AIA Committee On Design Conference
San Francisco + Silicon Valley
April 4-7, 2019
Some people consider the act of innovating to be a disruption—doing things in new ways that have never been considered before. At the 2019 AIA Committee on Design conference, David Greenbaum, FAIA, designated the theme of Innovators and Maintainers: Innovation in Architecture, Infrastructure & Technology.
“Maintainers”, according to Greenbaum, are essential to innovators in that they are the ones who figure out how to actually get things done. If innovators are inventors, then the maintainers are the implementers. The innovators invent the new engine, while the maintainers make it run.
Architects admire design excellence and creativity. Geniuses like Leonardo da Vinci and Thomas Edison, and more recently Steve Jobs, worked with a team of maintainers who helped make their dreams become a reality.
An overarching goal of this year’s conference was to examine innovation and infrastructure from multiple perspectives, including digital design, urban design and architecture, and human-centered design—in other words, from the micro scale to the macro scale.
Over the course of four days, the COD attendees explored how architects are breaking new ground, opening new doors and creating new places to work, live and interact. COD chose to explore the San Francisco Bay area and the Silicon Valley, known as the “Innovation Hub”.
Attendees kicked off the conference with a “Symposium on Innovation” moderated by Katie Gerfen, Editor of Design for ARCHITECT magazine. The four speakers [who are they?] explored how we encourage innovation and incorporate it into our designs, from buildings to interiors, and from landscapes to the community at large.
A visit to Autodesk, the home of AutoCAD, Revit and BIM (Building Information Modeling), helped attendees visualize how design shapes the world. The streets of San Francisco served as a learning lab for observing how people live in an urban village, with stops at the MIRA Tower by Studio Gang, The Avery by Anne Fougeron, and an affordable housing complex designed by David Baker. A trip to the top of the 61-story Salesforce Tower by Pelli Clarke Pelli and observation of the Salesforce Transit Center at its base, which links together 11 transit systems under a sustainable 5.4-acre rooftop park, served as an example of the way that innovation and maintenance can serve each other. Transforming the matrix of the city’s transportation systems into a major public park is how the maintainers and innovators collaborate.
Attendees also took a walking tour of SFMOMA, originally designed by Mario Botta, which opened in 1995 and was recently expanded by Snøhetta. The new addition doubles the amount of exhibition space and makes the museum much more accessible to the community. An underlying theme of the conference was how to make individual projects relate to their surroundings and to the community that they serve.
Another equally impressive merger of innovation and maintenance visited by attendees was the Bay Area Metro Center by Perkins+Will and TEF Design. The 1942 military tank assembly plant, an 8-story concrete bunker, has been converted to an open and welcoming collaborative workplace through a major renovation. The introduction of a light-filled atrium allows interaction across multiple floors.
The Innovation Hub
Exploring three of the most innovative companies on earth—Facebook, Google, and Apple, as well as three unique buildings at Stanford University—helped attendees understand what innovation looks like in action. A consistent theme among all campuses and their design teams was the push for sustainable design and energy efficiency. Attendees toured the Central Energy Facility (CEF) at Stanford, designed by ZGF Architects and Affiliated Engineers Inc. It provides thermal services to the 8,180-acre campus building including 16 million square feet of academic space, administrative and residential facilities, and two hospitals. Stanford’s goal is to rely entirely on solar power by 2021.
In contrast to the large, technology-driven CEF, the small, elegant and serene Windhover Contemplative Center, essentially a single quiet room seemingly floating in a reflecting pool, allowed attendees to witness an integration of landscape, art and architecture.
The Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford is also technologically driven, but its designers—Perkins+Will, with HGA as executive architect and Mazzetti Engineers—were mindful about integrating nature into the facility. It is the second children’s hospital in the world to achieve LEED Platinum certification.
Next on the agenda was Menlo Park, the home of Facebook. Attendees learned that Facebook is hiring 2,500 per quarter, or 10,000 people per year. The company is booming around the globe, and especially at its headquarters in Silicon Valley.
Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO, wanted an open semi-industrial environment and selected Frank Gehry to design two buildings in the company’s headquarters, MPK 20 & 21. COD attendees received a guided tour of MPK 21, a highly sustainable building with a 3.6-acre rooftop garden, featuring over 200 trees, flowers, and a half-mile meandering pathway for “walk and talk” meetings.
Amid exposed steel and glass, Gehry introduced glue-laminated timber, adding warmth to the industrial complex. Other features include conference spaces that open onto the roof garden, a central circulation spine that offers a clear pathway the length of the building, abundant breakout and quiet spaces, and planters that give privacy between working areas and circulation.
The next stop was the Google-Charleston East campus, currently under construction and designed by BIG (Bjarke Engels Group) and the Heatherwick Studio. It is the first time Google has had the opportunity to design its own building from the ground up. The building is a series of interlocking tent-like structures, which create a mini-city under one vast roof. The intent is to reimagine the future of the workplace in a way that prioritizes long-term flexibility and sustainability.
Attendees to the 2019 AIA COD conference experienced a broad range of design ideas and approaches and learned that innovation comes in many forms and that maintainers are often the unsung heroes that give life to innovative ideas.
Over the course of three days, attendees observed multiple solutions and approaches to making livable environments for people that attempt to resolve the challenges of climate change—both as design professionals, and as an expanding human race with a finite amount of space and resources. Time will tell how much the innovative ideas that attendees observed will have a positive influence on people’s lives and the build environment.
Article by Micheal Franklin Ross, FAIA and photography by Jason O’Rear