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Stanford University, CA 2010

Architect: Cody Anderson Wasney

Interior Architect: MKThink


What does it take to house three of Stanford University’s premier design-thinking groups— the Institute of Design (d.school), the Design Group, the Center for Design Research— in world-class interdisciplinary design center?   Start with full cultural emersion, great listening skills, and design after iterative design.   While the three are branches of the Department of Mechanical Engineering, each brought to the project a unique culture and a widely differing approach toward design-thinking.  The Department wanted to leverage the strengths of each and foster deep collaboration and cross-pollination of ideas.  A successful project would provide an environment that encouraged germination of big-idea thinking and complex problem-solving, but still allowed each group to maintain its area of study and unique culture.  Further, this would need to happen in an historic Stanford structure that required full modernization with seismic upgrades, recognizing the building’s rich history.

Approach & Solution

“Creativity follows context,” says d.school Executive Director George Kembel. “If I want an organization to behave in a certain way, I need to design for that.”   Thus, critical to success was developing an understanding of context through ethnographic study and observation, which was led by MKThink’s multi-disciplinary Strategy Team of analysts, planners, and an educational psychologist.  A series of interactive, iterative design workshops led an overall design that would encourage students and faculty to use the space in ways leadership intended.

Institute of Design Fellow, Scott Whitthoft, stated that the building is a tool to change how students act.  “Space can fuel the creative process by encouraging — or discouraging — specific behaviors.”   The building provides a variety of opportunities that promote big idea-generation and critical design-thinking.  Flexible, re-configurable spaces encourage user ownership.  Openings between floors, a variety of large- and intimately-scaled space, and a central interaction hub are the key spatial features facilitating human connectivity and interaction.   The design offers welcome elements of surprise and unconventional use of rough and refined materials, lighting, and furniture juxtaposed against the building’s characteristic sandstone and exposed brick walls.

“The space isn’t precious,” says d.school founder David Kelley, who also started the design firm Ideo. “The whole culture of the place says ‘we’re looking for better ideas,’ not ‘keep your feet off the furniture.’ “Every element is meant to stir innovation…”