Risk and Innovation

In a recent article regarding the RISK conference, Monica Ponce de Leon and Eliel Saarinen raise the issue of the overall impact of ongoing crisis to architectural practice. While admitting that the consequences are grave, they try to accept them as grounds for boosting innovative approaches to architecture. Here are some excerpts from the article:

(…) Whether we like it or not, our ways of life are in peril. Environmental changes are affecting all of us. (…) No one can be left untouched by the deterioration of the built environment. In some measure and at some level, we are all at risk.

In an age where arts and culture are under siege — the first to be eliminated in a budget cut — it seems then, that by taking risks we may have little to lose and potentially a lot to gain. It may be only by pursuing the new and the unconventional that we may have the opportunity to serve as catalysts for change. Now more than ever we need dramatic innovation and the kind of personal risk associated with it.

This kind of risk is not new to what we do. Architecture and planning have long been understood to have the potential to develop new methodologies and systems that will impact our physical world. Recognizing this, many practitioners have pursued new modes of practice and have taken professional risks, turning conventions upside down.

The stereotypes of the master architect and master planner as iconic figures have always been at odds with the belief that architecture and urban planning should be service professions. In recent years the critique of the master has taken strong hold and service has been offered as an answer for architecture’s apparent crisis of identity and planning’s relationship to society.

Service has multiple meanings, not all of them constructive. If we intend it to mean to be helpful to others, then at best, service conjures up a generosity of spirit; at worst, the term service is burdened with moralistic undertones … as if we know best. The word service at its root shares an uncomfortable association with servitude, suggesting the subjugation of the disciplines to the status quo, unable to effect positive change and condemning our practices to follow paths set by others.

Ultimately, stereotypes are not helpful and the question as to our raison d’etre continues to haunt us. Perhaps we should simply accept the nature and the power of our disciplines. We construct the world around us. Our ideas are material. We articulate the physical structure of the city, its buildings, and its public and private spaces; in short, we construct culture. The pursuit of innovation in social entrepreneurship is our calling card — with all of the risks it may entail.

Source: Monica Ponce de Leon and Eliel Saarinen. Constructing Culture, Portico, Vol. 11-12, No. 2, 2012

More on RISK Conference here.


Architecture, Conference, Innovation, Risk, Urban planning

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