Multiple considerations must be prioritized throughout the design process: client goals, function, efficiency, cost, branding and flexibility are a few of the many factors that influence a final design outcome. Understanding which variables provide the greatest value to the client is critical in the design of a successful and sustainable facility. A Post Occupancy Evaluation (POE) is one of the best tools for assessing a design's success. They are crucial in helping to measure theoretical design intent against a tangible result.
Client design criteria ranges dramatically from project to project, from the everyday "norm" to highly conceptual parameters. Criteria founded on existing precedents, are for the most part, straightforward and can be applied to new projects with reasonable results. Conversely, projects relying heavily on theoretical criteria challenge the design team to research the assumptions and benchmark outcomes, allowing the team to make informed decisions. In the latter instance, the results of the POE are of increased importance, in identifying the real outcomes of applied design assumptions and their impact on users. They become lessons learned for the design team and precedents for the future.
In our experience, POE's seem to furnish the best data when conducted approximately one to two years post-occupancy. This duration offers the client time to settle in and acclimate to their new surroundings, experience the functionality of the space and receive feedback from all occupants. Based on this information they can form conclusions, while still familiar with design goals and the intentions of pre-construction.
Design drivers, project background
One such example of a great learning process for both designer and user is exemplified in our collaboration with Pfizer’s Center for Therapeutic Innovation (CTI). Pfizer (CTI), a more recent entrepreneurial division of Pfizer based on open partnerships with Academic Medical Institutions, chose the 18th floor penthouse level of the TK&A-designed Boston's Center for Life Science building to establish their global headquarters. This location, situated within the research hub of Boston's Longwood Medical Area, is critical in order to establish close proximity with partnering institutions. Pfizer CTI’s core values include offering collaborating partners use of their space and resources. Their focus on translational medicine links pre-clinical data with clinical outcomes for an accelerated scientific process. It strengthens the bridge of information from the lab to the patient, leading to a greater chance of success.
The client's project team came to the drawing board as experienced veterans in the design and construction process. They had ample Pfizer precedents to reference and an extremely aggressive budget to meet, which made it sensible for them to rely on past experience. However, Pfizer CTI recognized an opportunity to try innovative approaches to planning and redefine their culture with the design of their new headquarters. This direction demanded a departure from Pfizer's existing standards of hierarchical private office planning and research spaces with minimal transparency. The project team relied on a design process based on trust in reasonable assumptions. Project team members’ varying expertise and priorities allowed for the group to analyze all design impacts holistically to reach a trusted consensus. Pfizer CTI challenged our design team to develop a design that was budget conscious, flexible and collaborative.
The space conditions existed as a rough core/shell. The fixed budget had to support a turnkey, finished research lab, computational lab, lab support, conferencing and the headquarters executive leadership office. The design team had to maximize planning efficiency and explore innovative ways to make square footage versatile and balance the greatest impact for dollars spent.
The planning had to allow for adaptability of future unknown working processes, as well as easy modification of program ratios. For example, the ability to convert wet lab bench space to lab support (and vice versa), with minimal impact on the research process was an important design driver. The use of modular benches, movable lab casework and utilities located in overhead ceiling panels allowed for rapid reconfiguration to suit shifting research focus. In addition, this space is leased; therefore, the flexible nature of the fixtures and equipment allows the tenant to easily take their investment with them. Finally, computational science or “dry lab” bench space was limited to five linear feet per person with low partitions, to encourage "cross-pollination" of research disciplines and sharing of ideas. Varying types of flexible meeting spaces were also planned for: large conference space with a movable partition, small meeting rooms, and private touch-down “phone booths.”
CTI is founded on an innovative approach for partnering pharmaceutical research and academic research. Integrating this concept into the design in a modern, innovative way was an important driver in the design process. Utilizing the planning principles of visual transparency and accessibility, the design team incorporated the following:
- Daylight-filled views permeated the floor plate, affording all occupants access to natural light.
- A glass wall in the entry lobby displaying their state-of-the-art science promotes the brand and visibly highlights the research activity in the lab space beyond.
- A multi-functional lobby converts into a large event assembly space by opening the abutting “garage door” conference wall.
- An encouraged 'co-mingling' culture was achieved through circulation paths, featured marker board surfaces, coffee/break-out spaces and open office layouts with inspirational views of the Boston skyline.
- A new open office culture eliminated the traditional corporate hierarchy.
Theoretical intent compared with real outcomes: Measuring POE results
After Pfizer CTI had occupied the space for a little over a year, our POE was conducted. The valuable feedback we received was based upon the following:
What works least well in the lab layout?
Comment: We are extremely happy with the efficiency and planning of our space given the fit-out space restrictions and our requested program. However, if we had additional space, we would have included more supply storage [supporting the wet lab].
Is there adequate lab support space (lab support includes the open alcoves in the lab, procedure rooms outside the lab and equipment corridor?
Comment: We can always use more storage. We prioritized lab benches and support functions over storage, which we still feel was the right decision for our investment. However, in a perfect world, if we had the luxury of a few feet added to the width of our footprint, we would have lined the corridor with storage closets.
Does the building foster interaction among researchers, other departments?
Comment: Yes, one of the key design priorities was to foster forced collaboration through deliberate planning and design decisions. We started with a strategic vision of an entirely collaborative environment, one drastically different from our current culture. The design team worked with us to make that vision a reality. Now having been in the space for quite some time, it has been a pleasure observing the success of that vision come to fruition. We could not be happier.
On a scale of 1 (not satisfied) to 5 (very satisfied)—rate your overall satisfaction with the building:
Comments: 5. After working through many fit-outs with various teams, the CTI Headquarters project has been a career highlight. It was a true pleasure to witness the collaborative process between. It proved to be a special team, with a great chemistry.
Lessons learned from the POE of Pfizer CTI
In summary, the results of our Post Occupancy Evaluation were very insightful in gauging client satisfaction, the accuracy of our reasonable assumptions, and our own understanding of lab planning and design best practices. Specifically, we learned:
- Open Office environments provide excellent space planning efficiency and promote a more collaborative culture. However, careful consideration must be given to acoustic sensitivity. Ample private meeting accommodations must be built into the design. An open-office environment isn’t always successful for everyone’s working style.
- Within the research lab, adaptability of program function and movable casework is optimal. Generous storage areas can’t be overlooked, though in planning stages, it’s often the first space to be sacrificed for other uses. A clear plan for storage and its management should be established early in the design process.
- Our Post Occupancy Evaluation revealed that the assumptions made based on theoretical design drivers were a success. In recent discussions with the client, it was shared that due to the overwhelming success of the CTI headquarters, Pfizer's new in Boston’s Kendall Square is adopting many of the principles that were applied to CTI's space. As a designer, it is always rewarding to see a project move from planned assumptions to proven outcomes which then become a precedent for future projects.
Jennifer Mango, IIDA, ASID, Associate, Tsoi/Kobus & Associates, is a well-rounded interior designer with experience spanning multiple market sectors. Mango’s areas of expertise include: space planning, problem solving, strong design integration of client image and vision, material finish design and technical knowledge, consultant coordination, construction documentation and administration, furniture planning and specification.