The Next Industrial Revolution from Christopher B. Bedford on Vimeo.

I always thought design was a bit silly, to tell the truth, fancy little tricks with materials, bright primary colors, or subtle earth tones, or bold lines and sweeping curves, all expressing just that right degree of sang froid in just the right way. That’s what I thought until I discovered architect/designer William McDonough. I was as wrong as wrong can be. McDonough is a genius, and as The Next Industrial Revolution documentary shows, he’s a gifted speaker to boot.

This is a revolutionary documentary. McDonough gives hope that human beings can live in harmony with nature without going back to living in caves. He knows that all growth comes from the sun, growth not only of plants but our growth as well. Inspired by Thomas Jefferson, McDonough knows that we must obey nature’s laws, must embrace diversity, that in nature there is no waste, that nature is our teacher.

He lays down the challenge to design a building to do the diverse things a tree does. He explains that nature’s cycles are complete but that the cycle of human production is not properly cyclical. Using the example of computers, he observes that we want the service of the computer but we don’t want to own the toxic materials that go into making a computer. He envisions a cycle wherein we use computers and then return them to the manufacturer for recycling.

McDonough also knows that the needs of industry do not necessarily have to be at odds with sustainability. and sustainability is key. Working with chemist and former Greenpeace activist, Michael Braungart, the two of them have redesigned Ford’s huge River Rouge plant with the world’s largest grass roof, limiting the expense of dealing with run-off, and saving Ford over $30 million a year.

Thanks to McDonough, furniture manufacturer Herman Miller has employees working in a forward-thinking manufacturing facility known as the Greenhouse, that brings the outdoors in. The place is so attractive, and functional, that people have submitted applications just because of the building. Those fortunate enough to work there have perfect attendance records. The building cost $53 per square foot, expensive at first, but it’s estimated that the superior design enables the building to pay for itself every 3 months!

There’s much more to this hour-long movie. I never would have thought there’d be such a wise and feel-good movie about architecture and design!