Comment: Mix up a broth of ideas in the knowledge cauldron

Designing a high-tech learning and research building starts in a very low-tech manner, says Ackermann. Picture: Nick Caville.
Designing a high-tech learning and research building starts in a very low-tech manner, says Ackermann. Picture: Nick Caville.
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Designing a building that will inspire the most ambitious, forward-thinking people who will tackle societal and global issues, is challenging.

Yet the architectural ­process of designing a high-tech learning and research building starts in a ­decisively low-tech manner — by face-to-face ­communication, still one of the most ­effective means of human interaction.

Understanding the importance of human interaction is particularly important when you are designing a structure built for sharing ideas and knowledge.

During our involvement in the design and development of the Technology and Innovation Centre (TIC) and the neighbouring Inovo building, set within the Glasgow City Innovation District, we put the concept of “knowledge cauldrons” to the test – where proximity can grow into new research.

The number of partners and the incredible ambition for the TIC and Inovo buildings meant that collaboration was key to their success. The buildings needed to draw together different science and technology disciplines with external ­business partners to create economic potential.

Our role was to create the structures that contributed to this vision. We needed to be completely responsive to the needs for the buildings: creating spaces for the meeting of minds, and to create incubator spaces for idea-generation. We needed to strengthen the opportunity for all the occupants to turn research into reality.

The aim was to design the buildings to encourage dedicated knowledge exchange and interaction between researchers. The benefits of collaborative working on research projects is fundamental and flexible spaces to facilitate chance meetings and spontaneous exchange of ideas are essential for effective research. By providing these stimulating knowledge ­cauldrons in combination with quiet write-up spaces, researchers are provided with suitably varied settings for their work. Writing now, a few years since completion, both the TIC and Inovo buildings are uniting organisations that have located there to nurture and accelerate growth, improve productivity and access world-class research and technology.

Academics, business, industry and public sectors are working together in these spaces to find solutions to challenges that matter in areas of economic importance, including advanced manufacturing and materials, health and wellbeing, innovation and entrepreneurship, and ocean, air and space. These two buildings are not only an integral part of an ambitious city-centre regeneration project resulting from a partnership between Glasgow City Council, the University of Strathclyde, Scottish Enterprise, Glasgow Chamber of Commerce and Entrepreneurial Scotland, but are also heralded as transformers for the Scottish economy. This environment has brought in new jobs, inward investment, and innovative organisations, from The Weir Group’s Advanced Research Centre, to the UK HQ of Europe’s largest contract research organisation, Fraunhofer. With demand for even more knowledge cauldrons, plans are in development for two additional buildings next to TIC.

To fully understand a client’s goals, at BDP we undertake stakeholder consultations to develop a collective vision for a new building. This sometimes reveals that researchers are working on similar projects but in different areas. Joint stakeholder consultations frequently unite different researchers to discuss their requirements, often for the first time.

At BDP, we have long recognised the importance of different disciplines and professions coming together with the whole being greater than the sum of the parts, and we take pride in being the first interdisciplinary practice. We believe through working collaboratively, we can create exciting and vibrant places for ­people – just like the TIC and Inovo buildings.

Christoph Ackermann is principal at BDP, a firm of architects, designers, engineers and urbanists.