8 ways to inspire innovation in the business of architecture

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ShutterstockGumpanat
Sustainability can push the envelope in architecture.

The following is an adaptation from the book "Busby: Architecture's New Edges."

In architecture, as with almost every business, innovation is the most valuable ingredient for success over time.

When designing for clients — whether it is a university facility or a workplace — it is important to nurture a culture of innovation.

This is particularly important in sustainable design, as the impacts of climate change increasingly require architects to demonstrate ingenuity in environmental problem-solving. Investing in innovation is sure to reap healthy returns on business and the planet.

Here are a few best practices for architects to encourage creativity and innovation:

1. Use the office as an innovation lab

Successful architecture firms allow people the time and physical space to chase new ideas, do research, and exchange meaningful ideas with their peers whenever and wherever the mood catches them.

Provide a thoughtfully designed, stimulating work environment for staff that encourages this behavior. Examples might include staircases with wide landings as group seating areas, standup coffee stations where people linger and talk, or a wall of white boards and writable glass.

2. Engage the community

It used to be that a developer would buy property, assemble a plan for how to use it, hire an architect who would obtain the approval from the city, and then the project would get built.

Today, it is essential to consult the entire public — not just city planning departments, but also end-users, occupants, and community groups. Engaging all parties in the process of how a building takes shape encourages idea sharing.

3. Collaborate with an engineer

On their own, designers can come up with virtually any idea for new and different structures. But without well engineered performance systems, even the most spectacular visual expressions are just ideas.

Together, architects and engineers can make ideas a reality by identifying new approaches, material efficiencies, cost savings, and operational systems that allow buildings to perform as well as or better than imagined.

4. Embrace technology

With the advent of powerful digital modeling tools, architects can now experiment more dramatically with form.

From structures that echo the shape of a native orchid to even more complex shapes developed with the aid of 3D design software, architects should leverage a growing suite of technological tools to meet the needs of both the client and the environment.

5. Work with wood

Used to build structures since the beginning of humankind, wood was largely replaced in the mid-19th century by steel and concrete, but it is in fact a far more sustainable design choice.

Steel and concrete both have significantly higher carbon footprints from manufacture and transportation. When wood is harvested responsibly, fewer logs fall to the forest floor and decompose, resulting in less methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Encourage design teams to find new and appealing ways to incorporate wood elements.

6. Experiment with innovation and new materials

Don’t hesitate to test out alternative material choices. From fiberglass and acrylic to curved glass and salvaged mechanical equipment, the use of nontraditional materials can result in unique, practical, and eye-catching designs that impress clients while minimizing environmental impact.

Innovation is at the heart of all successful businesses. Invest time and intellect in innovation around how you practice, and what you design.

7. Explore prefabrication and modular design

Working with modular and prefabricated designs allows architects to simultaneously achieve beauty, sustainability, and cost effectiveness.

By investing in higher quality repetitive elements, designers can accomplish more, aesthetically speaking, while minimizing environmental impacts and keeping overall project costs lower.

8. Seize every opportunity to learn

Internal research and education initiatives empower architects to develop innovative ideas and approaches that can be applied to all projects. Consider investing in and engaging in research projects whose results can be shared with staff, colleagues, and peers.

As time goes on, new technologies, materials, processes, and environmental data will continue to fuel the need for architectural innovation. It is up to architecture firms to prioritize innovation at every level. Doing so will ensure better buildings and, ultimately, better business.

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