School of Architecture

Thursday 17 January 2019

The bold design of the Salk Institute for Biomedical Studies in La Jolla, California, is intended to attract star scientists. Credit: Andriy Blokhin/Alamy

This article was written by Kendall Power and first appeared on Nature.com.

From the Francis Crick Institute in London to Japan’s Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology, much has been made of how architecture influences scientists’ work. That is, how sunlit benches help researchers’ mental health; how cushy breakout spaces spark spontaneous collaboration; and how walking trails and yoga classes rebalance workaholic tendencies.

Indeed, many who work in academic and corporate science agree that built-in amenities add productivity.

As someone who has chronicled scientists’ lives for Nature and other media outlets for nearly two decades, I’ve heard a great deal about the power of place to boost or sap the will of postdocs and principal investigators.

But, as a former cell biologist, I want to see the data. So I picked up Laboratory Lifestyles with some anticipation.

What I found was a book that, although not strong on data, offers an agreeable, sometimes surprising journey through the history and trends of laboratories built around lifestyle — scientists’ conversations, proclivities and interactions, not just their apparatus.

Edited by Australia-based architecture scholars Sandra Kaji-O’Grady, Chris Smith and Russell Hughes, the journey begins in the 1950s and 1960s in California, then, as now, a magnet for science.

An early chapter showcases how the southern Californian lifestyle of surfing and outdoor living crept into the design of the RAND Corporation’s original ‘waffle’ building in Santa Monica, and the sweeping ocean-to-mountain vistas of the Hughes Research Laboratories in Malibu.

The ‘work hard, play hard’ mantra guided coastal California’s deep thinkers long before biotechnology company Genentech and its amenity-fuelled approach to research arrived in South San Francisco.

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