World Creativity and Innovation Day 2021: Fostering the pursuit of innovation

World Creativity and Innovation Day, as declared by the United Nations in 2017, emphasises the role of creativity and innovation in all aspects of human development. From design expression to scientific breakthroughs, creativity is not just limited to artistic fields but extends to all industries and activities through the generation of new ideas or engagement in problem-solving processes. The implementation of these creative ideas leads to innovation, which realises novel visions for products, services and systems that bring value to society. In today’s fast-paced world, both creativity and innovation are considered the true wealth of nations, spearheading the transformation of social, economic, and technological sectors globally.

Recognizing the need to attract such talent and ingenuity, cities are gradually shifting from labour-intensive economies to ones driven by knowledge and innovation. Propelled by the rapid advancement of technology, the current competitive edge lies with the generation and implementation of disruptive ideas. This paradigm has changed not just the industrial landscape but the spatial urban realm as well. New typologies, such as innovation districts, creative clusters, and high-tech parks have emerged as physical venues for cultivating and harnessing the potential of innovative industries and their creative talent pool.

At the same time, there are also places where innovation is realised and celebrated at a more local scale, demonstrating that sophisticated technologies are not the only frontier. These developments tap into a deeper level of human creativity, rooted in identity and culture. Maker spaces, community centres and craft villages showcase the value of artistic expression, shared traditions and honed skills that elevate human potential. Beyond economic benefits, these spaces encourage social inclusivity, mass entrepreneurship and cultural empowerment.

At enCity, we have had the opportunity to work on ground-breaking projects that present spatial strategies and urban forms that foster this pursuit of innovation. From innovation districts to ecological townships, we share key principles and learnings on how these developments thrive through the planning and design of our the built environment. 

Campus quads interfaced with academic, research and manufacturing activities. (Photo credit: Sasaki)

Collaboration spurs ideas. Living in an increasingly connected world, we have come to acknowledge that innovation takes place where people of diverse backgrounds and expertise come together. This is the  driving force in the establishment of the Ho Chi Minh City Highly Interactive and Innovative District (HIID), where anchor institutions, high-growth enterprises, tech entrepreneurs and local and global talent networks are brought together to co-create, collaborate and scale their activities. Master planned by Sasaki and enCity, the project encompasses District 2, District 9 and Thu Duc District in a consolidated development envisioned to become the core nucleus of Industrial 4.0 in the south region of Vietnam. The proposal utilises a cluster approach where key industry players are located in close proximity with one another and are supported by integrated infrastructure and shared resources.  

An example is the planned Saigon Hi-Tech Park (SHTP) and Automated Manufacturing Hub, one of the six hotspots in the proposal, which co-locates existing multinational anchors, research institutions, universities and local small- and medium-scale enterprises (SMSEs) along mixed-use spines supported by a metro transit line. The spines are designed to create concentrations of street activity wherein people from both large industries and SMSEs can come and interact with one another, facilitating the sharing of ideas. Additionally, campus quads are interfaced with academic, research and manufacturing activities and act as new urban courtyards to connect students, designers, businesses, and investors through interactive programming like hackathons and prototype testing. By providing these interstitial spaces for multi-disciplinary synergies, cross-fertilization of ideas can yield new discoveries, economic improvements, and diverse job opportunities.

While there is great importance placed in the establishment of a strong and integrated innovation ecosystem, another essential component in the design of innovation parks is place-making. Creativity can come from all aspects of the urban environment and can be enhanced by the design of spaces that are memorable and flexible – allowing users to experiment, react to their surroundings and transition with ease between life, work and play. 

The experiential production centre, serving as a waterfront gateway (Photo credit: Sasaki)

In our project in South East Asia, innovation itself becomes the place-making tool. Leveraging on the advent of additive manufacturing and cleaner industrial activities, we integrated the production process into an urban spine that weaves throughout the district. Transparent facades and modular showcase kiosks activate the public realm and allow innovators and entrepreneurs to display their work and engage with residents and visitors. Planned with a wide range of retail, office and residential programs, the innovation spine also creates a walkable and holistic environment that connects key destinations with transportation nodes within and around the site. 

The spine culminates at an experiential production centre, which serves as the project’s waterfront gateway that brings together all the elements of the industrial chain. Envisioned as an interactive facility with stacked commercial programming, it acts as the district’s main innovation hub where people can admire production lines, customise their favourite products and watch their goods take shape in one consolidated space.  By putting manufacturing on centre stage, the experiential production centre invites both producers and consumers to become co-creators of their own products and services – forming a unique landmark that sparks creativity in all members of society. 

Sa Pa

A designed central community space with views towards a natural stream.

Innovation may not always manifest as designing spaces for technological advancements. In some instances, it involves foregrounding a community’s inherent creative spirit and adapting it to an evolving economic landscape. This was the case for our project in O Quy Ho, located at the north of Vietnam. Known for its beautiful natural features and traditional handicraft, the site is home to ethnic minority groups who reside among the ancient rice terraces in the highlands. Faced with pressures from the tourism industry, the challenge was finding a way to strike a balance between ecological and cultural preservation and maximising economic revenue to improve the lives of the locals.  

One of our interventions focused on creating central public spaces that anchor both existing and new developments. Around these areas, indigenous markets, traditional cooking spaces and craft workshops are housed in lightweight structures that utilise vernacular architecture and local materials within the site. Residents can come to sell their produce and handicraft or showcase their skills, while enjoying the public space with their families and neighbours. By concentrating commercial and communal spaces in specific locations, it not only minimises impacts to the current landscape and residential clusters but creates memorable destinations that encourage meaningful exchanges between locals and visitors.  

As economies continue to evolve, creativity and innovation have become part of the building blocks of a strong society. Both are essential to navigate through crises, maximise economic opportunities and drive sustainable growth, and thus need to be given space in our cities. Beyond the provision of infrastructure systems and advanced technology, the design of such places involves focusing on soft strategies that are often overlooked – nurturing collaborative environments, developing vibrant public realms and heightening genius loci. By designing environments that foster creative minds and innovative ideas, we not only inspire citizens to imagine better urban futures but empower them to take action.  

Elizelle David (enCity)