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Product, Service & Design Innovation
McDonough Unveils ICEhouse™, Designed to Illustrate Innovation for the Circular Economy, at Davos

Designer and sustainability visionary William McDonough will unveil ICEhouse™ (Innovation for the Circular Economy house) in Davos this week, as a place for those attending the World Economic Forum annual meeting to gather and discuss the future of innovation for the circular economy.

The structure has been designed to demonstrate the positive design framework described in the seminal book, Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things; the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations, and the reuse of resources implicit in the circular economy.

“In an economic sense, the circular economy puts the ‘re’ back into resources. We are gratified to see Cradle to Cradle becoming mainstream, especially as the ideas of the circular economy are spreading," McDonough — co-creator (with Dr. Michael Braungart) of the Cradle to Cradle® design framework and Chair of the World Economic Forum’s Meta-Council on the Circular Economy — says. "The circular economy involves healthy materials that improve over time in defined systems, industrial ecologies, and use periods. Cradle to Cradle defines the quality of the circular economy, including renewable energy, clean water, and social fairness in the mix. We are talking about the triple top line: revenue for business, the environment, and people, whereby we are treating them with dignity and respect.”

ICEhouse was created by McDonough working with his firms, William McDonough + Partners and WonderFrame LLC. The McDonough team was invited by Hub Culture, a global collaboration network, to create the structure in Davos. The project was supported by and is a close collaboration with SABIC and also received support from SAP. It is the centerpiece of Hub Culture’s mission to welcome innovators and leaders at the World Economic Forum. Located on the main promenade at Davos, ICEhouse is made of aluminum and SABIC’s LEXAN™ polycarbonate sheet and systems. Shaw Contract Group provided flooring materials. The walls and roof structure were assembled in just a few days.

After the close of the World Economic Forum, McDonough plans to locate an ICEhouse in Amsterdam, at The Valley at Schiphol Trade Park, The Netherlands’ new National Hub for the Circular Economy (for which McDonough is a partner and master architect). William McDonough + Partners architects have designed pioneering architectural projects, such the Park 20|20 development near Schiphol Trade Park — “circular buildings” and “circular architecture” — that are designed to embody the economic principles of the circular economy and quality inherent in Cradle to Cradle­-inspired design.

“ICEhouse is a structure designed for disassembly and reconstruction,” McDonough said. “In a poetic sense, like ice, it is ephemeral: It is here for a week, in the Alps. Next week it will melt away … destined to reappear elsewhere.”

ICEhouse also is an experiment in employing the WonderFrame™, which McDonough is designing as part of a broader vision for a simple structural system that could be erected with locally available materials (in any given location) quickly and to accommodate a range of uses. Of the WonderFrame concept, McDonough noted that it is “designed to help us find ways to utilize many kinds of affordable materials to create dignified buildings for people in a variety of situations. We are calling it ‘wonder’ because we want people to wonder what it’s made of, and ‘frame’ because it is meant to be whatever structure each community and culture may need, and constructed from whatever materials they have available in that place at that time.”

The work of McDonough and his William McDonough + Partners has led the sustainable design movement for years. Recent design and urban planning work has been created with the qualified circular economy in mind. For example, at Park 20|20, William McDonough + Partners has designed several buildings for Delta Development, in a collaboration widely recognized as one of the most ambitious Cradle to Cradle-inspired developments in the world. There, they are testing ideas about design for disassembly, and buildings as “materials banks” that are poised to transform the development and architecture practice going forward. These designs are now being called the first examples of “circular architecture” and “circular buildings” because of their relationship to circular economy principles and intentions.

“This is really where my thinking and the work of my team is focused right now — on new circular materials, products, buildings, architecture, and cities," McDonough said. "All of these involved the criteria and intentionality of the circular economy. At the city scale, I am working on some exciting new concepts around Carbon Positive Cities, based in part on some of the thinking articulated in the ‘Soil Not Oil’ part of The Upcycle.

Groundwork for a mass shift to a circular economy is being laid, especially in Europe — last month the European Commission adopted a circular economy package with a host of goals for 2030, and made changes to financial tools to help support the development of circular economy projects and businesses in the EU. Stateside, McDonough’s Cradle to Cradle Product Innovation Institute is fostering progress through a variety of initiatives — earlier this month, the Institute revealed the winners of its second annual Product Design Challenge, highlighting solutions that have carefully designed to maximize the use of materials that can be perpetually cycled for reuse.


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