0509d_EH_GreenWatch1_1.jpg(300)When the Wall Street Journal challenged William McDonough + Partners to create a conceptual design for a sustainable home of the future, the designers found their inspiration in nature.

According to McDonough’s program description, the team wanted to develop a home that would “use sunlight to generate energy, clean water, sequester carbon, provide natural habitat, and produce …oxygen and food.” In other words, their mission was to create a house that functions like a tree.

“As with a tree, the house accrues positive environmental benefits over time,” the program statement continues, and at the end of its useful life its materials disassemble and return to nurture industry or the biosphere—a precept of McDonough’s hallmark Cradle to Cradle inspiration and influential philosophy.

The design emphasizes a natural and positive integration with its habitat, a strong connection between its occupants and the natural world, and a positive impact on energy, water, and its carbon footprint.

And while the designers have included smart grid–connected renewables and ground-source heat pumps in their plan, some of the most intriguing features include lightweight carbon nanotubes for the structure, an insulative “intelligent cladding system” made from phase-changing materials that enhances views and daylighting, modular systems that can be disassembled and returned to manufacturers for technological updates, and cementitious materials that absorb carbon dioxide as they cure.

Visions like these—even in concept—should inspire us all.