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theory thursday:architecture cluster

To build without engaging the “cluster” is impossible. To design without engaging the “cluster” is a missed opportunity.

Though it had been published several years prior, I can recall being captivated by the notion of “clusters” in Michael Porter’s article in the Harvard Business Review called “Clusters And The New Economics of Competition”. As Porter has described it, clusters are geographic concentration of interconnected companies and institutions in a particular field. As I had interpreted it, the “architecture cluster” is the network of interrelated professionals – with whom I was responsible to be exchanging information with.

As architects, we are traditionally very good at exchanging information among our peers – essentially only a single sector within the “architecture cluster.” This phenomenon can perhaps be traced back to our days in studio when the entire design process was transparent to our colleagues, professors and critics alike. This form of information exchange is embedded in our working models and should remain. However, where I see huge potential for improvement is within the “architecture cluster.”

Recognizing the value that other professionals can add to our design process is the first step. As mentioned, architecture can not be realized without the participation of interrelated disciplines such as; finance, development, engineering, planning, environmental sciences, marketing, journalism, product design, product suppliers, construction, etc. We share space within the “architecture cluster” with these professionals but too often exclude them from the design process.

In Porter’s article, he draws upon the example of the California Wine Cluster. Among the 680 commercial wineries, it includes grape growers, suppliers, irrigation utilities, harvesting equipment suppliers, label printers, advertising firms, etc. Recognizing all too well that without one of these components, the availability of wine to the consumer would be compromised.

Admittedly, it will most often be the architect’s responsibility to organize and engage the related disciplines when working on a new project but with digital communication and social media marketing tools available to us today, this is significantly easier to organize and facilitate.

As always, I welcome the opportunity for this to be more of an open dialogue. Perhaps a suggestion to others who are contributing to this topic to think back on projects in which information was exchanged within the “architecture cluster” and how beneficial the information was to the help deliver a successful project……….

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shaunt - who has written 2 posts on archop.


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5 Responses to “theory thursday:architecture cluster”

  1. Stronger together. That is the purpose of industry clustering. As you mentioned this does not always work. Generally those in professional services (accountants, marketers, etc) are left out of the mix. In Fresno, we have seen more and more of the professional service providers getting involved in the various clusters.

    Clustering and innovation are greatly advanced when a cross-discipline approach is the focus.

  2. Hank Delcore says:

    Ahem, I’d like to add “anthropology” as a related discipline that could add value to an architecture cluster. :)

  3. shaunt yemenjian says:

    no doubt! once it has been tried and tested it’s pretty easy to see the benefits.

    i agree that perhaps the biggest obstacle is the additional effort [generally equates to additional cost] that is required to engage those who ‘are left out of the mix.’

    i wonder, is it the responsibility of the designers to solicit the involvement of other professionals or should other professionals be more proactive about approaching designers and inform them of how their projects stand to benefit from the collaboration?

    one thing is certain, groups such as creative fresno and events like pecha kucha are providing more and more exposure for potential cross-disciplinary collaborations.

  4. It’s all about building the case. That will come with exposure and success stories. PKN and CF events will help in this manner, but professional organziations need to step up and open their doors as well.

  5. I’m not a practicing design professional or architect but it does seem like this field is a bit behind other disciplines when it comes to clustering. I think fields that involve a bit more sales and marketing as their core business activities tend to be at the forefront.

    I think that’s because they are much quicker to adopt the essence of what their product / service / purpose is about. Ironically, it’s the marketeers who dig deepest to understand the what’s really important to the stakeholders and consumers.

    Let me give a concrete example. I have a friend who owns a little company that makes custom cabinetry, built-ins, and unique architectural elements. Unlike many people fabricators, he creates full design drawings for everything. His work is clearly a cut above average…yet he has no idea how to explain that when bidding projects. He has to figure out that what people really like about his work is that they feel like they have something special. It’s not *just* built-in tv cabinet. His work exudes that elusive sense greatness.

    Bringing this back to clustering, I think many in the design field are like this. They have talent, but don’t understand how to communicate that to the end user. Clusters tend to be formed when one member discovers exactly what it is the end users want and knows how to disseminate that idea to the other contributing parties.

    Clusters don’t always have to be separate entities. Take Marmol+Radziner, for example. I think that firm exudes the concept of clustering. They have landscape architects, fabricators (wood + metal), interior designers, and architects. Everybody there is on the same page of creating superlative spaces for people to live and work. I’d imagine (though I’ve never visited their offices) that there’s quite a bit of cross collaboration. Every person there understands that what they are doing is much bigger than their individual piece.

    And that’s really the key, finding, articulating, and disseminating what that much bigger idea is. When someone does that…the cluster forms around them.

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