cohesive groups and breaks down isolation by
floor (Figure 2).
PROVIDE A VARIETY OF SPACES
Don’t design all spaces as collaborative
spaces. Design a variety of spaces: a room for a
small gathering of two or three people, a quiet
space for individual focused work, a public
space for larger discussions and spaces for seminars and presentations.
Architects need to design spaces where people will choose to linger and provide variety
for all types of work. This is especially true for
graduate students and post-docs who often
share office spaces. Graduate students mentioned staying at home when they had focused
work (analysis or writing); their shared offices
were too distracting. Creating “study halls” or
“quiet work rooms” shared by groups is a solution, providing quiet spaces for students and
post-docs encouraging them to remain on campus during these intense work times.
Stair design is key to a building’s identity
and how people move through a building. It’s
an element that the design team must own and
Large, light-filled open stairs that visually
connect people vertically through the building
are key architectural elements that encourage
communication and collaboration. Stairs with
ample space not only communicate between
levels, but also give an identity to the building
The design team must advocate for the extra
square footage these communicating stairs add
to the overall building volume. These key architectural features are often eliminated in the
value-engineering phase, because they aren’t
requirements like elevators and fire stairs. It’s a
very short-sighted decision.
At Caltech many scientists in 1930-era buildings with stairs in large vertical rooms with
a gentle rise stated how often they run into
colleagues in these “stair rooms”. Fire stairs are
designed to quickly leave a building; they aren’t
designed for people to linger.
Select furniture that encourages people to
linger and hang out in public spaces. Furniture
should convey a sense of public “living rooms”,
not corporate board rooms. Furnishings more
residential in character create intimate public
spaces that aren’t intimidating (Figure 4).
PROVIDE SEPARATIONS, INDIVIDUAL CONTROL
Scientists want ownership of their spaces; provide all researchers thermal control of their rooms.
To allow for many different types of work (group
discussions and solitary work) provide acoustical
separations between spaces. Design spaces with
natural light and views to the outdoors when possible as this creates great work environments.
Take the time to deeply understand the institutional culture. The design of collaborative
spaces requires the design team to ask the following questions:
• What are the unique qualities that distinguish
this institution from another?
• What’s the academic/discipline culture?
• What’s the intellectual framework? Does it
support cross-disciplinary work?
Every research environment is unique, and
the design team must understand the social and
intellectual culture of the institution. When
social and intellectual culture are both understood, design firms can truly create a culture
where sharing ideas creates innovative thinking.
Elizabeth A. Gibb, AIA, is a former project
manager at Caltech. Gibb currently works as an
architect at Scrafano Architects in Los Angeles.
Effective collaboration spaces
continued from page 4
in Caltech’s recent building projects, I interviewed
all parties involved in the initial design (architects
and scientists). I also interviewed, observed and
analyzed how current researchers (professors,
post-docs, graduate students and staff) worked in
these new spaces. Designers who understood both
the social and academic cultures on campus created successful collaborative spaces. It’s necessary
to find a balance between the variety of spaces.
Discovering areas to collaborate wasn’t as difficult
for researchers as finding a quiet area for focused
work—either writing papers or analysis work.
Carefully consider the location of rest rooms,
eating areas, mailboxes, elevators, lecture halls,
common lab equipment rooms and stairs in the
overall building organization.
If planned properly, scientists
will effortlessly see their colleagues daily for unplanned
conversations (Figure 1).
A shared equipment area is a
great way for students to learn
about each other’s work, leading to potential joint research
projects. Designing hallways
wider than the circulation
requirement allows incorporation of other functions, such as
seating and whiteboards.
Carefully work on building
circulation so a researchers’
path to their office or lab
doesn’t isolate them from
interacting with others in the
building. Locate the elevators so they’re convenient if needed, but not visually the first thing
seen upon entering the building. People will
use stairs instead of an elevator to move up or
down a floor.
If your building is multi-story, incorpo-
rate stop-skip elevators with internal stairs to
encourage more interactions between floors.
CREATE VISUAL CONNECTIONS
Create visual connections between floors
with open stairs or atriums. Low-rise buildings
with large horizontal floorplate are preferable
to tall buildings with vertical stacked floors.
Larger floorplates accommodate more scientific
groups, increasing the chances for interactions
among the groups. It’s a natural tendency for
people to associate according to the floor they
work on—the 2nd floor group versus the 3rd
floor group. A large internal atrium where
(Top) Figure 3: Stairs with ample space allow for communication between
levels. Image: Caltech. (Below) Figure 4: Resdiential furniture helps spur
collaboration. Image: Elizabeth Gibb