Thursday, 15 January 2009

Collaborative Innovation Economy

In the fairly grim Archinect industry survey released today, President of the Boston Society of Architects, Diane Georgopulis, is quoted saying: "architects at some level are kind of the canaries in the mine. When development dries up, architects are probably the first people to know."

As economic canaries, architects are now at the coalface of the changing economy. The survey goes on to detail the doom and gloom of thousands of design professionals, the fear and concern about job losses, and paints a fairly scary picture for both professionals and students in an industry suffering huge losses and a bleak outlook. However, like most news dealing with the economy these days, it attempts to finish on a high note – suggesting opportunities for re-skilling, building networks, focusing on what’s important, diversifying – and in an industry with a tradition for collaborative and competition based work this should put them in an ideal position to take advantage of the new style of crowd sourced, collaborative work towards innovation.

Competitions have become a common and democratic way to generate innovative ideas for modern building and city design. In Australia, the most recognizable architectural landmarks are the result of international competition and collaboration. In 1912, Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony were awarded the winning entry to design the new Australian capital. In 1957 (out of 233 entries from 32 countries) Danish architect Jørn Utzon was announced as the winner of the competition to design the Sydney Opera House. More recently, in 1997, London based LAB Architecture Studio (partnering with Bates Smart) beat 177 local and international entries to win the competition to design Federation Square.

As the recent Bompas & Parr Jelly Banquet Auction demonstrates – architects will compete for just about anything!

In the last few years, with the evolution of more intuitive web based mass collaboration, innovation competitions have become a cheap and wildly successful means of generating massive numbers of innovative ideas from a global pool of cross industry talent.

Thanks to the success of mass collaboration projects - see Wikipedia, Human Genome Project, Pandora - and innovation competitions - see Goldcorp Challenge, Netflix, Nokia, Android, IPhone - and demonstrated by the mass media uptake of texts like Here Comes Everybody, Wikinomics, and the crowd written book We are Stronger than Me, innovation collaborations and competitions are seen as a new driving force for creative action.

A great use of these competitions has been for catalysts for social enterprise and innovation. For example:

Picnic green challenge: One bright idea can make a big difference. The entrant with the best idea for a greenhouse-gas-reducing product or service wins €500,000, expert coaching and a starting list of customers!

The X Prize is a forum hosting innovation prizes:

The Google Lunar X PRIZE – a $30 million competition for the first privately funded team to send a robot to the moon, travel 500 meters and transmit video, images and data back to the Earth.

Insurance Automotive X PRIZE - invites teams from around the world to focus on a single goal: design viable, clean and super-efficient cars that people want to buy... This will be a race for the ages, with major publicity and $10 million waiting for the champions… and perhaps our future hanging in the balance.

Changemakers: is building the world's first global online "open source" community that competes to surface the best social solutions, and then collaborates to refine, enrich, and implement those solutions. Changemakers begins by providing an overarching intellectual framework for collaborative competitions that bring together individual social change initiatives into a more powerful whole.

The are currently running competitions in re-imagining media, designing for better health, and collaborating with Nike to run a competition to promote and engage women in sport.

Increasingly, as a lack of full time job security forces professionals to rethink how they work, collaborative research and competitions become a more valuable means of both embedding oneself in a learning network, and distinguishing oneself from the crowd.

As the projects above demonstrate, there is some serious capital investment behind these ventures – so as we all pull together to stay afloat in these uncertain times, a new collaborative social innovation economy is emerging. And that’s good news for architects and good news for all of us.

1 comment:

  1. The canary theory is absolutely right. For the last three months we have been selling CVM/CRM software primarily to two groups of professionals: accountants and architects.

    Accountants are thriving. They have a booming business in handling insolvencies and restructuring companies.

    The architects, on the other hand, are thoroughly depressed. There are hardly any new projects and those that do happen are incredibly competitive. Everyone is holding their breath and hoping they can survive long enough for it to get better.

    Of course this means the accountants think they don't need to buy our software, and the architects think they can't afford it. C'est la vie!

    Zaha Hadid was on Radio 4 a few weeks ago arguing for competitions:

    "The advantage Europe has is that they really took seriously the law that says to build a public building you have to go through a competition. In the UK - first, there aren't as many public works that go through competitions. In Europe, there is a process of competition that gives you the right to do a public building. I think there is still this feeling here - because it's a class society, the well-off enjoy all the luxuries in life. The important of public work is you give luxury to everyone else as well."

    Radio 4 page with more excerpts from the programme