I enjoyed revisiting the book Cradle to Cradle, by Michael Braungart and William McDonough this semester after reading it six years ago to use as a basis for my Roanoke Valley Governors School application essay. Clearly this book was way over my head as a rising freshman in high school but I knew even then that there was something extremely intriguing about this new way of thinking that I wanted to learn more about. Even at that stage in my education I was able to recognize that this book was something revolutionary. I think that its pretty cool for a book to be able to capture the attention of both students and professionals- clearly at extremely different places. Whether in their precursors to studying making or stuck in their current ways of making this ideology can be understood and applied. We as architects create structures- and because these structures use a lot of materials and energy, our choices regarding our structures have a tremendous effect on the earth.
Throughout the semester we have looked at things like pollution, material life span, energy trails, lost energy, ect. All of which architects have control over. Rather than saying that our problem is that we are consuming too much or using too many materials in our structures, Cradle to Cradle is saying that the way we consume is not designed properly. The authors of the book, a scientist and architect, are proposing we completely start over from the way we have been consuming, building, even thinking thus far and that this needs to happen NOW. This is where the actual Cradle to Cradle concept comes in. The authors say that so far we have been living by the Cradle to Grave approach which means that a materials life begins with creation and ends with disposal. Cradle to Cradle is a bit more complicated but overall it is the idea that anything we create should be used over and over and over again producing zero harmful waste. The book says that all materials we create (and therefore used in architecture) have to be of two types: technical nutrients, or biological nutrients. Technical nutrients can be used in the continuous life cycle as the same product without ever losing integrity or quality (something that’s never really been achieved, but this is the goal). So far the best we have been able to do with technical nutrients is downcyle them – more commonly known as recycle but that term kind of implies something more than were actually doing. Biological nutrients are organic materials that after use can be disposed of in any natural environment, decompose into the soil, and provide food for smaller life forms. I found an awesome systems diagram on the internet showing the operation of a regenerative or ‘cradle to cradle’ based society. The web was drawn in an attempt to show the connection between the biological and technical sides of the system (termed organic and metal cycle in the image).
In conclusion William McDonough has been somewhat of a celebrity to me ever since I read this book that opened my eyes in the eighth grade to true ideas of sustainable living (not just living less bad). I am so honored to be at a school that continues to push these types of ideas in our studios beginning very early. For me it began with my 2010 critic Fatima Oliveri, who happened to work at that time atWilliam McDonough’s firm here in Charlottesville- something that gave her EXTREME credibility in my eyes. In a similar way that this book has shaped my design motivations I think this class has as well. Before in studio we were able to mention that we were considering a certain system, or material study, however never knew how to execute it. I believe after taking this class I have developed the tools necessary to explain myself fully with whatever system I wish to incorporate into my building. To be able to see the enormous leap I think we have all made in being able to incorporate so many different types of systems into our studio projects this semester gets me so excited to see the progression we can make on this topic during the rest of undergrad and on into grad school. I can’t wait to see where designing with sustainable systems will take me! (McDonoughs firm????) J