Sign In, Renew, Sign Up

Search AIA

Search AIA Go

Issues & AdvocacyPublic Policy

Page Tools

Reed Insight and Community


Urban Prototyping Festival at Future Site of 5M. Courtesy San Francisco Department of Planning

Cities as a Lab – Innovation Around the Country
By Brooks Rainwater, Director, Public Policy

Cities as a Lab: Designing the Innovation Economy shows how innovative design is strengthening the economy and spurring invention in cities across America. Cities as a Lab covers myriad ways that the power of design is influencing the direction of cities with case studies from coast to coast:

    Boston’s Innovation District: Pioneering designers reshaped derelict wharves into a multidisciplinary hub for innovation and manufacturing, attracting 200 companies and 4,000 jobs to date. One example of the new innovation infrastructure is District Hall, on which the city of Boston collaborated with architects at Hacin + Associates, Boston Global Investors, and the Cambridge Innovation Center to envision the strategy and design. This 12,000-square-foot, 10-year experimental community hub will support events, exhibitions, and meetings that have no niche elsewhere in the innovation market.

    Research Triangle Park, North Carolina: Research parks are experimenting with site plans that create opportunities through proximity and knowledge exchange. A new 50-year master plan was unveiled last year by architects Cooper, Robertson & Partners that focused on how large corporate campuses must be reinvented as spaces more conducive to the smaller firms that now drive innovation.

    Downtown Project, Las Vegas: The Downtown Project is increasing density to at least 100 residents per acre, in contrast to the city’s current typical densities of between 10 and 25 people per acre. The project’s developers envision accomplishing this by building environments that promote collaboration while cultivating a complementary mix of small companies, restaurants, bars, and cultural amenities that can attract and create other projects.

    5M Project, San Francisco: A budding planned community of over 1,000 art and technology firms is inverting the development process to reinvent underused office spaces. Gensler’s recently unveiled plan takes the community skyward, with eight low-, mid-, and high-rise buildings comprising 1.85 million square feet of office, residential, retail, cultural, and public space.

    The Plant, Chicago: A vertical farm that feeds off city waste, growing produce and small food businesses was built in an abandoned meatpacking plant. SHED Studio architects worked with the development team to build on the building’s existing strengths: substantial thermal mass, reusable equipment such as walk-in refrigerators, and robust sanitation facilities.

These case studies provide an overview of the numerous areas explored in the report focused on innovative practices strengthening our economy and helping to create better cities. As design thinking becomes more and more engrained in the way we make decisions at the municipal level we will live in communities where buildings, neighborhoods, districts, and cities can perform at their highest level of capacity. Cities are the incubators of great ideas and the labs for change that will make this happen. Read Cities as a Lab to learn more.

Back to Issues and Advocacy News

Government & Community Relations Archive:

This content is published by the AIA Government and Community Relations Department, 1735 New York Ave., NW, Washington, DC, 20006. To contact the AIA’s Government & Community Relations team, send an email to


Footer Navigation

Copyright & Privacy

  • © The American Institute of Architects
  • Privacy