Redesigning innovation6 October, 2014 / Articles
On October 9 in New York is Architectural Record’s annual Innovation Conference. This raises a question: What does innovation mean to architects?
The conference site gives no definition, but if you Google the phrase “innovative architecture,” what pops up is a seemingly endless stream of exotic images–rippled rooflines, bulbous walls, spongy towers, the flights of fancy of designers the world over. Innovation equals ambitious geometry, it seems. This year, Fast Company named Zaha Hadid one of the most innovative architects “for being dedicated to bold curves.” Never mind that Bernini and Borromini invented bold curves 400 years ago.
Such praise for the superficial is surprising from a business magazine, because the business world thinks about innovation very differently. Management consultant Jose Campos defines it as “the ability to deliver new value,” and legendary business guru Peter Drucker called it “change that creates a new dimension of performance.” An innovation is a breakthrough that creates better answers to old questions or smart solutions to new problems. Nothing is innovative if it doesn’t provide practical value. And the degree of innovation actually can be quantified: “A breakthrough that lets you execute two jobs,” writes Steven Johnson in Where Good Ideas Come From, “is twice as innovative as a breakthrough that lets you do only one.”