Architect: Nelson-Byrd

Exhibition Designer: Ralph Applebaum Associates

Rendering courtesy William McDonough + Partners


Virginia Beach House, Virginia Beach, VA

Program: Private residence

Area: 11,000 square feet

Status: Completed 2001

Landscape Architect: Nelson-Byrd Landscape Architects

Photograph: © Prakash Patel

(click on pictures to enlarge)

(William McDonough + Partners (WMP))
Ecology, Economy, Equity: all equal parts

((c) Steve Whittaker)
Aspect Communications, San Jose, CA, 2001

Nike European Headquarters, Hilversum, Netherlands, 1999

(Drawing by Pete O'Shea, ASLA)
Bear Street, Banff, Alberta, Canada, under construction

901 Cherry, Offices for GAP, Inc., San Bruno, CA, 1997

((c) Mark Luthringer.)
901 Cherry, Offices for GAP, Inc. interior

((c) Tim Hursley)
Herman Miller SQA "Greenhouse," Holland, MI, 1995

((c) Tim Hursley)
Herman Miller SQA "Greenhouse," Holland, MI, 1995

((c) Barney Taxel)
Lewis Center for Environmental Studies, Oberlin College, Oberlin, OH, 2001

Museum of Life and the Environment, York County, SC, schematic design

((c) Prakash Patel)
Virginia Beach House, Virginia Beach, VA

(Jeff Slate)
Sponsors and architects opening night at the Atlanta International Museum (l-r): Jeff Bartholomew, Steelcase; Flavio Espinoza, Chris Hays, Bill McDonough, WM+P; Inman Allen, Ivan Allen Furniture Co.

(Jeff Slate)
Exhibition gallery

(Atlanta International Museum)
Exhibition cover

© 2002