Risk and Innovation at DLR Group
When we contemplate innovation within the A/E/C industry, we rarely discuss the necessary willingness to take on risk, and failure, when engineering and designing forward-thinking building solutions. Design, at its core, is creative problem solving. When we prototype spatial solutions to solve our clients’ challenges—be it through sketching, modeling, or mock-ups—we are pushing our ideas to the brink of failure.
“If you’re trying to solve a problem there are potentially hundreds of possible pathways to take, but only a few are going to lead to the appropriate solution. And the only way to discover that is to try and fail and try again,” Baba Shiv wrote in an Insight for the Stanford Graduate School of Business. Although Shiv is speaking specifically to start-up culture, he is outlining an accurate description of the design process at DLR Group.
Learn to Celebrate Failure
When our Workplace Studio designed the firm’s new Los Angeles office, it surveyed approximately 175 employee-owners who work in the office. This research determined a 60/40 split between “Residents,” those who preferred to work at a dedicated desk space, and “Nomads,” those who preferred to work at unassigned workstations and in amenity zones. The project team invested in extensive change management strategies, including a lot of education and communication around what working as Residents and Nomads would look like pragmatically. In the midst of construction, however, there was some last-minute resistance to adopt a shift to new behaviors.
“We thought we had full buy-in from all of our staff, but there were a few that got cold feet right before we moved,” recalls Senior Project Manager Alison Zeno. “That meant that desks originally equipped and allocated for Nomads were claimed as permanent stations.”
Approximately six months after the office move-in date, staff has settled in and, based on post-occupancy surveys, the nomadic work-style is succeeding. Zeno says it is time to refocus on achieving the ratios for which the office was designed. “We are a firm that is dedicated to research and development, and if we’re going to wave that flag and claim that as one of the tenets of who we are, we need to celebrate our minor failures,” Zeno says. “Now that we see the results just a few months in, it’s time to course correct.”
Venture to Think Big
In Arizona, construction is underway at Canyon View High School, a brand new 225,000-square-foot, educational facility with the flexibility to support multiple pedagogies simultaneously. It also will house a first-of-its-kind Teaching and Learning Accelerator, an open-source incubator dedicated to advanced learning strategies. The campus leverages a brand new sustainability framework we at DLR Group call “Viewing Architecture through the Lens of User Experience for Sustainability,” or a VALUESTM approach. The project is currently under construction, but its design innovation came from research conducted during conceptual development. A series of workshops and series of “day in the life” observation sessions led the team to its ultimate project goal: To advance the art of teaching and learning.
“In the early phases of conceptual design, we began to ask how the adjacencies of space and its presence on campus begin to inform its use, and it became this back-and-forth, this reciprocal relationship of how space can push the concept, and how the concept can push the space,” says K-12 Education Leader and Principal Jason Lembke. “And I think there’s this wonderful back-and-forth that’s still happening, so I wouldn’t even consider the process to be solidified. I would argue that it’s going to continue through construction, and then through the building opening and operating.”
Stick to Our Commitments
Architects and planners can, and we believe should, lead the climate change fight in the U.S.'s post-Paris Accord world. As a firm, we will continue to honor our peer agreement to meet the challenges before us in the Architecture 2030 Challenge, to evolve and improve our commitments to living and working sustainably as a society and, by economic necessity, to look for ways to reduce our carbon footprint and our energy consumption. At DLR Group, this is not a political position. We continue contributing to our industry’s momentum towards a more sustainable future for our planet.
“As a global design firm with Environmental Stewardship as one of our core values, we will continue to fulfill our commitments toward creating sustainable built environments,” says Global Sustainability Leader and Principal Prem Sundharam, AIA. “We are an advocate for Architecture 2030 and the China Accord and, through our design work, we will continue to pursue a carbon-neutral built environment.”
When we dedicate our work to research and development, and remain deeply committed to our values, the inevitable results are extraordinary. At DLR Group, our success stories are crafted by the talent and dedication of our employee-owners and project collaborators. When we work together to tackle risk and failure, the end result is, invariably, uniquely innovative.