Design Bridges DFC's European Session

September 30, 2000 · by James P. Cramer

The Design Futures Council recently held a session of its executive board in Copenhagen, Denmark. The session took place at Gammel Dok, The Danish Centre for Architecture—an 1882 historic harborfront building...

The Design Futures Council recently held a session of its executive board in Copenhagen, Denmark prior to The American Institute of Architects International Committee PIA’s Design Diplomacy: Public Policy and the Practice of Architecture conference. The session took place at Gammel Dok, The Danish Centre for Architecture—an 1882 historic harborfront building.

Dr. Karen Stephenson, President of NetForm and a professor of management at UCLA, began the morning with a discussion about “Innovation & Networks Towards High Performance Organizations.” Dr. Stephenson, a corporate anthropologist, specializes in the scientific principles of network management to help organizations reveal the often unseen interrelationships of human or knowledge capital. By identifying and leveraging these informal networks of individuals (employees, customers, suppliers, etc.), a firm can improve its productivity and profitability.

Organizations are filled with “informal networks”—such as innovation, expert knowledge, social, and routine work—which function outside the formal hierarchy. Dr. Stephenson identified three key players within every network: Hubs, with many direct ties throughout the organization; Gatekeepers, who maintain strategic connections in different parts of the organization; and Pulsetakers, with the greatest number of indirect ties. These three nodes, a firm’s “cultural carriers,” are facilitated by the deep relationship of trust with most members of the organization. By locating these key individuals, an organization can produce a shift in their knowledge networks with a substantial impact on business performance.

The morning concluded with comments by the U.S Ambassador to Denmark and architect Richard Swett, FAIA about the current state of design in Denmark as contrasted with the United States. He summarized the Danish approach as embodying a higher cultural expectation from all areas of society—the public, design professions, and contractors. In Denmark the public wants to be involved in design decisions as illustrated by the recently proposed opera and ballet building. A full-scale mock-up of the design was erected on the site to give the residents of Copenhagen a chance to experience the building firsthand within the context of the city with comments and critiques welcomed. This strong sense of design is also seen in the greater connection between architecture and the political world, a discussion which the Ambassador continued in greater depth at the Design Diplomacy conference later that week.

Following the presentation of the DFC Senior Fellowship Award to Dr. Karen Stephenson, Arol Wolford, President of CMD Group, Connie Eggleston, Vice-President, AEC Design Liability at CNA Pro, and Scott Simpson, Principal at The Stubbins Associates, concluded the afternoon with a discussion on current trends and issues in the design and construction industries. Topics included the role of associations in the new economy, technology and new business efficiencies, and expanded roles for architects.

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