Sunday, October 16, 2011


Here are a few quotes from a piece I just read called, "Design, Ecology, Ethics, and the Making of Things" by William McDonough.

He talks about how design and creation have an obvious ethical component because what and how we create things adds to our global narrative and the health of the earth.

"LeCorbusier' said in the early part of this century that a house is a machine for living in. He glorified the steamship, the airplane, the grain elevator. Think about it: a house is a machine for living in. An office is a machine for working in. A church is a machine for praying in. This has become a terrifying prospect, because what has happened is that designers are now designing for the machine and not for people."

"If I presented you with a television set and covered it up and said, 'I have this amazing item. What it will do as a service will astonish you. But before I tell you what it does, let me tell you what it is made of and you can tell me if you want it in your house. It contains 4,060 chemicals, many of which are toxic, two hundred of which give off gas into the room when it is turned on. It also contains eighteen grams of toxic methyl mercury, has an explosive glass tube, and I urge you to put it at eye-level with your children and encourage them to play with it.' Would you want this in your home?

Products of service, or durables, are things like cars and television sets: "To eliminate the concept of waste, products of service would not be sold, but licensed to the end-user. Customers may use them as long as they wish, even sell the license to someone else, but when the end-user is finished with, say, a television, it should go right back to Sony, Zenith, or Philips. It is 'food' for their system, but not for natural systems. Right now, you can walk down the street, dump a TV into the garbage can, and walk away. In the process, we deposit persistent toxins throughout the planet.

"For a New York men's clothing store, we arranged for the planting of one thousand oak trees to replace the two English oaks used to panel the store. We were inspired by the story of Gregory Bateson about New College in Oxford, England...They had a main hall built in the early 1600s with beams forty feet long and two feet thick." The beams were suffering rot. At seven dollars a square foot, the replacement costs were huge. Someone recommended they talk to the College Forester. "And when they brought in the forester, he said, 'We've been wondering for years when you would ask this question. When the present building was constructed 350 years ago, the architects specified that a grove of trees be planted and maintained to replace the beams in the ceiling when they would suffer from dry rot.' Bateson's remark was, 'That's the way to run a culture.' "

When McDonough designs buildings he requires that the buyer agree to plant the appropriate square miles of trees that would be used in the process so that the resources will be replenished.

"We must face the fact that what we are seeing across the world today is war, a war against life itself. Our present systems of design have created a world that grows far beyond the capacity of the environment to sustain life into the future. The industrial idiom of design, failing to honor the principles of nature, can only violate them, producing waste and harm, regardless of purported intention. If we destroy more forests, burn more garbage, drift-net more fish, burn more coal, bleach more paper, produce more toxic and radioactive wastes, we are creating a vast industrial machine, not for living in, but for dying in. It is a war, to be sure, a war that only a few more generations can surely survive."