flexiblefullpage -
billboard - default
interstitial1 - interstitial
Currently Reading

Translational health science environments: 6 strategies for open innovation and knowledge transfer

billboard - default
interstitial1 - interstitial

Translational health science environments: 6 strategies for open innovation and knowledge transfer

By Abigail Clary and Chris Lambert, CannonDesign | CannonDesign | April 23, 2019
Translational health science environments: 6 strategies for open innovation and knowledge transfer

Rice University’s New Emerging Science & Technology (NEST) Center includes collaboration portals located across its floorplan designed for spontaneous interaction and defined by bright green, writeable glass panels. Photo courtesy CannonDesign

The 21st century has seen remarkable healthcare breakthroughs. These advances are largely driven by the speed at which organizations can translate scientific discoveries to applications that benefit patients and communities. Whereas this process has traditionally been slow and cumbersome, today’s organizations are rethinking their business models and environments to ensure they support each other and generate faster and better outcomes.

But simply putting researchers and clinicians in the same building with hopes that serendipitous collaborations will ensue will often not yield the outcomes organizations seek. Based on our experience, we have found that success often depends on building an open innovation ecosystem — a living lab that integrates concurrent research and innovation processes with patient care. 

This takes traditional translational health science environments to new levels by making them more permeable and better capitalizing on inter- and intra-disciplinary approaches within and outside of the organization. These ecosystems are not only optimized to support health and research collaborations but partnerships with academia, foundations, pharmaceutical companies, biotech firms, start-ups and more.

Gates Vascular Institute and UB’s Clinical and Translational Science Institute


You can imagine the different flows of knowledge and communication that occur in such a complex environment made up of different people, approaches and goals. Although the ways people capture knowledge and convert it to answers will always be complex and varied, we have developed six key strategies established through precedent and research that create consistent interaction and knowledge exchange within these new translational environments.

1. Focus on proximity. Research shows the average frequency of person-to-person interaction drops by half when separated from 15 to 50 feet, and half again from 50 to 150 feet. All to say, the importance of physical proximity cannot be understated when it comes to sharing knowledge and speeding up complex processes. Although housing everyone on the same floor is always ideal, if it’s not possible, visual and physical connections such as open stairs between floors can play a big role in enhancing proximity. As an example, at the Novartis-Penn Center for Advanced Cellular Therapies (CACT) in Philadelphia — an environment focused on groundbreaking research that enables a patient’s own immune cells to be reprogrammed in the lab and re-infused to hunt and destroy tumors — locating scientists and technicians on the same floor and within close proximity to the greater University of Pennsylvania campus helped reduce the time it takes to create “hunter cells” for patients by 50 percent.


The CACT (located in the South Tower, highlighted) is completely interconnected to the larger immunotherapy program at Penn Medicine and enveloped by the greater university campus.


2. Find inspiration in urban life. If you look at the city or community you live in, you’re likely drawn to certain places for specific purposes. You go to parks for fresh air, bars and restaurants to unwind, museums to experience culture, etc. These destinations draw people out of the comfort of their homes to interact with the world around them. This same mindset can make a big difference when trying to encourage researchers and clinicians to leave their comfort zone to interact with others. So rather than looking at the environment as a workplace, we look at it as if it were a micro city with connections (pathways and circulation routes), culture and destinations (atriums, collaboration areas, outdoor spaces), neighborhoods (hubs housing specific types of research), and services (shared technology areas, cafes, coffee zones). This approach turns workplaces into micro-cities that naturally bring disparate people together and bring greater awareness into an organization. Read more on this strategy, here.



3. Employ a Kit of Parts. In translational settings, we always advocate for providing numerous options calibrated to different types of workstyles and preferences. We have found that employing a kit of parts — typically a collection of modular spaces supporting various types of work — provides the flexibility needed to maximize the productivity of collaboration and “heads down” time. It also fosters an open innovation platform through its ability to provide space for visiting teams, outside alliances or internal novel partnerships. The modularity of these parts allows for change; configurations can shift regularly to provide the varied experiences that keep innovation and creativity fresh.


Example kit of parts


4. Use the workplace as a living laboratory. The scientific process is driven by experimentation. This same mindset should be applied to translational areas. Although we always conduct in-depth research on human behavior and space utilization before designing a workplace, sometimes the needs of occupants change, or they don’t translate to the work environment as originally planned. But if the work environment is designed as a living laboratory intended to continually change, that’s OK! Once the space is open, we can gather data in several ways— for example, employing sensors to track actual activity and observing occupants using the space — to learn more about what’s working and what might need to be changed.


Actual workplace utilization analysis


5. Design for lingering. Whereas creating shared spaces is important in uniting individuals and teams, the success of these spaces often depends on the interactions that unfold within them. To increase interactions, we leverage utilization data to predict what spaces (and what characteristics of spaces) might lend themselves to lingering. For instance, our data suggests that enclosed collaborative spaces can be anywhere from 3x-10x more intensively utilized than open collaborative areas — depending on the organization. This data can help us better understand why people prefer lingering in these enclosed spaces and how we can prompt similar utilization in other areas throughout the workplace.


6. Encourage collaboration, but keep a keen eye on distraction. Many workplaces today function as distraction factories, and according to a University of California, Irvine study, it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back to a task after you’ve been distracted. In workplaces for translational health science, open collaborative environments without opportunities to “escape” are guaranteed to lead to distraction. Our kit of parts concept also provides variety in the configuration of the workplace to enable individuals to work in areas that best support the type of work they’re focused on during any given day.

Although the research unfolding in translational health science facilities is complex, designing workplaces that foster the type of knowledge transfer so critical to their success doesn’t need to be. By understanding what it takes to design environments that prompt authentic collaboration, purposeful integration, open innovation, and create a healthy, happy and productive work experience, we can create workplaces precisely calibrated to translate ideas and research into tomorrow’s healthcare breakthroughs.

More from Author

CannonDesign | Oct 19, 2020

Flexible design helped the University of Kansas Strawberry Hill Behavioral Health Hospital adapt to the coronavirus

The University of Kansas Strawberry Hill Behavioral Health Hospital had been open for just over six months when it was faced with the global coronavirus pandemic.

CannonDesign | Sep 2, 2020

The online learning lab: Investing in resources to improve hybrid learning models

Over the summer, many institutions transformed to adapt the in-person experience and bring campus populations back to campus for the fall. This has been an enormous undertaking.

CannonDesign | Jun 9, 2020

CannonDesign unveils COVID Shield

As the world evolves its response to the COVID-19 pandemic, one clear reality is testing for the virus will be part of our daily lives for the foreseeable future.

CannonDesign | May 6, 2020

5 valuable questions building engineers will be asking after COVID-19

What will be the new normal in the post-COVID-19 world and to what extent will the way we interact with the built environment change?

CannonDesign | Apr 3, 2020

Test facility in a box: Modular, walk-in booth design for coronavirus testing

To address the need for testing in urban areas for those without vehicles, CannonDesign architect Albert Rhee created a walk-in testing booth that is slated for public use.

CannonDesign | Apr 1, 2020

Three reasons you should keep sewing face masks (as long as you follow simple best practices)

Here are three reasons to encourage sewists coast to coast to keep their foot on the pedal.

CannonDesign | Mar 25, 2020

Designing public health laboratories to safeguard researchers during pandemics

As laboratory designers, we want to shed light on a subset of our population critical to protecting us from, and preventing the spread of, severe outbreaks: public health researchers.

CannonDesign | Mar 16, 2020

Effective remote workforce: Key steps and strategies for success

As the potential scope of the COVID-19 outbreak has become more clear in the United States and Canada, public and private organizations from all industries, sectors and geographies are encouraging their teams to work remotely to reduce the spread of the virus.

CannonDesign | Mar 11, 2020

A look at how U.S. hospitals are designed to battle infectious diseases like coronavirus

Some health systems can use telehealth and video visits to asses and triage patients before they arrive at a hospital. 

CannonDesign | Feb 11, 2020

Tailored Environment of CHOC Thompson Autism Center comes from designer's firsthand experience

It will be one of a few clinics fully dedicated to patients with autism.

boombox2 -
native1 -

More In Category

halfpage1 -

Most Popular Content

  1. 2021 Giants 400 Report
  2. Top 150 Architecture Firms for 2019
  3. 13 projects that represent the future of affordable housing
  4. Sagrada Familia completion date pushed back due to coronavirus
  5. Top 160 Architecture Firms 2021


Magazine Subscription

Get our Newsletters

Each day, our editors assemble the latest breaking industry news, hottest trends, and most relevant research, delivered to your inbox.


Follow BD+C: