November 18, 2019

Scientific American: A Revolution in the Creation of Scientific Workplaces

Toni Loaicano has penned an article for Scientific American based on her research on improving convergence research outcomes through design.

In today’s hypercompetitive research environment, strategic workplace design is no longer a luxury. Science is shifting away from siloed disciplines to a much more integrated method —  where chemists, mathematicians, economists, computer scientists, biologists, physicists and engineers are coming together to solve new challenges. This shift has been defined as the “convergence revolution” and scientific workplace design is more important in this model than ever before.

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Here are a few excerpts from the article…

WHAT DESIGN STRATEGIES CAN IMPROVE RESEARCH OUTCOMES?

When renovating or creating a new research work environment, there are three important design strategies to consider that can ultimately affect research outcomes.

Collaboration
Far too often, scientists are separated from each other in formally arranged spaces, reflecting linear processes and static functionality, and status is reflected by size of internal real estate and the allocation of enclosed offices. The convergence research environment embraces new methodologies of working where multidisciplinary teams can come together away from their departmental homes. Through design, we can encourage informal social interactions and foster intentional “collisions” of people with diverse backgrounds and skillsets to catalyze innovation.

Flexibility
The performance of researchers is optimized when they feel they have some control over the physical conditions they experience there. Permanent fixtures and traditional laboratory layouts were designed for the slower-moving research of the past. However, researchers today are more mobile, more agile and desire a workplace that can be quickly and easily optimized for their needs. Flexibility within laboratories includes a multitude of integrated design approaches, including flexible engineering systems, modularity of furniture and casework, and accessibility. Key to accommodating flexibility is designing spaces that can easily transform when new processes are realized or new breakthroughs are discovered.

Wellness
Lastly — and possibly most importantly — is the focus on researcher wellness. There is an incredible body of work that proves the correlation between the design of the workplace and the quality of work done by the people in it.  Gone are the days of researchers tolerating a workplace in the basement. Despite strict environmental requirements in many spaces, researchers nevertheless are expecting workplaces that deliver on their wellness needs. Research space needs to focus on human health through strategies such as natural light, soft seating and acoustics. Researcher comfort and satisfaction are crucial, as it can greatly influence recruiting and retention.