London, United Kingdom
Masdar City, Abu Dhabi
Auckland, New Zealand
New York, New York
In an increasingly digital world – one in which many students and researchers are asking “why should I leave my house?” and “why should I go into debt?” – universities must consider what their physical environments and cultures offer that would compel students to return.
Flinders University Plaza Redevelopment and Student Hub, Adelaide, Australia
ACU St Brigid Health Sciences Building, Ballarat, Australia
We know that collaboration is key but, in an era that allows us to do that effectively in the digital realm, what do we physically need from universities and research institutes? The answer is simple – the facilitation of meaningful networks that foster a sense of belonging and a greater purpose. We need spaces that safely and organically link individuals, disciplines, and organizations with training, research, and enterprise. We need spaces that incubate talent, foster experimentation, and connect students to the types of cross-disciplinary experiences that will prepare them for
In short, we need a new educational prototype that prepares students for a highly networked future where innovation can emerge from districts that foster a new collaborative ecosystem of partnerships comprising stakeholders from the private sector, public sector, and academia.
Ten years ago, a survey by Gallup found 77 percent of students in grades 5 through 12 said they wanted to be their own boss, 45 percent planned to start their own business, and 42 percent said they would invent something that changes the world. Today, many of those students are reaching university age – demanding a campus that helps them fulfil their entrepreneurial aspirations by providing them with essential resources and like-minds to collaborate with.
– featuring discipline-based floors and buildings that deliberately keep occupants in separate, subject-based fortresses. Over-subscribed to the idea of the solitary scientist experimenting away amongst her test tubes, or the brilliant academic doggedly scribbling away in his outlandishly low-lit cubicle, these often inconveniently located spaces are a recipe for isolation.
Now more than ever, learning spaces need to be purpose-built for innovation. Designers, planners, and architects must create ways for students and researchers to influence each other, to incubate shared and diverse talents, and to associate with a plethora of disciplines and expertise. Universities of the future must develop into generative places where ideas can be tested, implemented, disassembled, and recreated – ultimately connecting with industry, governments, and communities.
Deakin University Law Building, Melbourne, Australia
Melbourne Connect, a former hospital that Woods Bagot has redesigned as a series of three new connecting buildings, is a space that aims to encourage this kind of connection. Developed by the University of Melbourne in partnership with a consortium led by Lendlease, the project is focused around a central ‘oculus’ and publicly accessible open space – creating ample opportunity for university staff and students to connect with researchers, local and international businesses, government and start- up companies.
As a result, students are given access to leading expertise in fields like artificial intelligence, data science and robotics and – in turn – these businesses can access future talent, with both gaining elevated employment opportunities.
Melbourne Connect, Melbourne, Australia
Innovation districts also need to be able to respond to the evolving physical needs and capacities of their users over time. Woods Bagot’s ongoing work in South Australia redeveloping Mitsubishi’s former car manufacturing plant in Tonsley Park to create the Tonsley Innovation District has been an exercise in this kind of planned evolution. Starting with the project’s 61-hectare masterplan in 2011 and followed by the creation of the Main Assembly Building (MAB) and Pods with modular building specialists Tridente Architects in 2017, Woods Bagot continues to work closely with Tonsley’s community of researchers and educators to ensure the design meets their changing needs.
Tonsley Park Redevelopment, Adelaide, Australia
Eight thousand students attend Tonsley each year with TAFE SA’s Building and Construction trade training and Flinders University’s College of Science and Engineering both located on site. Deliberately positioned towards the centre of the district among the aforementioned start-up and industry tenancies, students from both the TAFE and university are given structured and unstructured opportunities to innovate with their neighbours – attending training and presentations, undertaking research or sharing equipment. Shared amenities and floorspace – breakout, food and beverage, meeting and presentation spaces – double down on creating opportunities for spontaneous conversation.
Both Tonsley and Melbourne Connect are examples of how innovation districts provide a unique model for how aging assets can be restored and revitalized to bridge together mixed-use housing, office, retail, transit, and a robust technology infrastructure to contribute towards placemaking and improve communities. The introduction of these kinds of spaces – in both the CBD setting of Melbourne Connect and city-adjacent Tonsley – enhance the quality of life of the residents of the neighbourhoods they’re located with increased amenity, resources, revenue and employment opportunities.
The digital level would enable the creation of networks beyond those that physically occupy the space by connecting like-minded individuals. This level would connect with the off-site start-ups and accelerators as well as being a portal for live recordings, chats, virtual galleries, wiki and more. The digital learning experience is not in competition with the physical – it has simply been elevated to equal importance.
Macquarie University Spatial Experience (MUSE), Sydney, Australia
The programmatic level choreographs the space with a strong consideration for how users might use and travel through the district and creates relationships between relevant offerings. This level understands the role of the building as teacher and ensures that research and learning are visible, product designers can find the prototyping lab, students can find a quiet space to study and beyond. Even the ease of getting a coffee on the way to class is up to careful planning. The needs of future users carefully inform every programmatic dimension.
The stage – or the physical infrastructure – must be able to bring all the required people and activities into formation and provide a platform for their diverse requirements. This level executes the programmatic level in a physical space and provides the brick-and-mortar framework for a seamless flow of movement. The stage is planned to be flexible, adjustable and empathetic – responsive to the needs of its users.
The role of each level also includes the task of integrating with the wider community. The digital level would create connections with local business, the programmatic should choreograph relevant links internally and externally, and the stage should create public spaces for the wider community.
Nan Tien Education and Cultural Centre, Wollongong, Australia
Decades of research have demonstrated the value of investing in multi-sector businesses that are geographically co-located, and – by connecting education and workforce programs in economically distressed neighbourhoods – the public sector can create a means for communities that are currently disconnected from the knowledge economy to finally engage with the innovation economy.
This newer vision for innovation districts creates an opportunity to transition away from the concept of isolated commercial entities which do not contribute to local communities to facilitating and supporting the growth of small businesses, creating long term growth prospects for all individuals with an emphasis on diversity and inclusion. By creating the space for minority entrepreneurs and MWBE-owned businesses it provides investment in local talent and of equal importance sets an example of what is possible for minority youth.
Mitigating these challenges will require an innovative approach to investing in our communities that fosters more diverse economic growth, promotes social equity, and taps into communities of practice to solve these complex and interconnected crises.
Innovation districts offer a way to catalyse learning, invention, and economic growth by facilitating meaningful knowledge exchange networks. They also have the potential to forge new livelihoods, better prepare future generations, and create culturally and economically diverse mixed-use neighbourhoods.
Talk to Patrick Daly about Urban Innovation: Building 24/7 Innovation Districts
New York, New York
Calne, Wiltshire, United Kingdom
Glasgow, United Kingdom