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Terry Cutler

Chair to the Australian governments Review of the National
Innovation System in 2008, Terry Cutler is an industry
consultant and strategy advisor with a background in the
information and communications technology sector. Here,
he opens up the question of architectural innovation to the
wider context of the economy and social need. If architects
are to innovatively address pressing social and environmental
issues, such as climate change, obesity, population ageing and
resource depletion, how does the architects role need to be

Poster for Soylent Green, 1973

Soylent Green, starring Charlton Heston,
is an entirely dystopian view of future
society in an overheating world short
of food and water. The film is a cri de
coeur calling out for more positive design
innovation as an antidote to the effects of
over-population and overconsumption as
depicted in the film.


Most of us readily agree that innovation is a

good thing, but we tend to be less critical and
discriminating about the hows and whys of
innovating. This issue of 3 is timely because
architects and designers should be asserting
a stronger, less defensive stance about their
role in meeting contemporary innovation
There is a paradox with innovation. On
the one hand the logic of market capitalism
tells us that innovation, the turf wars
over productivity and competitiveness,
is mandatory for the survival of market
capitalism as we know it. This is true: Joseph
Schumpeters dictum about innovation as
creative destruction keeps shaping the
ever-changing marketplace.1 On the other
hand, the successful, incumbent beneficiaries
of market forces those who came up with
yesterdays good idea relentlessly resist
assaults on their current market dominance
and monopolies, like bloodthirsty lionesses
protecting their patch and their brood.
Early on in the evolution of modern market

systems, Adam Smith, he of fame for

his book The Wealth of Nations,2 cannily
identified the irresistible allure of cartels and
monopolies for successful entrepreneurs.
Today, this dialectical struggle between
protectionism and adaptive change has
intensified, as the debate changes from
being only about the economic form of
market structures and institutions to one
about societal sustainability the very
survivability of the wider frameworks
underpinning capital markets.
Thus discussion on the topic of innovation
has shifted from an investigation of the
operation of markets to a debate about the
sustainability of our social structures in the
face of the unforgiving wicked problems
that now beset us. These wicked problems
include the seemingly intractable challenges
of urban congestion, pollution, environmental
degradation and climate change, obesity and
chronic disease and unwellness, population
ageing, and resource depletion both
of energy and food. Traditional market
economics and innovation practice have not
evolved to address this level of complexity,
not least because these problems are global
problems, not redressable by localised
or individual action alone. No one agent,
operating alone, can advance a solution, an
efficacious innovation.
This contemporary dilemma exposes
structural weaknesses in our societal
frameworks for knowledge management,
problem solving and innovation. In
addressing the crises of cities and of
congestion, mobility and sociability we need
to re-create the vibrancy and vitalities that
drove the social imperatives to urbanisation
in the first place.
Posing the contemporary innovation
challenge in these terms puts architecture
and design right back in the spotlight. In
responding to this challenge architects and
designers need to tackle three issues: How
to shape solution scenarios that superordinate the specialisation of knowledge and
skills; How to accommodate professional
practices within broader collaborations;
and How to find and nurture the natural
organisers of holistic solutions and
compelling teleological scenarios of possible
Adam Smiths identification of the
specialisation of labour as the drive shaft for
modern capitalism has proved indisputable.
He was also prescient in anticipating its
adverse consequences and the need for
counterbalances. Everywhere we operate

within bureaucratic silos and build fences

around our specialised expertise: we know
more and more about less. Intellectually and
operationally we are like caged animals in an
institutional zoo.
Architecture and design has not escaped
this balkanisation. Design specialisations have
developed around fashion, industrial design,
graphic design, interiors and landscapes,
and architectural functions have become
dispersed across surveying, engineering and
project management.
To offset the downsides of the
specialisation of endeavour, Adam Smith
identified the need for a class of people who
would specialise in knowing everything:
those who are called philosophers or men
of speculation, whose trade it is, not to
do any thing, but to observe every thing;
and who, upon that account, are often
capable of combining together the powers
of the most distant and dissimilar
Here, Smith succinctly summarises
many of the functions of the innovator: that
person with that breadth of attention so as
to be able to connect the dots and produce
combinatorial novelty the very substance of
In the spin jargon of management
consultants and university business schools
we now advocate the production of T-shaped
people who combine breadth and depth.
Discard the spin and this is a profound and
important challenge. How do we reinstate
the polymath or people who can rise above
disciplinary or professional blinkers? Two
exemplary role models stand out.
The first exemplar is Vitruvius, who
observed that the architect must combine
theory and practice. The architects service
consists in craftsmanship and technology.
Vitruviuss description of the well-educated
architect is both inspiring and a savage
critique of todays narrow specialisations.
He articulated the model of the undisciplined
architect thus:

Many centuries later, John Maynard

Keynes described the attributes of a master
economist in remarkably similar terms:

The master-economist must possess

a rare combination of gifts He must
be mathematician, historian, philosopher
in some degree. He must understand
symbols and speak in words. He must
contemplate the particular, in terms of
the general, and touch abstract and
concrete in the same flight of thought.
He must study the present in the light
of the past for the purposes of the future.
No part of mans nature or his institutions
must be entirely outside his regard. He
must be purposeful and disinterested in
a spontaneous mood, as aloof and
incorruptible as an artist, yet sometimes
as near to earth as a politician.5

Security fence (since demolished) separating the

Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research
Organisations Clayton Laboratories from Monash
University, Victoria, Australia, 2008
Boundary fences around disciplinary and professional
specialisations can become enemies of innovation.

Smith succinctly summarises many of the

functions of the innovator: that person
with that breadth of attention so as to
be able to connect the dots and produce
combinatorial novelty the very substance
of innovation.

Let him be educated, skilful with the

pencil, instructed in geometry, know
much history, have followed the
philosophers with attention, understand
music, have some knowledge of
medicine, know the opinions of
the jurists, and be acquainted with
astronomy and the theory of the

BOOM Costa Del Sol, Malaga, Spain, due for completion in 2014
this page and opposite: BOOM is a contemporary project in Spain offering homes
for people who live life the way they want. Catering for a lesbian, gay, bisexual
and transgender (LGBT) community aged 40 upwards, architects including HWKN,
Architensions, Dosmasuno, Nigel Coates, L2 Tsionov-Vitkon, Limon Lab, Escher
GuneWardena, Messana ORorke and Rudin Donner fully embrace social groups that
traditionally have not been catered for, reflecting a repositioning for design innovation
away from conventional community expectations.


So the institutional challenge is how we

can reinvent the polymath or architects of
design who can rise above the constraints
of disciplinary or professional blinkers. The
answer lies in the support of multilingual
competencies and the ability to have
conversations across boundaries. The
challenge for our institutions is how we
might develop and support Vitruvian and
Keynesian practitioners.

The contemporary innovation

challenge to combine breadth and
depth could and should prompt
a revitalised appreciation of the
syncretic character of architecture as
a profession and the coordinating or
combinatorial function of design.

Boundary crossing raises the vexed issue

of collaboration. Collaboration, like innovation,
is deemed to be a good thing. We talk
about and invoke the virtue of collaboration
endlessly, without remarking on the fact
that real and productive collaboration is
extraordinarily rare and very hard work. It
is antithetical to our specialisations and so
the basic challenge for innovators is how
to assume the role of organising collective
It is instructive that the English language
has not produced an indigenous word
to describe the innovator. We borrowed
entrepreneur from the French. For a while,
however, it was touch and go whether or
not we might preference the Italian term for
innovator as impresario. The impresario is
the producer who pulls together a motley
crew, to use the colourful phrase adopted by
Richard Caves to describe production in the
creative industries,6 and puts the show on the
road. The impresario accurately describes
the function and character of the innovator.
An impresario easily and naturally becomes
synonymous with architect or designer.
The contemporary innovation challenge
to combine breadth and depth could and
should prompt a revitalised appreciation
of the syncretic character of architecture
as a profession and the coordinating or
combinatorial function of design. 2

1. Joseph Schumpeter, Capitalism,
Socialism and Democracy, Harper (New
York), 1975 [originally published 1942],
pp 825.
2. Adam Smith, An Inquiry into the Nature
and Causes of the Wealth of Nations,
eds R Campbell, A Skinner and W Todd,
Clarendon Press Edition (Oxford), 1976.
3. Smith, op cit, Book I.i.9, p 21.
4. Vitruvius, The Ten Books on Architecture,
trans Morris Hicky Morgan, Harvard
University Press (Cambridge, MA), 1914,
p 6.
5. Quoted by Robert Skidelsky in Keynes:
The Return of the Master, Allen Lane
(London), 2009, p 56
6. Richard Caves, Creative Industries:
Contracts Between Art and Commerce,
Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA),

Text 2013 John Wiley & Sons Ltd. Images:

p 124 Everett Collection/Fex Features; p
125 Rod Hill, Monash University. Rod Hill;
pp 126-7 HWKN (Hollwich Kushner LLC)