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Terry Cutler

Chair to the Australian government’s 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 architect’s 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
Schumpeter’s 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
yesterday’s 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 Smith’s 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

have some knowledge of medicine. Vitruvius’s description of the well-educated architect is both inspiring and a savage critique of today’s narrow specialisations. yet sometimes as near to earth as a politician. Let him be educated. 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. 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. He must understand symbols and speak in words. whose trade it is. interiors and landscapes. skilful with the pencil. not to do any thing. know much history. understand music. instructed in geometry. How do we reinstate the polymath or people who can rise above disciplinary or professional blinkers? Two exemplary role models stand out. He articulated the model of the ‘undisciplined’ architect thus: Many centuries later. Discard the spin and this is a profound and important challenge. graphic design. He must contemplate the particular. Intellectually and operationally we are like caged animals in an institutional zoo. upon that account. Victoria.4 125 .5 Security fence (since demolished) separating the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation’s Clayton Laboratories from Monash University. are often capable of combining together the powers of the most distant and dissimilar objects. The architect’s service ‘consists in craftsmanship and technology’.3 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 innovation. To offset the downsides of the specialisation of endeavour. He must be purposeful and disinterested in a spontaneous mood. and touch abstract and concrete in the same flight of thought. 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.within bureaucratic silos and build fences around our specialised expertise: we know more and more about less. as aloof and incorruptible as an artist. but to observe every thing. engineering and project management. and architectural functions have become dispersed across surveying. philosopher – in some degree. He must study the present in the light of the past for the purposes of the future. in terms of the general. and be acquainted with astronomy and the theory of the heavens. Design specialisations have developed around fashion. Architecture and design has not escaped this balkanisation. industrial design. 2008 Boundary fences around disciplinary and professional specialisations can become enemies of innovation. have followed the philosophers with attention. historian. know the opinions of the jurists. 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. The first exemplar is Vitruvius. who observed that the architect must combine theory and practice. No part of man’s nature or his institutions must be entirely outside his regard. and who. Australia.

L2 Tsionov-Vitkon. architects including HWKN. Limon Lab. Escher GuneWardena. Architensions. 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’. Spain. reflecting a repositioning for design innovation away from conventional community expectations.BOOM Costa Del Sol. Malaga. 126 . Dosmasuno. bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community aged 40 upwards. gay. Messana O’Rorke and Rudin Donner fully embrace social groups that traditionally have not been catered for. Nigel Coates. Catering for a lesbian.

p 21. without remarking on the fact that real and productive collaboration is extraordinarily rare and very hard work. Socialism and Democracy. 2000. p 6. MA). trans Morris Hicky Morgan. it was touch and go whether or not we might preference the Italian term for innovator as ‘impresario’. For a while. Collaboration. An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. 2. Smith. like innovation. The impresario is the producer who pulls together a ‘motley crew’. Monash University. It is instructive that the English language has not produced an indigenous word to describe the innovator. Book I. An impresario easily and naturally becomes synonymous with architect or designer.9. is deemed to be a good thing. 5.6 and ‘puts the show on the road’. eds R Campbell. op cit. The challenge for our institutions is how we might develop and support Vitruvian and Keynesian practitioners. Images: p 124 © Everett Collection/Fex Features. 3. Allen Lane (London). however. The answer lies in the support of multilingual competencies and the ability to have conversations across boundaries. Creative Industries: Contracts Between Art and Commerce. Clarendon Press Edition (Oxford). We talk about and invoke the virtue of collaboration endlessly. 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. 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. pp 126-7 © HWKN (Hollwich Kushner LLC) 127 . Rod Hill. 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. 2009. Harvard University Press (Cambridge. We borrowed ‘entrepreneur’ from the French.i. 1975 [originally published 1942]. MA). to use the colourful phrase adopted by Richard Caves to describe production in the creative industries. It is antithetical to our specialisations and so the basic challenge for innovators is how to assume the role of organising collective action. Text © 2013 John Wiley & Sons Ltd. Harper (New York). The Ten Books on Architecture. 4. Vitruvius. p 56 6. Richard Caves. A Skinner and W Todd. The impresario accurately describes the function and character of the innovator. Joseph Schumpeter. Quoted by Robert Skidelsky in Keynes: The Return of the Master. pp 82–5. 1976. 1914. p 125 © Rod Hill. 2 Notes 1. Capitalism. Adam Smith. Harvard University Press (Cambridge. Boundary crossing raises the vexed issue of collaboration.