Here's a look (PDF) at the Novartis "Labs of the Future". This looks like another one of these "open lab" concepts, and it appears that Basel has really bought into the idea. The interview with the two biologists helping to head the project is. . .well, it's very Swiss, that's the best description. When asked "What indicators would you select to measure improvement?" after people move in, the answer is:
Bouwmeester: That depends on the monitoring period. I am assuming that one or two months after we move into the building, the employees will already be experiencing a new dynamic. If they report a positive difference, that will be a first measure of success. It is important that the people in the LOTF develop some
kind of ownership regarding their role in the building. It will be a more active role than usual. The LOTF is basically an open space where you can observe your peers across the hierarchies. This is a different type of social architecture compared to 10 years ago, or even today still. Everybody will be more under observation and observing more than before. The dynamism of the interaction between people will increase. The employees themselves will have to decide what is common practice on their floor. Of course the concept will need to be adapted over time; I would be surprised
if all concepts materialize exactly as anticipated.
I would be, too. In fact, I'd like to propose that last sentence be printed up on T-shirts, coffee mugs, and posters, but that's probably not going to happen. More on what this is actually going to look like:
Korthäuer: (There will be) big screens, placed where people typically pass by. There will be video cameras installed on each laptop, allowing easy and informal contacts. The information technology concept is an important part of it. We have also designed special furniture that serves the same goal. We want to get rid of functional cells such as coffee rooms, writing rooms, lab rooms etc. Our aim is to bring the walls down. But of course we still need differentiation. In the LOTF
there are still compartmentalized areas with particular qualities, constructed according to people’s needs and workflow requirements. . .
Korthäuer: On the information technology side, we are trying to implement a few applications which really support the concept. There will be videoconferences, ‘smart’ whiteboards that allow notes to be captured electronically. We focus on proven technologies. Gradually, we will bring new technologies into the building such as haptic interfaces. Removing the walls in a building can bring about big changes. There will be much less storage room. Therefore, a little robot operating in an elevator shaft will transport materials ordered by laptop up from the basement to the floors. . .
Bouwmeester: We have already implemented Virtual Reality Rooms with ultra-high-resolution video screens, so that the quality is as though you were in a real-life meeting; the effect is quite spectacular. As with any global project, it will all require a certain attitude, a set of skills that people will have to develop. Much energy and time will be needed to communicate efficiently between places as different as Basel, Cambridge and Shanghai. . .
Allow me to note a few difficulties. For one, those high-res video conference venues still have to deal with switching and transmission delays, especially across the distances that the Novartis guys are talking about. So if you try to have a spirited real-time discussion, you'll mostly be getting very clear, sharp, high-fidelity views of people interrupting each other and pausing awkwardly. (Update: see the comments section - some users are reporting more successful experience.) I have a more macro-scale worry about this sort of thing, too, having to do with my suspicion of plans that depend on people finally shaping up and acting the way that they're supposed to. As with any global project, y'know.
I think that I'll let Tom Wolfe have the last word here, since what he wrote in From Bauhaus to Our House is still applicable, over thirty years later:
I once saw the owners of such a place driven to the edge of sensory deprivation by the whiteness & lightness & leanness & cleanness & bareness & spareness of it all. They became desperate for an antidote, such as coziness & color. They tried to bury the obligatory white sofas under Thai-silk throw pillows of every rebellious, iridescent shade of magenta, pink, and tropical green imaginable. But the architect returned, as he always does, like the conscience of a Calvinist, and he lectured them and hectored them and chucked the shimmering little sweet things out.
Every great law firm in New York moves without a sputter of protest into a glass-box office building with concrete slab floors and seven-foot-ten-inch-high concrete slab ceilings and plasterboard walls and pygmy corridors. . .Without a peep they move in!—even though the glass box appalls them all. . .
I find the relation of the architect to the client in America today wonderfully eccentric, bordering on the perverse. . .after 1945 our plutocrats, bureaucrats, board chairmen, CEO's, commissioners, and college presidents undergo an inexplicable change. They become diffident and reticent. All at once they are willing to accept that glass of ice water in the face, that bracing slap across the mouth, that reprimand for the fat on one's bourgeois soul, known as modern architecture.
And why? They can't tell you. They look up at the barefaced buildings they have bought, those great hulking structures they hate so thoroughly, and they can't figure it out themselves. It makes their heads hurt.