Critical Overview: Analyzing the Need for Innovation in Architecture
The COVID-19 pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement have forced us to question the role of architecture in society. Architecture needs to evolve to meet the challenges posed by these crises. However, even before these events, the industry was struggling with innovation. According to a 2017 McKinsey report, despite the large amount of money ($10 trillion) spent annually on construction, the industry’s productivity is declining. It is imperative to identify and develop the innovation required to transform this industry.
In a previous article, the author proposed an analytical framework for locating opportunities for material innovation in architecture. The framework identifies three “cornerstones” for innovation: (1) architectural purpose or ambition, (2) the AEC process, and (3) the life-cycle perspective. The author argues that future architectural innovations will emerge from these cornerstones.
The first cornerstone emphasizes the importance of a clear declaration of architectural ambition and scope. This step acknowledges the diverse purposes and goals inherent in any design endeavor. Different project types require different design solutions, and a material or technology suitable for one may not be appropriate for another. A clear statement of intent defines the criteria by which subsequent decisions in the architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) chain will be made. Moreover, a novel ambition is a source of innovation.
The second cornerstone of the framework is an understanding of the notoriously convoluted and sluggish AEC process. The AEC process involves complex bureaucratic, legal, technical, economic, social, and political systems that engage with architecture at every step. The AEC process has three phases: feasibility, design and engineering, and construction. This long, complicated, and labor-intensive process is where many proposed innovations find their greatest hurdles.
The third cornerstone of the framework is the life-cycle perspective, which considers a building’s environmental impact throughout its life cycle. This perspective emphasizes the importance of using sustainable materials and designing for adaptability and longevity.
Architecture needs to evolve to meet the challenges posed by the pandemic, racial justice protests, and the need for sustainability. The analytical framework proposed by the author provides a means for locating opportunities for material innovation in architecture. The framework emphasizes the importance of a clear declaration of architectural ambition and scope, an understanding of the AEC process, and the life-cycle perspective. The author argues that these cornerstones are crucial for developing the innovation required to transform the architecture industry.