Think Inside the Skyscraper: Innovations in Architecture

Innovation and Design Thinking MOOC to Return This Fall
March 31, 2014
The Division Technique: Cutting Innovation Down to Size
April 14, 2014

Skyscrapers are amazing from any vantage point - near, far, or even inside. If you look closely, you'll spot the patterns inherent in the techniques of Systematic Inventive Thinking. Take a look at these five examples.

Skyscrapers are amazing from any vantage point – near, far, or even inside. If you look closely, you’ll spot the patterns inherent in the techniques of Systematic Inventive Thinking. Take a look at these five examples.

1. MULTIPLICATION: Architect Bruce Graham probably didn’t realize he was using Multiplication when he created the Sears Tower in Chicago (officially now called the Willis Tower). Inspired by a pack of cigarettes, he produced a collection of nine tubes, each of a different height. When attached to specially manufactured steel frames that lashed each tube to the others, the tubes created a building possessing significantly greater structural integrity than that of a single-tube building.

Graham’s thought process actively followed the Multiplication pattern, but he could have just as easily used the Division pattern from the last chapter. He could have taken the main element—a building—and physically divided it along the tall, vertical lines to create a building with multiple parts. We see this often when teaching the SIT method: two or more techniques can yield the same innovative idea. If Graham kept each of the vertical pieces identical in terms of height and function, we would consider this the Preserving version of Division. Each technique will get to the innovative idea. Whereas Division forces you to cut a component in one of three ways—functional, physical, or preserving—and then rearrange it in space or time, Multiplication forces you to duplicate a component and change it.

Elevator2. DIVISION: What is the first thing you do when you step into an elevator? For most people: push the button of the floor you are going to. Not so with a new breed of elevators manufactured by Schindler North America.  These elevators have the buttons on the outside, not inside. The buttons for selecting your floor are on each floor. Instead of just pushing a single up or down button to hail an elevator, you push the button for the floor you want as though you were inside.

The Division Template is the culprit here. In this innovation sighting, the elevator floor button panel was divided out and placed back into the system…outside the elevator cab. Very novel, useful, and surprising.

3. TASK UNIFICATION: The essence of Task Unification is assigning as additional job to an existing resource. In this example, game designers played Tetris on the side of a 29-story skyscraper in Philadelphia. The exhibition celebrated the 30th anniversary of Tetris, which Alexey Pajitnov created in the former Soviet Union and Henk Rogers brought to the rest of the world. The spectacle was a great example of video game marketing at its finest.

“It’s humongous,” Rogers said. “I love it. I’ve been playing around with a giant Tetris at Burning Man for the last seven years. This is an order of magnitude bigger.”

In the super-sized Tetris game, multiple players could go head-to-head in a battle that people on either side of the city could watch. Several thousand people came out to witness the event.

4. ATTRIBUTE DEPENDENCY: The essence of Attribute Dependency is “as one thing changes, another thing changes.” In this example, the view changes depending on the rotation of the floor of the building.

The Da Vinci Tower (also known as Dynamic Architecture Building) is a proposed 313 m (1,027 ft), 68-floor tower in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Each floor will be able to rotate independently. This will result in a constantly changing shape for the tower. Each floor will rotate a maximum of one full rotation in 90 minutes.  The entire tower will be powered by wind turbines and solar panels that will also provide electricity to five other buildings in the vicinity. The turbines will be located between each of the rotating floors and could generate up to 1,200,000 kilowatt-hours of energy.

5. SUBTRACTION: A skyscrapers puzzle requires determining the heights of a grid of buildings. Numbers at the edges of the grid tell the number of skyscrapers visible from that direction. Taller buildings block the view of all lower buildings behind them. Each row and column must have exactly one building of each height.

Think “subtraction” and you may just be able to solve this little riddle.

For a fascinating look at skyscrapers, check out The Heights: Anatomy of a Skyscraper by Kate Ascher.