Mountain View Voice

News - April 23, 2010

Architect's words inspire City Council .

by Daniel DeBolt

In a council meeting intended to focus on the redevelopment of the Shoreline area Tuesday, famous green architect and designer William McDonough stole the show with a multimedia presentation full of big ideas and practical concepts.

By the time McDonough was finished at 10 p.m., council member Laura Macias suggested the council take his ideas beyond the Shoreline area to the entire city.

"I want to see green roofs allover Mountain View," Macias said, referring to one of the building design ideas he presented

The council agreed that McDonough's talk was "eye opening" and decided to delay its discussion on how to rewrite the city's blueprint for the Shoreline area in order to have more time to digest what he had said.

"You are designers," McDonough told the council, after having called Thomas Jefferson one as well.

"You have one of the greatest opportunities and assignments on the planet," he said presumably referring to the city's update of its General Plan, a blueprint for future development in Mountain View.

"The question is not growth or no growth, but what do you want to grow?" he said. McDonough advocated a for a rich, diverse city with buildings that acted like "living organisms," using sunlight for power and living roofs to make use of rainwater, among other things.

Google had previously hired McDonough to design a state-of-the-art green office building at the corner of Amphitheatre Parkway and Shoreline Boulevard, which has yet to be built, as well as a "McDonough master plan" for a transportation hub and housing on Shoreline Boulevard.

He was also instrumental designing the "Sustainability Base," a building now under construction at NASA Ames which is billed as the greenest government building in the country.

But McDonough's time Tuesday was paid for by the city, said planning director Randy Tsuda.

He called for a complete change in consciousness — for the council to stop in its tracks and go the opposite direction. Paraphrasing a quote by Albert Einstein, he said the problems of global warming and rising Bay levels could not be solved by "the same consciousness that created it."

He called into question the city's approach of setting goals for lowered greenhouse gas emissions in the coming years. "Being less bad is not being good," McDonough said. "It's simply being bad, just less so." He said design was a "signal of intentions," and that it was more important for the city to identify its values and principles first instead of using "metrics" to measure reductions in greenhouse gases.

McDonough pointed to YouTube's buildings in San Bruno as an example the benefits of green roofs. Native grass is grown on the roof there, where storm water is held and filtered before it runs into the drain, allowing the building to behave like a "living organism," he said, adding that the same idea saved Ford Motor Co. $35 million that would have otherwise been spent on traditional storm water infrastructure.

China, he said, is planning to build green roofs everywhere in order to mitigate a huge loss in farmland as cities expand. McDonough showed a picture of Chinese farmers growing rice on a rooftop.

Also advocated by McDonough are buildings built with a flexibility of uses — office buildings that could be easily converted to housing, for example.

McDonough called on the city to allow "mixed-use everywhere and live/work everywhere, not zoning this and zoning that and trying to put an umbilical chord between them."

That comment could be directed at the Shoreline office parks area, where the city is considering various options to connect Google and other businesses to the downtown transportation hub and residential areas.

McDonough's presentation was followed by brief comments from George Salah, Google's director of facilities, who said Google founders Larry Page and Sergei Brin have refused to be anything but innovative when it comes to the urban design and architecture of its campuses.

Addressing the question of whether homes should be built in the Shoreline area for Google workers, Salah agreed with McDonough's concept that new buildings should have the flexibility a change of uses, from retail to office to housing.

E-mail Daniel DeBolt at ddebolt@mv-voice.com

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