Press Releases 10.20.2020

Perkins&Will Celebrates 10 Years of its Signature ‘Innovation Incubator’ Program by Looking Back—and Ahead

The global research-driven design firm is sharing stories of innovation and inquiry from the past decade while introducing a new offering: “on demand” micro-grants supporting client projects
Selected stories from 10 years of Innovation Incubator are gathered on a new microsite.

October 19, 2020—Perkins&Will this month celebrates 10 years of “Innovation Incubator,” a program that supports design-focused research by providing staff with micro-grants of money and time to investigate areas of interest. Open to everyone at the firm, the program awards grant recipients at least 40 hours of company time, to be spent over six months on applied or exploratory research, and at least $1,000 toward expenses.

Over the past decade, the firm has funded 252 grants—the result of 700 applications from 23 studios over 20 grant cycles. Projects have explored design at every level, from the hospital bed, to the sports arena of the future, to the hyperreal spaces on the horizon—even to outer space. The impacts are significant and enduring: Participants have shaped real-life projects and even inspired the launch of two of the firm’s seven Research Labs.

To celebrate the people behind the ongoing program—and the  ideas it helped spark—Perkins&Will debuted a 10-year-anniversary microsite, which highlights a selection of stories from the last decade.

“Innovation Incubator has bolstered our culture of curiosity,” says Leigh Christy, a principal in the firm’s Los Angeles studio who now leads the Innovation Incubator Committee and sits on the firmwide Research Board. “It has given us a solid framework to harness and celebrate that curiosity.”

Unique research for clients’ unique projects

This month, the firm also launched “Innovation on Demand,” a program that directly links innovation to clients’ unique project needs. Perkins&Will employees are invited to apply for “on demand” micro grants, which provide time and money to explore research questions specific to an active project.

As with the Innovation Incubator grants, Innovation on Demand grants offer 40 hours and $1,000 (or 80 hours and $2,000 for teams)—and are selected based on innovation, relevance, and achievable scope. However, unlike the typical grants, which support research that is more open-ended, Innovation on Demand grants are directly connected to an ongoing project and structured to support design exploration beyond a project’s base scope and fee. Grants are awarded within three days to accommodate the needs of project schedules.

“We created this to address the changing needs of the firm—and to address an unmet need for flexibility,” says Jon Penndorf, a senior project manager in the Washington, D.C. studio who sits on the Innovation Incubator Committee.

The Innovation on Demand program was piloted in a few studios last year, resulting in two completed projects. Currently, two projects are in progress.

An early sketch from Southwest Library in Washington, D.C., an Innovation on Demand pilot project.
A week dedicated to all things innovation

Earlier this month, Perkins&Will held its third annual Innovation Week—five days of events at the firmwide and studio level. To start, three recent Incubator grant recipient teams shared with the rest of the firm what sparked their interest, their research methods, and conclusions. In a virtual event, four Perkins&Will thought leaders discussed how to maintain and advance design excellence and studio culture using virtual collaboration.

On the last day of Innovation Week, studio champions were invited to host virtual events of their choosing, ranging from brainstorming sessions to targeted workshops. The Dallas studio organized a discussion about how innovation intersects with the firm’s JEDI (justice, equity, diversity, inclusion) focus. In Vancouver, employees marked up a digital whiteboard with thoughts on what the studio has become—and what they can do to create a successful physical-virtual hybrid for collaboration and design culture moving forward.


“We started hosting the week-long series as a way to increase visibility of the Innovation Incubator projects, but it’s become so much more,” says Penndorf. “With each iteration, the events get more robust, interactive, and engaging. Over the course of the week, we had hundreds of people connecting on broad topics about innovation and our current virtual studio culture, as well as celebrating the tenth anniversary of the Innovation Incubator program.”

Proposals for the next round of Innovation Incubator grants are due October 23 with awarded projects being announced November 20 and due April 23, 2021. Clients interested in Innovation on Demand should collaborate directly with their project teams. General inquiries about Innovation Incubator or its affiliated programs should be directed here.


About Perkins&Will

Perkins&Will, an interdisciplinary, research-based architecture and design firm, was founded in 1935 on the belief that design has the power to transform lives. Guided by its core values—design excellence, diversity and inclusion, research, resilience, social purpose, sustainability, and well-being—the firm is committed to designing a better, more beautiful world. Fast Company named Perkins&Will one of the World’s Most Innovative Companies in Architecture, and industry rankings consistently place Perkins&Will among the world’s top design practices. With an international team of more than 2,600 professionals, the firm has over 20 studios worldwide, providing integrated services in architecture, interior design, branded environments, urban design, and landscape architecture. Partners include Danish architects Schmidt Hammer Lassen; retail strategy and design consultancy Portland; sustainable transportation planning consultancy Nelson\Nygaard; and luxury hospitality design firm Pierre-Yves Rochon (PYR). For more information, visit