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AIA Keynote Speaker Jeb Brugmann: Use Strategic Design to Optimize Your Market Advantage

It’s time for the urban development industry “to think big, to be more revolutionary.”

By Mike Singer

Jeb Brugmann, author of Welcome to the Urban Revolution: How Cities are Changing the World, addressed the AIA National Convention on Friday morning with a new value proposition for architectural firms and their clients.

“I’m not an architect, planner, or engineer,” said Brugmann, a strategy and innovation consultant, “but I am being hired to optimize urban terrains by corporations, city governments, and international organizations. My argument is that it’s your turn.”

Brugmann advocated that architects expand their client value proposition by establishing their own processes of strategic design, and sees this as a means to capture new value for architecture firms and their clients. He sees strategic design as focusing on the customized design of place-based economic social systems that optimize space and assets for particular user communities and purposes, creating what he calls strategic location advantages. Strategic design involves increased influence at the front end of the development process, and uses a toolkit that includes place modeling, policy development, product offering analysis, and communications.

In research elaborated in his book, Brugmann sees strategic design as a growing opportunity, as few realize the full value-creation potential of urban space. The optimization of each and every urban location can help whole cities and individual property owners alike reduce costs, optimize revenues, and create sustainable competitive advantages, Brugmann told AIA members at the May 13 session.

A senior associate at Cambridge University’s Program for Sustainability Leadership, Brugmann drew on many of his own value engineering studies to show how to optimize latent undeveloped resources in urban locations and how to connect these locations more fully into an increasingly global urbanized network.

He showed that what was once farmland outside of San Jose, Calif., just 40 years ago, for example, has blossomed as a new regional urban corridor (home to Adobe, Google, and other high-tech leaders), that’s now known as Silicon Valley. On the other side of the globe, he spoke of urban optimization at work in the Dharavi slums of Mumbai, India, where dozens of small merchant districts are co-located to keep down costs and facilitate global trade. On a more regional level in Vancouver, he pointed to how 48 percent of the food supply for British Columbia is now produced within the boundaries of the Vancouver metropolitan area.

Brugmann, who co-founded the global innovation consulting firm The Next Practice with C.K. Prahalad, said that people and organizations by the billions have chosen urban locations strategically, to access the inherently advantageous economies of urban settlement, and that every dozen years from now until mid-century, another billion people will lay claim to the raw, productive potential of urban location.

“Strategic design allows architects a chance for engagement in new ways,” Brugmann told the AIA Convention attendees. “If you miss influence at the front end, you miss the ambition moment. It’s time for the urban development industry to think big, to be more revolutionary.”


All images courtesy of David Aleman, Oscar Einzig Photography.


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