MARK THALER USES A LOT OF ORGANIC LANGUAGE. Words like “
ecosystem,” “sandbox,” and “pollination” season his speech. To listen to him, one
would almost think he is a career master gardener.
But, at least in his day job, Thaler is the education practice area leader for the
Northeast Region for architecture and design firm Gensler. Covering offices in
Toronto, New York City, Morristown, New Jersey, and Boston, he works a lot
these days on incubators: spaces high on collaboration and low on structure,
intended to spur new ideas.
“Incubators are inspired by the garage innovation of companies like Apple,
Google, and Facebook,” Thaler explains. “They are all slightly different, but have
in common that they provide an informal setting for people to come together in
ways that haven’t previously existed to manipulate ideas and products.”
According to Thaler, universities have become natural sponsors of incubators
for a variety of reasons. For one thing, today’s students prefer learning-by-
doing versus sitting in a lecture hall. They are looking for opportunities to
create now, and not interested in waiting until after they get degrees. “Higher
education is realizing it needs to build incubators to stay competitive and rel-
evant,” says Thaler.
Academic institutions also have a built-in capacity for bringing disparate
groups of people together. Beyond their students, who are studying across a tremendous variety of fields, schools tend to be connected to local organizations
and business leaders (not to mention their own alumni bases). That usually
includes corporate executives, start-ups, and venture capitalists—exactly the
kind of people enterprising students are looking to work with.
WHERE DOES YOUR GARDEN GROW?
1. The University of East London’s Knowledge Dock
uses a simple graphic style, a bright color palette, and
intersecting layers of vinyl shapes to convey the concepts of collaboration, creativity, focus, and flexibility.
2. For 1871, a new co-working space on the 12th floor
of The Merchandise Mart, Chicago, an “undesign”
enables serendipitous collisions and supports a wide
range of business functions, without getting in the
way of unexpected outcomes.
Hacking Space to