Expertise / Education and Science / Designer insight

Does good design contribute to better, faster research outcomes?

There have been several recent shifts in thinking in how research institutes are composed and designed to optimise research results. 

Key drivers for the way designers are approaching research environments include the demonstrated advantages of:

_Co-locating different research functions in a space that promotes cross-disciplinary collaboration
_Integrating education and research environments
_Designing a building which can also serve as a live research sites.

Co-locating research functions for cross-disciplinary collaboration

The Ecosciences Precinct brings together 1,000 scientists from four state agencies and six CSIRO divisions into a single, collaborative research environment.

The project creates a new facility ‘without walls’, encouraging knowledge exchange and discovery through use of shared spaces and resources.

Scientists working in the Precinct are clustered in groups, based on the nature of the science they’re doing, regardless of their agency – representing a significant shift and bringing the scientists together in an entirely new way.

“The design process revolved around the idea that if we we’re going to deliver the desired collaborative outcome we had to drive a collaborative process. We acted a bit like matchmakers bringing together people who’d never worked together before,” explains Mark Roehrs who led the design team for the new Precinct.

The resulting design uses an internal multi-level street which optimises vertical and horizontal connections via atria, lifts and open staircases to link its three wings. The central street draws staff out of their quiet work zones into a lively hub comprising common areas and meeting rooms.

Integrating education and research for cross-disciplinary collaboration

Universities are placing increasing importance on the integration of research and education facilities. This in turn is changing the way designers approach the design of research institutes.

“In the past universities pulled all the people doing research out of the facilities and put them together in dedicated research institutes.  Universities pulled all the people doing research out of the faculties and put them together in these dedicated research institutes. This was fantastic in terms of researchers working together, jointly applying for grants and sharing instruments and equipment,” explains Mark Roehrs who has some 20 years’ experience in the design of research institutes.

“The recent shift has been to place more value on the integration with research. This idea of research-led education or translational research is about how fast you can translate pure research into applied research, then into community applications and in turn into curriculum. The faster that wheel turns, the more successful the institute.

“This applies across most disciplines but is particularly pertinent in health where a pure research discovery in cancer for example which is applied quickly into clinical trial, practice and back into teaching has the potential to make a massive difference in people’s lives,” says Mark.

One of the interesting questions that we’ve been asked recently is how do you lift the complement of medical and health sciences students who are interested in participating in research in the long term?

The answer is in part about providing day-to-day exposure to the research environment for students. The thinking is that if the student experience is based solely in a teaching and learning space there can be little exposure to research and therefore limited motivation for students to choose the research path.

The challenge then for designers is not simply to design a building that gives students a close-up research experience – by allowing them to see up through an atrium to laboratories above – but by allowing them to work within laboratory spaces.

This is a model that is being realised within the Advanced Engineering Building - which is a design collaboration comprising HASSELL and Richard Kirk Architect - where the building has been designed so that by the time students have reached their senior years, they have progressed up through the building to eventually work side-by-side with the researchers in laboratories.

Designing buildings as live research tools

The University of Queensland’s ambitious Global Change Institute building will be a live research tool for sustainable subtropical building systems when it is completed in July 2013.

The approach the Institute is taking to their building is part of its deep commitment to finding evidence-based, progressive solutions to fundamental global sustainability challenges.

“The University of Queensland has made a major investment in this building as a commitment to sustainability research for the building itself.  That expenditure in this range of systems will hopefully pilot and be a successful demonstration of technology that could then be applied to other buildings in the future,” says HASSELL Principal Mark Roehrs who is leading the design team for the project.

“It’s not often you get the opportunity to work on a building that really pushes the boundaries in terms of the systems that are put into play and the outcomes that might result,” says Mark.

“For example, we will use it to test assumptions and collect new data on how to design comfortable, naturally ventilated buildings in sub-tropical environments.”

The building aims to be in natural ventilation mode for 88% of the year and consume only 40% of the energy of the Green Building Council of Australia benchmark education project.

“How that works and the day-to-day comfort of people in the building will be the subject of ongoing post-occupancy research,” explains Mark.

_Contact Mark Roehrs, Principal: