Distributed Innovation, Frank Gehry, and Peter B. Lewis Building

4 04 2011

Image by Bryan Chang (via Flickr)

This past Saturday, my wife and I were able to take a behind the scenes tour of the Peter B. Lewis building by Frank Gehry on the campus of Case Western Reserve University.  The tour was led by Dr. Richard Bolland of the Weatherhead School of Management at Case.  Dr. Bolland was an interesting choice to lead the tour because he not only works in the building, but was part of the programming and design as part of the team representing the University.  As a result of, or at least influenced by that experience, Dr. Bolland has recently focussed his research on design and what he called “distributed innovation”.  Of the entire tour, I felt that this was one of the most interesting, thought-provoking parts of the entire tour.

PBL Looking towards Lake Erie (thanks Flickr, namely fitchdnld)

Partially because Gehry uses a proprietary software (sure you can make the argument that CATIA/Project Designer is not used exclusively for Gehry Partners, but that’s another argument), partly because of Gehry’s free-flowing design, and partly because of the construction process, the PBL created some very unique issues in both design and construction.  What Dr. Bolland realized is that the process of design has changed!  Because of the use of 3d modeling, because of the interactivity between the designer and the contractor (and subsequently sub-contractors), and because of the advances in building technologies, the communication and flow of information becomes the something that we as a profession haven’t seen before.  We no longer are sharing 2 dimensional representations of our ideas, but we can virtually create the walls, the spaces, the windows, and as a result the building.  This information is no longer a one way street, but more a conversation.  This flow of information leads to the distributed innovation that Dr. Bolland referred to.  The idea when broken down (if I understand it correctly) is that the innovation in one profession (architecture in this case by the way of BIM/CATIA) influences and necessitates innovation in other industries (contractors, fabricators, framers, and drywallers).  In order to create the space designed, it was necessary for the architect to share with the builders more than just the drawings, but sharing the 3d model, breaking down where the framing should be.  By doing this, the builders begin creating a conversation with the designer, and can have a better understanding of the designer’s intent.  As a result of this process, the designer is happy because the finished building is closer to the original intent, the builder is happy because they have produced a top quality product, and the client is happy because they have a building that is fully coordinated (hopefully) resulting in a savings.

Image from Flickr (I forgot my Camera) - Thanks to Wayne Chen

Now while this sounds like IPD (Integrated Project Delivery), it’s important to realize that distributed innovation and IPD aren’t necessarily the same thing.  IPD is the way a project is set up from a contractual stand point, distributed innovation is what happens between industries as an evolution of one’s innovation.  The teamwork and open, information sharing attitude between all parties is certainly the ideal and hope behind IDP, but the distributed innovation is what happens as a result of various people working together for a common goal.  IPD works to align the incentives of every team member to promote the teamwork.  However, there are plenty of other ways to share the knowledge and create a network for distributed innovation.  Websites that host tutorials and user forums, user groups, webinars, software sponsored conferences all contribute to the distributed innovation.  To see a list of some of examples, check out my Links page!

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