How Design Can Advance Translational Science

Just like the design industries, scientific research and health care fields must be collaborative and focused on outcomes that improve peoples’ lives.

Translational science strengthens researchers’ abilities to work together across disciplines. In medical centers, research institutions and pharmaceutical companies, translation is a process that takes scientific observations and data from different labs, clinics, and community organizations to develop new approaches for improving individual and public health.

Demand for life science research and medical facilities that support translational science is steadily rising. Infectious diseases and pandemics have become more prevalent, bringing with them the need for fast and responsive therapeutics and new vaccines. And advancements in biological sciences are leading to new medical approaches with shorter timelines between research, diagnostics and care delivery.

The mission of translational research, specifically as it relates to health science, is to develop outcome-driven solutions that focus on the patient. Spaces that provide opportunities for scientists, health care workers and patients to connect with one another are crucial to advancing that mission. As designers of life science and health care environments — including academic research facilities, unified academic science centers, pharmaceutical company campuses, hospitals and clinics — we strive to create places that build bridges across disciplines and among researchers, practitioners and patients.

Spaces that Foster Engagement

A fundamental goal of translational science spaces is to foster intellectual collisions. Points of convergence where scientists from diverse research disciplines, medical practitioners and students can engage in intentional and impromptu discussions are a necessity in translational facilities. In addition to designing intentional collaboration spaces, we are learning to design niches and social gathering spots because friendly chats often turn into conversations that may catalyze new ideas for collaborative outcomes.

Informal spaces, like stairwells or landings often end up being used for these purposes, but more intentional design strategies can be deployed at multiple scales. Semi-private gathering spots or co-working stations throughout a building near stairs, elevators, and hallways provide options for people to spark up new conversations. Additionally, spaces that provide opportunities for people to connect near shared amenities such as a coffee bar or a kitchen are beneficial and often, they see higher levels of traffic than conference rooms or dedicated meeting spaces.

Inside labs and clinics, seating areas near research and treatment spaces can be good places for researchers and practitioners to touch base with one another. At Emory Executive Park Musculoskeletal Institute in Georgia — a health care and research center designed by HKS with a range of facilities from patient-centered physical therapy to clinical laboratories — such spaces are located throughout the building including in labs, clinics, and public spaces.

Labs at Emory Executive Park Musculoskeletal Institute are designed to provide ample places for researchers to discuss their work, including open workspaces near perimeter windows with plenty of natural light and views of nature.

There is a reason why science, medicine and research facilities are often built near one another on campuses or in hubs — bringing diverse entities together creates efficiencies and promotes discovery. When working with clients who envision a convergence of science, research and medicine on a multi-building scale, we design masterplans that can propel translational science and build connections.

Placemaking strategies such as citing gathering areas near attractors like dining amenities, lounges, or fitness centers, encourage interaction between people serving different cross-departmental functions. HKS-designed CapitalMED Medical City in Cairo — a massive mixed-use and academic medical campus with a hospital, nine specialty institutes and residential buildings — demonstrates the power of designing for convergence. Its master plan includes seating areas placed along shaded pathways and in lush gardens where students, clinicians, and researchers can connect, and patients and family members can relax.

CapitalMED Medical City in Cairo includes several health and academic facilities as well as a shopping center and residential buildings — all connected by public gardens and pathways that promote convergence and engagement.

In addition to designing translational science workplaces that allow researchers and clinicians to complete focused, heads-down work, at HKS we endeavor to design comfortable, engaging spaces for conversation and ideation.

Places for Knowledge Exchange and Discovery

When a conversation in a translational science workplace evolves from a friendly chat into a deep discussion about work — what happens to the knowledge shared? Researchers and staff benefit from spaces designed to help them formalize their ideas and carry them forward.

On medical campuses or in large research hubs, spaces that support knowledge sharing are often placed around shared scientific equipment. Locations where people go to use specific resources such as large and expensive testing devices or specialty labs, are ideal for gathering spots that support communal connection and attract employees who want to learn from other fields of study or work.

Multi-tenant buildings can be designed with spaces that help teams accelerate research outcomes to create new products, business strategies or practice methods. 850 Phoenix Bioscience Core (850 PBC) houses several types of facilities including university and private research labs, entrepreneurial innovation centers, and a translational health clinic. Designed by HKS architects and interior designers, the building includes multiple incubator hubs where students, researchers and other collaborators develop and present new ideas to push bioscience forward.

In buildings that encompass both research and practice, flexible support spaces with tools and technology such as white boards or interactive screens are key for capturing information and making plans for how to integrate it into future work. Often coinciding with informal engagement spaces, these can be placed along circulation paths or in interstitial areas between labs, clinics and common amenities. The translational clinic floor at 850 PBC for example, includes breakout spaces designed for professional conversations as well as comforting waiting areas for people participating in research studies and testing.

850 PBC’s translational clinic floor offers daylight and a visual connection to the surrounding community along the hallways. The floor features spaces for researchers and health practitioners to connect and share new ideas and information.

Traditionally, science and health facilities are somewhat stark with clean lines and surfaces, neutral colors and technical equipment. But while sterility is a safety and sanitation requirement for many labs and office types, it’s not a requirement for the look and feel of all spaces in a building or campus.

We believe the most effective collaboration spaces need to be designed to make people feel comfortable engaging with them. Social communal areas designed for various scales provide a variety of options for people to gravitate to when they want to relax and connect with others. Locations for cognitive restoration are important; they offset highly focused, structured environments in the rest of the facility. Respites areas with daylight, views, technology, and a variety of comfortable seating for various types of informal gatherings inherently benefit translational interactions.

Welcoming and Inclusive Environments

In addition to enhancing discourse among those working in research and health care environments, translational approaches are creating more equity for patients. New developments in genetics, for example, are carving pathways for personalized medicine — where health practitioners can provide customized treatment that suit individuals and how their bodies respond to disease.

Personalized medicine works against historic prejudices that have been embedded in research and health studies, which have traditionally targeted white male populations. Building codes and design specifications for scientific facilities have also historically favored these populations, often catering to them as opposed to diverse demographic groups of researchers, staff or practitioners.

Research study participants, people involved in clinical trials, or patients seeking care can easily feel excluded or uneasy in a health science environment; it’s important that spaces are designed with their experiences in mind. Design solutions that help ease anxiety and stress for people include inviting points of entry, comfortable waiting areas and easy-to-navigate corridors with clear wayfinding elements. At Emory Executive Park Musculoskeletal Institute, waiting areas feature two story windows, simple and readable signs and a variety of indoor and outdoor seating arrangements so visitors have choices for how and where they wait.

The design of Emory Executive Park Musculoskeletal Institute is patient-centered and includes myriad daylit spaces and interior design elements inspired by body systems.

Translational environments that reflect the needs of diverse backgrounds establish trust and aid connection between health science professionals and the public. 850 PBC is designed to provide equitable experiences for members of the scientific community and the community at large. The building includes hospitable public spaces, and its second-floor translational clinic is intended to prioritize unmet needs of community participants who need physiological monitoring and testing, including local native populations who live with high rates of diabetes. The building also serves as a gateway between a developing scientific campus and Phoenix’s Roosevelt Row Arts District, a neighborhood with a rich legacy of hosting public cultural events. The interior design includes bioscience-inspired art, furniture and millwork created by local artists and artisans.

Located adjacent to Phoenix’s Roosevelt Row Arts District, 850 PBC is designed to connect with the neighborhood art scene and invite the public inside for local cultural events.

By working with and for the communities where these buildings and spaces are built, we can support better design outcomes, better research outcomes and ultimately, better health outcomes.

Joining Hands to Move Translational Science Forward

As designers and researchers, we focus on solving complex problems. It’s something we have in common with people working in translational science environments. We collaborate across sectors and fields to understand what people want and need out of the spaces where they work, conduct research and receive care.

At HKS, we are excited by the possibilities of translational science and are committed to designing engaging environments and advancing the well-being of communities. Through collaboration, research and innovative design, we support clients and organizations in their mission to unlock new discoveries in health sciences.

If you would like to learn how designers and developers can leverage these insights, please contact Don Bush or Matthew O’Grady.