Can a Building Engineer Innovation?

October 25, 2016
Fast Company — By Diana Budds

Innovation is a buzzy thing in architecture today. It’s nearly impossible to avoid projects that claim to be purpose-built to spark the invention of new ideas, from individual buildings to campuses to entire city districts. But can you actually engineer innovation? Is it something that can be designed, or is this just another clever real estate marketing tactic?

The recently completed Pennovation Center in Philadelphia is the latest to be admitted into the Innovation Architecture Class. A renovation of a former factory, the project anchors the University of Pennsylvania’s 23-acre Pennovation Works district, an area of the campus specifically designed to be the site where the next big thing is invented—and turned into a business.

Matthias Hollwich, cofounder of the New York-based firm HWKN, and the lead architect on the Pennovation Center, wholeheartedly believes you can design innovation. He thinks a building can be a tool for social engineering and make all the difference to the people who work there. ‘It needs to be novel, have an identity, and have an emotional connection that makes people want to be there and want to contribute,’ he says.