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Why Is It Important For Architects To Use Innovative Technologies?

In today’s building design environment, most architects are so busy that it can be challenging for them to find the time and space to use innovative technologies.

3 Practices You Can Use To Promote Innovation

In today’s building design environment, most architects are so busy that it can be challenging for them to find the time and space to use innovative technologies. Just as in other industries, to increase productivity and best compete, architecture firms must try out new design processes, techniques, and workflows. Those that don’t risk losing out to their competitors.

What’s Keeping You From Innovating?

Here’s one of the problems… Architects must cater to their clients. It’s their primary responsibility. To do so sometimes means using standard design processes and putting innovation on the back burner. As an architect, you’re under pressure to deliver designs on time and budget. This means that you probably aren’t being incentivized to experiment with new technologies.

If your firm fails to use new approaches, you’re actually cheating your clients. Why?… Because you won’t be delivering maximum value to them.

But, you’re not the only one failing to do this. Many architects have a hard time leaving behind their “security blanket” of working traditions, and some are in complete denial, “pulling the blanket over their heads.”

For example: Many architects are looking to incorporate performance analysis into their design process to take advantage of the growing green building market, meet increasingly stringent performance expectations, or achieve ambitious targets like the 2030 Challenge. But at the same time, performance analysis is often a totally new capability, and many architects struggle to fit it into an already fast-paced design process.

How Can Your Firm Promote Innovation?

The firms that refuse to embrace technological innovations are inviting their extinction. Technologies like BIM (building information modeling), mass customization, parametric design, and prefabrication are technologies that your firm should be using.

Overcoming the obstacles to innovate and effectively use new tools and processes requires both strong leadership at the C-level and a different way of thinking about innovation.

Here are 3 practices your firm should adopt to promote innovation:

1. Give Your Project Managers Permission To Experiment.

Leadership must give their Project Managers permission to try out new processes and technologies without penalizing them. This means putting a place in project budgets for experimentation. Make room to absorb costs for the time it will take for them to learn about and become proficient in new technologies. If you fall behind schedule, add some people to the team.

Your project managers must know that you approve for them to try out new methods. Your clients’ projects must not bear this cost; your firm should provide the necessary resources for experimentation. However, providing carte blanche permission isn’t the way (See #2).

Along with giving your PMs permission to experiment, leadership should provide incentives when they find innovative ways to achieve your goals and improve your Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). This way your firm can ultimately succeed through experimentation.

2. Take “Baby Steps” To Test The Value Of Innovative Technologies.

The best way to try out a new practice is to take small steps. You don’t need to “throw the baby out with the bath water.” Find ways to start incorporating new technologies into your standard processes. Undertake simple studies to solve your design problems. You can do this in many areas.

For example:

• Working on wall sections? Use Response Curves to find optimal insulation levels for your project.

• Drafting window specs? Use analysis to find the best glazing properties for each facade.

• Designing shading devices? Use analysis to determine the best shading length for each orientation, or to compare 2 or 3 shading design options.

• Looking at massing design? Quickly compare the options to get a sense of trade-offs between them (e.g., if we go with Option A, we’ll want to think about shading).

• Looking at window proportions? See how different options affect daylighting and energy use.

• Considering a design change? Evaluate the performance impact to clarify the decision and avoid unintended consequences down the road (e.g. changes to HVAC sizing).

These small experiments will help your teams to take on innovations in small, manageable ways. This helps to reduce risk.

3. Promote Growth and Learning Throughout Your Architecture Practice.

When you do this, you’ll be surprised at the results. Your teams will discover the most effective ways to realize your design and business goals. Promote rapid learning and help them find what works and what doesn’t.

Start by choosing a hypothesis and determine the best way to measure the results. These experiments should be in line with your firm’s overall goals such as increasing revenue, lowering costs, building client relationships and establishing the reputation you want.

Here are some suggestions:

  • Utilize performance analysis results in a proposal or competition; determine the impact by gauging client reaction, or by measuring the impact on win rate over time.
  • Include performance data in a client presentation; measure client satisfaction (either qualitatively or quantitatively, depending on what you’re hoping to learn).
  • Benchmark performance against Architecture 2030 goals at key points in the project; measure which practices provide the biggest boosts in performance.
  • For projects that require a validation energy model (e.g. for LEED certification or code compliance), measure the extent to which early analysis reduces the time needed for engineering coordination and energy modeling in the later stages.

How Will Your Architecture Firm Benefit From Innovative Technologies?

If you share this responsibility throughout your practice, you can drive innovation. The result will be improved processes and ultimately using the most effective ways to accomplish your design and business goals.

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