The Monticello Dialogues, Part 5 - Designing Peace with William McDonough

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If designing more efficient technology for killing is a signal of the worst of human intentions, what would its opposite look like? - Fierce engagement to wage all-out peace. McDonough looks at how waging peace would change how we approach the natural world, how we use and access energy, dispose of waste, respond to acts of terrorism, and care for our children and for the children of our enemies. In his 20’s William McDonough traveled to the Jordan Valley where he came face to face with the shocking remains of war. He was forever marked by the realization that war is nothing less than the killing of our children. In this program he explores, from a designer’s unique perspective, what the opposite of war would look like. "Violence is antithetical to basic human desire" he says, and he urges a fierce engagement: to wage all out peace. Also in this dialogue: waging peace in Brazil with books, at the headwaters of the Mississippi, in the media, and in the White House. McDonough says that reducing our toxic releases is not going to be enough, and reminds us: “Any biologist will tell you the only way to recover an ecosystem suffering from ill health is to connect it to more of itself. But if we don’t have the “itself” to connect it to, it can never recover. So that’s why we have to start these recoveries quickly.” He also talks of waging peace and suggests, “I think waging peace is probably the most effective weapon the United States could ever imagine; it just hasn’t figured out how to use it yet. But it has shown itself in certain times. If somebody actually did a cost-benefit analysis between waging war and waging peace… waging peace would win hands down, and the effects would be far more positive.” He also turns the Bill of Rights on its head and says, “[Jefferson] would be calling for Bill of Responsibilities to make safe things that were nutritious and to wage peace rather than a Bill of Rights to kill and pollute.” (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 developers look at a landscape and see it as empty. Other designers see it as full and fecund. How each view produces different results.
    • How the Beduins design for living in 1200 heat
    • How McDonough came to the realization that the design question we should be asking is “How do we love all the children of all species for all time”
    • How nuclear energy, from a design perspective, is absurd
    • How mini-libraries were built within 12 minutes walking distance for each child in Curitiba, Brazil
    • What are the “Strategies of Hope”
    • What are some alternative models to water treatment plants
    • Why reducing our toxic release is not enough to avert ecological disaster
    • What are the deeper questions we must ask ourselves about what was behind the 9/11 attacks
    • How can we put more energy into waging peace than war
    • How the media could make the stories of hope more scintillating than those of destruction
    • Why Thomas Jefferson today would be calling for Bill of Responsibilities rather than a Bill of Rights

      Host: Michael Toms     Interview Date: 4/12/2002      Program Number: 2974

      Music Playlist

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