Design Rules for Sustainability



Curt McNamara is an experienced engineer, biomimicry educator and Buckminster Fuller scholar. We recently caught up with him to discuss his career as well as his fully online course devoted to the subject of nature-inspired design and Bucky Fuller’s work called, Nature’s Design Rules for Sustainability. This is a 10-week course that is a core part of MCAD’s Sustainable Design Program and will be offered in Summer 2014.

SDO: What spurred you to become a sustainable designer?

In high school I read a lot of science fiction so was familiar with possible futures. I was really struck by a confluence of forces: Bucky Fuller’s Success For All Humanity; the 1st Earth Day, and the vision of the Whole Earth Catalog and Review.

SDO: Describe one of your favorite moments/projects as a sustainable designer.

Working with a team to update a classic design which contained a toxic chemical. Everyone pulled together and we created a long lasting product with minimal impact.

SDO: What is your class about and who is it for?

It is about the shape of space and thought. There are generalized principles that describe how nature connects, and these underlie all designs. As our knowledge of the principles increases, our designs and actions come into alignment with nature. It is for designers and also for those who want to increase their skill in navigation and action.

SDO: What are the most important things you want students of your class to leave with?

Seeing designs and actions in 3D. How systems are constructed and how they couple to one another.


SDO: How do you imagine your students will apply what they learn in your class to their lives and/or jobs?

This knowledge can be used to reduce impact and increase effectiveness in design and in decision.

SDO: In what ways do you apply Nature’s Design Rules for Sustainability to your work?

Ensure that all systems have the minimum number of components, and that they are coupled together correctly. Looking for the ways that one system affects and attracts other systems.

SDO: What is one piece of advice that you’d give to a designer interested in sustainability?

There has never been a better nor a more important time to be a sustainable designer! The word will soon disappear as it becomes integrated into everyone’s normal practice.

SDO: Anything else you’d like to add?

Bring your work into the class, and use every week to deepen your understanding of it.

Image courtesy of Curt McNamara and student work by Stefanie Koehler.