Innovation Themes from Architect Daniel Libeskind
One of the greatest modern architects is Daniel Libeskind, whose masterprieces range from the bold angles of the Denver Art Museum to the stunning alignment of old and new in the Dresden Military History Museum to the creative master plan for One World Trade Center in New York.
In a recent interview with Elmear Lynch in Conde Nast Traveler, Libeskind reflects on some of the great innovation themes that instructed his previous work and speculates on several new trends that will drive architectural innovation in the coming years. By parsing each of the ideas identified by Libeskind, we can derive useful insights into our work as practitioners of innovation. Libeskind’s themes can be useful tools for innovation workshops and can assist in brainstorming exercises.
Themes from Past Architectural Innovation
“Living Rooms Moved Outside”
In this theme, Libeskind explores the trend in urban living where living spaces became smaller while public green spaces grew in size. Libeskind factored this into his building designs by paying particular attention to room for outdoor seating and greenspace, which would be easily accessible by large entryway doors, such as his World Trade Center design.
Innovation Theme – For the innovator, we should think about turning concepts inside-out. For example, when thinking about a problem to solve, we should consider removing the problem from its current environs and flipping it to the opposite space to generate new ideas. A simple example would be a team designing a new leaf blower. The tool is designed to be used outside, but as a thought exercise the team should consider what it would be like to operate the tool indoors and think about the types of capabilities that would be needed operating in this new environment (noise reduction, adjustable speeds, smoke reduction, etc.). Thinking about these capabilities could provide insights for outdoor operation or identify a new concept that the team might have missed by its limited focus.
“Substance Became One with Style”
Libeskind’s theme here envisions matching form and function by conceptualizing not just how a building looks but also how it functions for the people who use the facility. In this architectural approach, conservation of water and energy carries the same importance as stunning exterior and interior design.
Innovation Theme – An innovator leading a product development team could trigger an interesting thought experiment by transposing the roles of team members. Engineers could focus on style, while marketers could focus on substance. By forcing individuals outside of their comfort zones, the innovation leader could generate some interesting new concepts to consider for the product. Another idea would be for an innovation leader to make sure that his or her requirements are not solely focused on form or function but, rather, represent a mix of the two.
“Nations Declined as Cities Rose Up”
According to Libeskind, the city has evolved into a much more important entity than in the past, almost the point of the city-states of the past that are all-encompassing in their pluralism and power. Cities reinvented themselves from declining relics into powerhouses of creativity and growth.
Innovation Theme – The re-emergence of cities in terms of prominence vis-a-vis the nation is a classic case of Mark Twain’s famous assertion that the reports of his demise were greatly exaggerated. There was a time where cities were seen as over-tired remnants of a time gone by and that they could not compete with the growing suburbs and exurbs because of infrastructure and space limitations. Some of the great cities of the world have fought this migration and transformed themselves to the point where the migration is reversed and cities are once again the land of opportunity. For the innovator, this theme indicates the importance of focusing intensively on the inherent value of an entity rather than the outward appearance. During the period of their supposed decline, cities still maintained at their essence an energy and vitality that the suburbs and exurbs would never be able to match. The job of the innovator working on a new concept is to identify that core essence of an entity and find ways to drive it to the surface.
Themes from Future Architectural Innovation
“Everyone will be an Architect”
Software, Libeskind notes, will enable individuals to design their own architectural solutions and be less dependent on experts. People will be able to generate their own blueprints for complex designs without incurring the large costs of traditional architectural services.
Innovation Theme – An innovation team could focus on where some task, process, or technology is complex and costly today but could be rendered simple and more user-friendly in the future. The team could then consider the implications of that transformation and identify new products and services that would flow from that newly-enabled simplicity.
“Individualization will Reign”
In this innovation theme, Libeskind observes that the era of mass production is nearing an end and mass-customization will insert itself into the manufacturing process. Architecture will become more of an extension of the individual and less of a statement of the masses.
Innovation Theme – An innovator could look at a product from the perspective of the end user or customer and think about the different attributes of that product that the end user would want to customize if given the opportunity prior to the manufacturing process. For instance, who would have imagined years ago that so much attention would be paid to the color of interior and exterior lighting in an automobile interior?
“Rooms will Change in the Blink of an Eye”
According to Libeskind, architecture will evolve away from its current static nature. Windows that can become opaque by sensing the light of the sun, along with floors that change appearance at the flip of a switch, will drive instant transformation to spaces that were once considered static.
Innovation Theme – This theme focuses on the size and rapidity of transformation. By size we mean something more than just a picture frame on a desk. Rather, we mean to target an entire wall of windows, or a floor for an entire room, with transformative capabilities. By rapidity, we mean the speed of the transformation. We are all familiar with transformation by re-arranging furniture or painting a room a new color. This innovation would focus on that change happening instantaneously. For an innovation workshop, we could look at a product, process, or technology and ask ourselves what value could be derived from large-scale, rapid changes to the target concept.
“Small Spaces will Make Us Smarter”
It is well-known that the increasing interactions of individuals in cities result in an innovation premium derived from certain urban locations (New York, London, Shanghai, etc.). Libeskind sees increasing urbanization trends continuing to drive innovation and greater intelligence, as larger number of people must be creative about organizing their lives in smaller spaces.
Innovation Theme – Two of the driving forces behind the increasing innovation activity occurring in cities are friction and doing more with less. Friction is the greater interaction between human beings that is facilitated by a city. The more people packed into a smaller space, the greater the frequency and intensity of interactions among those people. Over the course of time, these increased interactions lead to a greater likelihood of sharing ideas. Likewise, doing more with less is a typical requirement for urban dwellers who know they will have limited space for their daily lives, thus forcing them to think about how to get more out of their living spaces. For an innovator, this theme could mean increasing the quantity of participants in a workshop to obtain a greater variety of ideas and thinking about a problem from the standpoint of how to do more with less.
“Historic Cities will get Modern”
Libeskind’s final theme is magnificently demonstrated in his design for the Dresden Military History Museum. In this theme, old and new must co-exist in historic cities by leveraging the power of contemporary architecture to bring out the eminence of the relics of the past.
Innovation Theme – This theme emphasizes the surprising value of a juxtaposition of old and new. For an innovator working on a new product or service, a thought exercise could be to juxtapose that new concept with some themes from the past, looking for inspiration or ideas in the way that past innovators solved a problem.
By using these different themes from Libeskind’s observations on past and present architectural innovations, the innovation practitioner can inject new thinking into his or her efforts. If the innovator is not inspired by thinking through these different themes, then perhaps a trip to visit one of Libeskind’s architectural creations is in order.
Source: Eimear Lynch, “The Future of Design: Architect Daniel Libeskind’s Predictions,” Conde Nast Traveler (December 2012), p. 40.
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Scott Bowden works on Innovation Programs for IBM Global Services.
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