INHABITAT: In the Book Cradle to Cradle you mentioned ever so briefly the concept of delight, celebration and fun — can you talk a little bit about the quality designs, the delight of design, and how people engage with a product through design?
William McDonough: I really think the thing that I find most exciting for me as a designer is that once you get away from all the meat and potatoes stuff of safety, health and whatever – there is the creative side. For example, I’m designing a building in Barcelona, it’s a laboratory tower, and we are working on materials. We’ve got the paint and the tiles made with the right stuff, but there are these two triangular floorplates that are laboratories for pharmaceuticals. It has a 15 story glass atrium that the scientists walk through. They’re afforded a view of Barcelona – at the north side are all these plants growing on it, and at the south side it is all shading.
The floor plan is in big triangles, and I came back from a trip and people in my office are saying, “Bill, I have trouble laying out all the tile with the walls because they’re radial and the outside is curved. You have to cut every tile to get these patterns. They won’t line up.” In response I say “Look, let’s save some money and have some fun.” I proposed taking the floor plan and starting with the tiles, just tiling the whole floor, then putting the walls up. That way you can remove the walls and you afford yourself the ability to change the building into apartments.
My people are really magical. I said, “I want you to go find me the endangered butterflies of Catalonia, and I want them rendered as tile patterns on the floor so each of the floors is a wing of a butterfly from ancient Catalonia that’s endangered.” We then looked at all of the different colors of the butterfly wings – they’re so beautiful – then we picked the ones that we could create using ecologically safe clay colors made locally. Then we picked all the colors that weren’t safe – the toxic ones – and worked with the tile company to get into a program of changing all of those tiles into safe tiles. You get this generative thing that starts with the idea of a butterfly.
All of the sudden you’re worrying about green and yellow tiles being safe and the company goes, “Wow, yeah that’s more beautiful -that’s more fun.” So they’re going off to improve their product. In the meantime we’re taking the ones we can use that match certain butterflies. Those are the wings we are using, and we see the floor plan with all butterfly wings. They’re so gorgeous. You can’t believe it.
INHABITAT: And it resulted from a problem, which is interesting.
William McDonough: A problem which you were solving in a delightfully cheap way. But here is the magical part – I then decided with the client, that we’d take the 15-story atrium – where we were looking for planting ideas and how to make it nice – it’s going to be a butterfly habitat. Now we’re making a deal with the zoo that this is where we’ll hatch the chrysalis of the butterflies and we’re going to load the whole atrium with butterflies hatching. Every week on a Saturday we’ll open up the doors downstairs, the children of Barcelona will come, we’ll open the top of the atrium and we will send thousands of butterflies into the Barcelona environment. So you’re pumping biodiversity back into the environment by design, and now that’s delight.