McDonough: ‘If Buildings Were Trees …’

I’ve spent the last few days getting an education on “green-collar jobs” and training programs for jump-starting our economy and our environmental sustainability at the same time. I was on a conference call hosted by Policy Link and Green For All about how to get Obama’s “green dollars” into local communities. More than 800 people dialed in to hear the call. I’m also editing articles for the May issue of Sojourners on the green economy.

green-festival-mcdonoughnov-011-cropAll this reminded me about hearing architect and genius Bill McDonough speak at the Green Festival last fall.  (McDonough wrote a great article for Sojourners in May 2005 called Ecology, Ethics, and the Making of Things, drafted from a sermon he gave at St. John the Divine in New York.) I was so intrigued and inspired by his talk that I looked up other presentations he’d given.

The McDonough excerpt below called to mind that strange passage in Mark’s gospel (8:24) when the half-healed blind man says, “I see people as trees, walking.”

What if buildings were alive? What if our homes and workplaces were like trees, living organisms participating productively in their surroundings? Imagine a building, enmeshed in the landscape, that harvests the energy of the sun, sequesters carbon and makes oxygen. Imagine on-site wetlands and botanical gardens recovering nutrients from circulating water. Fresh air, flowering plants, and daylight everywhere. Beauty and comfort for every inhabitant. A roof covered in soil and sedum to absorb the falling rain. Birds nesting and feeding in the building’s verdant footprint. In short, a life-support system in harmony with energy flows, human souls, and other living things. Hardly a machine at all.

This is not science fiction. Buildings like trees, though few in number, already exist. So when we survey the future-the prospects for buildings and cities, settled and unsettled lands-we see a new sensibility emerging, one in which inhabiting a place becomes a mindful, delightful participation in landscape. This perspective is both rigorous and poetic. It is built on design principles inspired by nature’s laws. It is enacted by immersing oneself in the life of a place to discover the most fitting and beautiful materials and forms. It is a design aesthetic that draws equally on the poetics of science and the poetics of space. We hope it is the design strategy of the future.

Read McDonough’s whole article here.
.

Our New Organizer-in-Chief

I caught indy journalist and Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman at D.C.’s Green Festival yesterday. She reminded the still-deliriously happy crowd that the work of rebuilding democracy is just beginning.

Democracy Now!'s Amy Goodman
Democracy Now's Amy Goodman

Calling Obama our new “Organizer-in-Chief,” Goodman said the election was won by a combination of community organizing and unprecedented fund raising. But the jury’s still out, she said, on the lessons learned.

The answer is in who gets listened to in the new administration. Will it be the big dollar donors who find an ear? Or will it be a new day for community organizations and the people they represent?

Goodman made the point that Obama will need organizers pushing from the outside – both in times when community leaders genuinely disagree with him, but also for the added power it gives the president when he knows millions are ready to take him to task should he wander astray.

And to prove her point, Goodman lifted up two women as models for the kind of leadership that we now need:

Rosa Parks. Contrary to the watered-down history that portrays her as a tired seamstress too exhausted to give her bus seat to a white man, Parks was a trained community organizer – trained, in fact, at the Highlander Center with Myles Horton. Goodman called her a “first-class troublemaker” and pointed out that it was Rosa who sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott that launched Dr. King into leadership of the civil rights movement.

Mamie Till. The mother of 14-year-old Emmett Till, who was lynched during a summer vacation to in Mississippi in 1955, Mamie Till made the strategic choice for an open casket at Emmett’s funeral. Because of a mother’s courage, photos in newspapers around the world showed the brutality of racism.

Our new Organizer-in-Chief needs a few “first-class troublemakers” like Rosa Parks and Mamie Till to lead from the grassroots. Tuesday’s victory was huge and necessary, but this campaign was won, not solely by Barack Obama, but by an electrified citizenry committed to change. To move this from a historic “moment” to a historic “era” will take ongoing commitment by that same citizenry..

Green Festival, D.C. – William McDonough

I heard Bill McDonough speak at the Green Festival in Washington, D.C., yesterday. McDonough is one of those paradigm-shifting thinkers who comes out of the design world.

His newest book is Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things (as opposed to “cradle to grave”), which outlines his basic design production concept. Besides, the book’s made from synthetic ‘paper’ that can be recycled. No trees were harmed in the making of this book.

If you are not familiar with him, I suggest reading his very short article Celebrating Human Artifice or listening to the Monticello Dialogues. Here’s a quote from his talk yesterday:

Design is the first signal of human intention. … Our goal is a delightfully divine, safe, healthy, socially just world with clean air, water, soil, and power, that can be economically, equitably, ecologically, and elegantly enjoyed.

McDonough’s developed concepts like roof farming in urban China, television leasing to avoid the landfill in Europe, and fabric that’s strong enough for public use and safe enough to eat.

Sojourners published Ecology, Ethics, and the Making of Things by McDonough in May 2005..