Innovation isn’t necessarily in being cutting edge in technology or ideas.
True, that fancy new solar panel or smart wall membrane can have a heavy affect on building performance, but not every project has the budget for high level products. In our Solar Decathlon cabinets, we have to push the idea of innovation as far as we can, but not by using the latest and greatest. Instead, we focus on how to use them and design them in a way that improves their function. By definition, innovation not only means idea or product, but also METHOD. From our first assessment in needs of the program, storage, access, scale, and character, the innovation factor for us has become how the cabinets inform the walls instead of the walls informing the cabinets. What method we use to construct and put together these cabinet ‘boxes’ will determine the success and creative nature of these walls and how well the user can interact with them.
We have to box it up. Not tacked on a wall, not hung from a wall, but stacked in space itself. A deep interplay of solid and void determines their integration with each space. How does the kitchen volume of boxes respond to the master bedroom boxes behind them? How can the bedroom boxes be flexible enough to turn into office and desk space? Our innovation is in designing the cabinet boxes so they use each other to create the structure of the wall rather than relying on a predetermined spacing of studs to hang them from. Our goal not only is for a top innovation score in the decathlon competition, but also to cast cabinets in a light that strengthens their function and appeal as traditional storage, but with un-traditional methods. As our next phase of beginning to piece how these boxes will be constructed and go together comes up, we will continue to push innovation further in how the hardware and joint connections can be used in a way that strengthens their function as well.
Today the biggest goal for the five of us on the cabinets is presenting this idea of cabinet walls to the Department of Energy with the project’s design development submission. The level of refinement in construction method will deepen in the coming weeks as we push toward building mockups and parts of the finished system in the Intro to Craft class. For now, getting the big idea across and looking at what gaps and holes need to be filled in to make the concept even stronger will be the focus. Soon, the use of hardware and how doors and drawers tuck away and the use of material will need to be addressed with the same level of thought and method as the boxes themselves. We are looking forward to making this system fit at the top of firmness, commodity, and delight as well as innovation.
This lesson in innovation has been key for all of us on both Crop Stop and Decathlon teams. The preconception that innovation needs to be a product is completely false. Though we all knew that to some extent before, being able to design that way from the beginning has been challenging but rewarding in opening up new possibilities to think outside the box and dream up new uses and construction methods for each project. We are not simply looking to create boxes with the same methods but better, we are looking to create better boxes by using a different method, with a different approach.