The Monticello Dialogues, Part 1 - Democratic Design with William McDonough

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From the lineage of Thomas Jefferson and Buckminster Fuller emerges another brilliant prophet of the possible. Architect William McDonough is carrying the banner of “anticipatory design science” to this generation and he is waving it in the boardrooms of some of the largest global corporations. The buildings, product innovations, and ideas emerging from his team are at the forefront of what he calls “the next industrial revolution.” It is a revolution so profound that it views humans as tools of nature. The central question that drives McDonough’s work is: “How can we best serve all the children of all species, for all time?” He comments on the fallacy of the opposing ideas of growth/no growth: “[In] the idea of sustainable development, a lot of people equate development with growth. Well, growth doesn’t have to sprawl. Growth can be an intensification of value like an idea that gets better.” (hosted by Michael Toms)


William McDonough is an anticipatory design architect. But more than that he is a philosopher for the 21st century and is asking some of the most critical questions we should be thinking about in these challenging times. He’s the former Dean of the Architecture Department at the University of Virginia, and was named “Hero of the Planet” by Time magazine. He’s also the winner of three U.S. presidential awards including the Presidential Award for Sustainable Development. 

He is the author with his partner, Michael Braungart, of:

To learn more about the work of William McDonough go to and

Topics Explored in This Dialogue

  • How growing up in Hong Kong, Japan, and the Yukon affected McDonough’s world view
  • How Thomas Jefferson’s breadth of knowledge, interests, universal approach to life, designs, and ability inspired McDonough
  • How the positive effects of dialogue cause a fierce commotion
  • Why we should abandon eco-efficiency for eco-effectiveness
  • How tire dust could be transformed into food for soil
  • How we may look at natural resources as relatives
  • What it means to make a building like a tree
  • How form will be better served to follow evolution than to follow function
  • How Michael Braungart helps McDonough to be more scientific
  • How growth can be an intensification of value
  • How the design of the University of Virginia represents a balance between the male and the female
  • Why a multidisciplinary approach to design is more effective in serving the well-being of the planet
  • How most design today is not truly anticipatory but expedient
  • What are the questions we should be asking about how we power our delivery systems and how we can redesign our transportation system
  • What are the two metabolic systems - biological metabolism and technical metabolism - and how they could be returned to the earth as nutrients or reused and repurposed

    Host: Michael Toms       Interview Date: 5/17/2001      Program Number: 2900

    Music Playlist

    From Album: En-Trance
    Artist: Conrad Praetzel
    1995 Perfect Pitch Music PA-103
    Tracks - Question of Bliss, Waking the Shadows, West of the Moon 

    From Album: Music in the Age of Jefferson
    Artist: Arcangelo Corelli
    1996 PDI CD 12961
    Track - Sonata in A - Major Op. 5, No. 9 - Tempo di Gavotta