Arsenale, Giardini, exhibitions outside the walls… and conferences. On May 27 and 28, on the sidelines of the opening days of the Venice Architecture Biennale, L’Architecture d’Aujourd’hui organized four roundtables bringing together architects and companies around the profession’s major challenges. Among the exchanges, the “France, land of innovations” discussion opened paths that would be worth exploring for architects.
“How do you define innovation?”: it was in these terms that Jean-Philippe Hugron, editor in chief of Le Courrier de l’Architecte and a regular contributor to AA, launched the discussion that brought together architects Philippe Chiambaretta and Tom Sheehan as well as Christophe Thevenot, head of development at EIF Innovation, a consulting company specialized in corporate innovation.
For the two architects, innovation de facto implies upheavals of projects, tools and especially in the design process. For Tom Sheehan, it is very closely linked to the idea of “progress.” In his office, collaborators get together once a week to develop research projects, without waiting for a commission. “This allows us to have an agenda beyond that of a project manager.”
“You have to get away from the immediacy of the architecture project,” continued Philippe Chiambaretta. To explore the future challenges of architecture and urban planning, he notably chose publishing as a research tool with the Stream review, which comes out once a year. For the architect, the innovation question is played out “at the junction between technological mutations and economic evolutions.” Mentioning the BIM, Chiambaretta stresses that “more than a software innovation, the digital model is an innovation in the design method favoring collaboration.”
Going further into this concept, Christophe Thevenot distinguishes the innovation process from the one implemented in the framework of R&D. “Innovation implies bringing something new to the market but not every innovation is the result of R&D. R&D is developed faced with a constraint; it involves improving your level of knowledge to turn a corner.” This is an important distinction for EIF Innovation, which defines research projects eligible for the “research tax credit” and “innovation tax credit” to which architects have had access since 2012. These tools make it possible to gain “between 5 and 15% of annual revenue” and to recover “as much as 30% of the investments on innovative projects.” Accompanying real estate developers and engineering offices, this consulting firm has no less than 40 architecture offices among its clients. These firms find not only a way to continue research but also to develop their non-winning competition proposals.
“France is a worldwide leader in start-up creation,” recalled Christophe Thevenot. Time for French architects to join the pack!