Heriot-Watt University carries out world-class research with wide-ranging applications. The University is therefore constantly seeking to improve the spaces where that research takes place: after all, it’s impossible for researchers to collaborate, innovate and think creatively without spaces which support these kinds of activities.
We took on the task of refurbishing the existing college lounge and offices in the University’s Hugh Nisbet Building – creating a new hub that would bring together nine research support teams into a single centre of excellence. The challenge was to make the hub both consistent in its design identity and highly flexible, with opportunities for researchers to meet formally and informally, to relax, to work alone, or to collaborate.
We knew that the hub would have to serve the researchers using it first and foremost. We therefore held an extensive series of stakeholder engagements, where we tested different work settings to figure out which made the most sense to researchers, staff and visitors, and to keep an eye on the sorts of pitfalls we’d need to avoid.
The new hub is a powerful argument for the ways in which good architectural and interior design can support gamechanging research. In addition to meeting spaces and traditional office desks, we included touchdown areas for quick, flexible tasks, as well as breakout spaces and a drop-in lounge. This approach has completely changed researchers’ working patterns by opening up new possibilities: interaction between different teams is no longer reserved for formal meetings, but has become integral to every part of the working day.