The glassy garage-door-style entrance telegraphs openness. It also alludes to the famous Silicon Valley garages where powerhouses such as HP and Apple began. "The competitive advantage that a place like Silicon Valley has is in creating the next thing," says James Plummer, dean of Stanford's engineering school. "The is a place where we can try and create graduates who will be the innovators."

A physical prototyping lab, above, sits next to its digital counterpart to facilitate building, photographing, and printing. Juxtaposing a messy, low-tech space with a pristine, high-tech one also adds a jolt. "Transitions provide surprise," says engineer Scott Witthoft, "and we wanted surprise to be a constant theme."

In the main class area, walls can be reconfigured at will. Whiteboards, which show how messy creativity can be, invite input. "As you walk along, you can see what others are up to," says designer Scott Doorley, "and perhaps contribute an idea to somebody else's project."

Nearly every space within the is designed to help capture a fleeting idea. Take this small room, whose walls and floor are covered with whiteboard paint. It's devoid of furniture except for a large ottoman. Says Kembel: "Your ideas are the color that fill the room."

The deliberately annoying periodic table is designed to keep people moving. It's a little too small for four students to use comfortably and a little too high for sitting. "We put students in a slightly uncomfortable position to push them into adapting to slightly uncomfortable behaviors," says Doorley.

Of course the design of this space was a collaborative effort: Witthoft and Doorley, codirectors of the's Environments Collaborative, were charged with creating a building that is a tool to change how students act. "Space can fuel the creative process," Witthoft says, "by encouraging -- or discouraging -- specific behaviors."

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The Idea Lab: A Look at Stanford's

The new home of Stanford University's puts the institute's philosophy of creativity and collaboration into smart glass, steel, and concrete.

In the beginning, there was just one red wall. That splash of rogue color, at Stanford's engineering school in 2003, marked the first spark of what would morph into the $35 million Hasso Plattner Institute of Design. If the creative process at the — as it's known — exhorts students to gather data, prototype, identify what works, and start all over again to get to the best idea, then that method has found its physical expression in this new building. "Creativity follows context," says director George Kembel. "If I want an organization to behave in a certain way, I need to design for that."

These digs aren't the kind that usually appear in glossy architecture mags. "The space isn't precious," says 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; the fungible wall system, for instance, shows how the space is meant to be reworked daily, if not hourly.

There's no better reminder of the emphasis on newness than an open area beside the school's reception desk called the Concept Car. This is where new ideas for the school will be constantly prototyped. The message: "This is not the end point," Kembel says. "It's the starting point."

[Photos by Noah Webb]

Add New Comment


  • Enrique Allen

    Thank you Scott & Scott for teaching me nearly everything I know about how to approach space design. You've inspired 500 Startups to make a big 10k sq ft bet on space:
    I hope you continue to inspire more!

  • Karen

    This is great that other universities are creating innovation spaces. The University of Michigan also has an idea lab, the Innovatrium. It was created by Business School professors and is led by "the Dean of Innovation", Jeff DeGraff.

  • Tom Apicella

    Amen. I own a commercial design and furniture company. Unfortunately boring is still the norm. However some businesses are starting to "get it". This is a refreshing article, and concept that is long overdue.
    As our economy changes, the "office factory" needs to be converted into the "idea lab" to innovate and compete for the future.

  • scott doorley

    We feel that context & setting shape possibility. There are a lot of ways to tackle the design of an innovation space (we are always both learning about & considering new alternatives!), but mindfulness how the environment impacts thinking is the first step.
    Scott Doorley - Stanford

  • Nick Wright

    All workspaces should be designed like this. So many workspaces stifle innovation and creativity or just simply ignore the end user all together in favour of presenting 'the right image' for the business. The live blood of business is innovation and new ideas but neither of these things just happen they need to be nurtured and stimulated through culture and environment.

    Nick Wright. Co-Founder of Hubbub - the crowdscourcing software.