In January, Perkins+Will named John Haymaker, AIA, as firmwide director of research, overseeing the firm’s Innovation Incubator and practice-based research centers for 24 offices worldwide. Haymaker also oversees Perkins+Will’s nonprofit AREA Research, which draws together data and researchers in topics like health, energy, process, and resiliency that impact the design and operation of the education, workplace, healthcare, and urban built environments. A self-described technologist, Haymaker is also an assistant professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology and holds a Ph.D. in civil and environmental engineering from Stanford University.
I’m a tool builder in the interdisciplinary space of architecture, engineering, and computation, and I see research and design as information-processing activities. I also see we are at a point in history where, if we are to build smartly and sustainably, we need to gather the right information and process it in the right way to get the right results. This may sound simplistic, but it’s actually incredibly hard. Architects are known for coming up with great ideas, synthesizing information, and devising wonderful solutions. But they’re not always very good at doing that in a systematic and repeatable way, so that learning can be shared and best practices disseminated.
Design research is a multi-threaded and cyclical process. It’s about generating data and tools that help you do your job better. There’s also a social aspect to adopting new processes, and to figuring out how they might change practice. My students are particularly valuable to my work because they are closer to the forces of new technology. I’m fortunate that what I do at Perkins+Will informs my teaching at Georgia Tech and vice versa: My students teach me new things all the time that I can apply in my industry work, as I prepare them to do this work.
The principals at Perkins+Will have established the company’s research focus to define and solve our emerging problems. There’s a business side to this emphasis, too: We’re not the only firm to realize that our product is applied knowledge. Yet there’s a social imperative side as well: to make the world a better place. This is why we all became architects. Applied research in the built environment is imperative if we are to resiliently face the impacts of climate, social, and technical change.
I call myself a technologist because I believe new tools, methods, and approaches can improve the way we communicate. For me, technology can equal progress and architecture is undergoing a big shift these days.
People might assume, given my background and interests, that I want to do away with the aesthetics of architecture. No, I just want to shift the identity of the architect from being a master builder to a master organizer of systems. Massive organization—and reorganization—is what the architecture field needs today. —As told to William Richards