• 06.01.10

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.”

About the author

Linda Tischler writes about the intersection of design and business for Fast Company.