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The Innovation of the Other

The Editorial Board of “Ardeth”
L’altra innovazione
Francesca Frassoldati, Alessandro Armando, Daniele Campobenedetto, Valeria Federighi, Caterina Barioglio and Federico Cesareo
p. 5-9
This article is a translation of:
L’altra innovazione [it]

Editor's notes

DOI: 10.17454/ARDETH05.01

Full text

The Innovation of the Other Map

The Innovation of the Other Map

1To define a concrete possibility for innovation, in whatever direction it is intended, it is first necessary to conceive a form of progress that develops over time. This means that every discourse that admits or promises an innovative process implicates two conditions: the first is that in the future something “better” could or must happen than what is happening in the present; the second is that this improvement (growth, evolution, emancipation…) is in some way permanent. Innovation can take on a character of totality, as occurs in The Phenomenology of Spirit by Hegel (and in the philosophies of history that follow it), but also in Darwinian evolutionism; or it can refer to, in a more secular sense, contingent phenomena: like what occurs today with technological optimism that wants us to believe that IT, mechatronics or AI are intrinsically optimised processes. In these cases, optimism gives us faith in the future optimality of performance in a specific context, without necessarily persuading us in the redemptive trajectory of history overall.

2It is perhaps the socio-technological dimension of the world we live in that demonstrates the most evident characteristics of innovation, which can even be indisputable in objective terms. Nevertheless, if on the one hand we easily accept that science and technology are vehicles for certain innovation, on the other hand we cannot confine these to a distinct realm that is separate from our daily experiences and lives. Bruno Latour skillfully demonstrated this macro phenomenon, pointing out how science and technology have extended and densified their bonds with that part of reality that we were used to considering “outside” of laboratories and their experiments: not only did “the laboratory expand its boundaries to the entire planet”, but also “experiments are conducted on a real scale and in real time”, creating a link between experience and experimentation (Latour, 2006, translation by the authors). We can no longer consider innovation as a separate phenomenon from ordinary existence. Following the definition by Latour, this enormous movement brings us to a new global description of the reality we are living in, which necessarily implicates a historical philosophy; in the specific case, a sort of irreversible law of expansion of socio-technological bonds. But all of this with an important difference in respect to previous versions: the expansion of the laboratory (or the “collective”) is not necessarily directed towards an optimum, because a certain prospective on which to judge the “good” and “better” aspect of the change does not exist. Innovation becomes a character of change, not always for the better, nor clearly attributable to an individual intention. A change that can take on the form of an explanation, an immersion of an apparition, depending on which the novum is considered as a latent, hidden phenomenon, or as something added to the previous reality.

3In global terms, innovation could therefore be a function based on becoming, a chain of events and experimentation that alter the common horizon of experience. More specifically, it would be traced back to the invention, as an individual or collective act, aimed at discovering (or creating) something new. And here there is a second turning point: is innovation an unveiling or a production? As reiterated by Jacques Derrida (2007: 29-30), “[starting from the] seventeenth century, perhaps between Descartes and Leibniz, invention is almost never regarded as an unveiling discovery of what was already there (an existence or truth), but is more and more, if not solely the productive discovery of an apparatus that we can call technical in the broad sense, technoscientific or technopoetic”.

4In other words, inventing meant more or less producing something new. This “productive discovery” had to do with the widespread and permanent need for accumulation and growth: “Everywhere the enterprise of knowledge and research is first of all a programmatics of inventions” (p. 27). The invention (as the constitutive act of an innovation process) would be inserted into a system that requires productivity, efficiency and reliability. In other words, Derrida (2007: 27) reminds us of the unavoidable economic-political imperative that dictates the passage to “all the institutions, private or public, capitalist or not, that declare themselves to be organs for producing and orienting invention”. And this presents us with a radical question: “is a programmed invention still an invention?”. Because in the end, if we programmed an invention it means that we have already foreseen it (and therefore, what kind of invention is it anyway?).

5The series of ambiguities that we have touched upon (optimization, intentionality, productivity, programmability) to outline the definitions of innovation can be entirely transferred to the epistemology of the architectural project. Also in architecture there exists the problem of defining the consistency of one’s own innovations (are they objects, systems or processes?), and of making programs for innovation and research (how to foresee a collateral effect or exception?).

6To make the spectrum of possibility of innovation that crosses through the field of the project clearer, we could start with the considerations of Latour and Derrida. The first helps to measure the separateness that distinguished experimentation in closed laboratories, where “white jackets” are at work, from the outside world, where certain science is debated in an uncertain manner: a condition, in the contemporary world, that is no longer guaranteed – neither for scientists nor architects.

7The second helps to see the programmability of innovation, or the difference that is evident between an invention that confirms a planned pathway, or at least directed towards a preset objective, and an invention that emerges unexpectedly, like the collateral effect or exaptation of a contingent situation.

8We therefore have two axes, along which it is possible to try and order the many meanings used to delineate innovation processes.

9The vertical axis distributes the level of separateness among spaces of innovation and experience: following Latour, every innovation should impact the collective, and vice-versa. Therefore, innovation would be for the most part a distributed phenomenon correlated (entangled) with the rest of reality, difficult to isolate into a single object. On the one hand, there are forms of innovation that are concentrated on the production of specific entities, in particular technical objects, tested and developed in laboratories that are carefully separated from the outside world. In these cases, the measure of innovation can be effectively attributed to the object. But up to what point can we assimilate architecture into a technical object developed in vitro and its innovation paradigms? For example, is innovation in construction components is a form of innovation in the architectural project?

10The horizontal axis, on the other hand, distinguishes the level of intentionality attributed to an innovative process. Derrida (2007: 39) says that programmed innovation is innovation promoted by “the governmental policies on modern science and culture”, inevitably: “An order where there is no absolute surprise, the order of what I will call the invention of the same”. The same is what is possible, which therefore was already there from the start. While free invention would be, at its limit, the invention of the impossible, what could not be predicted, invention of the other: “To invent would then be to ‘know’ how to say ‘come’ and to answer the ‘come’ of the other. Does that ever come about? Of this event one is never sure”. So, innovation can oscillate between the prospective determining a programmed intention (invention of the same), and the opening to an unpredictable, collateral, even impossible event (invention of the other).

11A Cartesian plane emerges, where four polarities are combined along two axes of separateness and intentionality. Separateness (vertical axis) is drawn between two poles: innovation intended as a distributed phenomenon (entanglement), or as a process that can invest an isolated entity within a closed laboratory (object). Intentionality (horizontal axis) opposes the programmed innovation pole, which must be instituted and expected, against the collateral innovation pole, which emerges from unexpected conditions.

12These four planes generate a possible spectrum of the forms of innovation of the project. In the first quadrant, we considered the proposals that define innovation as a programmable phenomenon, but also distributed (entangled), and that presume the possibility of instituting applicable research programs to the multi-dimension nature of a socio-technological system. According to these terms, Micol Rispoli supports the ability to describe processes of innovation from a socio-technological prospective, like a collective experiment at a real scale. Starting from similar premises, Marco Ferrari offers an example of application through a series of maps, satellite images and models, which reveal the temporal and geographical variations of an apparently pervasive apparatus, but in reality, limited by specific social, commercial and political contingencies.

13The second quadrant includes the contributions where innovation refers mainly to objects that can be patented – and therefore also those that cannot be attributed to a program. The authors contemplate the project innovations mainly as technological objects, similar to what occurs in the prospective of industrial innovation – or as inventions and transformations that happen in a controlled environment that is separate from contingencies. Enrico Terrone introduces the ontology of the project, outlining a relation of direct intentionality between the project action and the designed object: in this quadrant, the measure of the distance between the two defines the threshold between the architectural project – responding to the unique and contingent conditions – and the engineering project – by definition created to ensure that the object can be reproduced. In the subsequent texts, three definitions of the technical object help to explore the relationship between the architectural project and the designed object: the interview by Edoardo Bruno with the start-up XKool Technology describes an artificial intelligence platform capable of learning and rendering certain project phases automatic, and Grazia Pota explores the possibility of retrospectively defining the possibility of creating algorithms for replicable parametric design, based on the well-known project by Lacaton and Vassal for the Tour Bois le Prêtre. Finally, Valérie Portefaix and Laurent Gutierrez present a floating installation that helps to clean a section of ocean of unused fishing nets, and also functions as a vehicle for collecting local stories and traditions.

14The third quadrant contains the texts where innovation is mainly referred to as an object, not necessarily the result of a program, but a collateral effect (exaptation), reuse or reformulation. Here, Lydia Kallipoliti uses a measuring stick based on interference and deviation to describe the apparent necessary determinism of design knowledge, while Sebastiano Fabbrini contemplates appropriation of the new fax technology in two offices of the Aldo Rossi studio as the simultaneous cause and effect of specific decisions in the design process. In a parallel interview with three emergent architectural studios, Andrea Alberto Dutto defines innovation as becoming lost in a context of non-narration, where disciplinary knowledge must constantly reinvent itself and redefine its limits in the quest for social, political and technical relevance.

15Finally, the fourth quadrant contains those texts that perceive innovation as a dislocated and systemic effect, which emerges in conditions that are difficult to predict or control. At its limit, this notion of innovation can also dissolve into a form of slow change, on which the project will only have an indirect and distant influence. Daniel Torrego Gómez and Miguel Mesa del Castillo Clavel recount a distributed electronic waste collection system built from the ground up, through subsequent adjustments and contingents, at an incremental scale. Starting from a similar conception of the project as an experiment at a real scale, Nerea Calvillo reflects on the performing potential of the architectural project that creates atmosphere, and at the same time, on the production conditions – social, political and technical – of a dematerialized installation. Ippolito Pestellini defines the advent of a new architectural-urban typology, where pervasiveness and discretion work together to create a necessary point of departure for analyzing the convergence and divergence trajectories among the project disciplines and the social and political tensions in the digital world. In conclusion, Camilo Vladimir de Lima Amaral is positioned on the vertical axis, between positive and negative intentionality, reinterpreting the myth of individual architecture and the role of narration, which ex-post and collectively define the boundaries within which innovation and the political role of the discipline can act.

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Derrida, J. (2008), Psyché. Invenzioni dell’altro, vol. 1, Milano, Jaca Book.

Derrida, J. (2007) Psyche. Inventions of the Other, vol. 1, Stanford (CA), Stanford University Press.

Latour, B. (2006) Nessuna innovazione senza rappresentanza! Un parlamento delle cose per i nuovi esperimenti socioscientifici, in M. Bucchi (a cura di), Sapere, fare, potere. Verso un’innovazione responsabile, Fondazione Giannino Bassetti - Rubbettino, pp. 67-97.

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List of illustrations

Title The Innovation of the Other Map
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Bibliographical reference

Francesca Frassoldati, Alessandro Armando, Daniele Campobenedetto, Valeria Federighi, Caterina Barioglio and Federico Cesareo, “The Innovation of the Other”Ardeth, 5 | 2019, 5-9.

Electronic reference

Francesca Frassoldati, Alessandro Armando, Daniele Campobenedetto, Valeria Federighi, Caterina Barioglio and Federico Cesareo, “The Innovation of the Other”Ardeth [Online], 5 | 2019, Online since 01 May 2020, connection on 18 April 2024. URL:

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About the authors

Francesca Frassoldati

redazione[at] ardeth [dot] eu

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Alessandro Armando

redazione[at] ardeth [dot] eu

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Daniele Campobenedetto

redazione[at] ardeth [dot] eu

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Valeria Federighi

redazione[at] ardeth [dot] eu

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Caterina Barioglio

redazione[at] ardeth [dot] eu

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Federico Cesareo

redazione[at] ardeth [dot] eu

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The text only may be used under licence CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. All other elements (illustrations, imported files) are “All rights reserved”, unless otherwise stated.

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