Site design for Science Parks

Prof. dr. Jacques van Dinteren, Zjak Consult

The importance of location still cannot be denied

Thanks to the multitude of ways to communicate that are available today, it is sometimes said that distance no longer matters and that – by extension – the geographic location of STPs has become much less important. Nothing could be further from the truth. Surveys among businesses located at STPs demonstrate this. For example, for businesses at Dutch STPs, the proximity of a university, the STP’s geographic location and its accessibility on the regional scale level are still the most important factors. The failure to satisfy these kinds of crucial requirements has jeopardised the success of more than one STP. In some cases there had been no critical analysis of the regional conditions, or those in charge were too convinced of the possibilities of being able to make favourable changes to those conditions, such as accessibility and networking opportunities with other businesses and knowledge institutions. Not all environments are conducive settings for an STP.

If a region has good market prospects for the development of an STP, it is still relevant to ask where exactly the best location is. Site selection compares the available alternatives in terms of various characteristics such as accessibility, environment/landscape, the infrastructure in place (the internet backbone, for instance), the space for future expansion and the proximity of interesting companies and knowledge institutions. From the vantage point of sustainable development, it is also logical to look at the possibilities for (creating) multimodal access and good integration in the landscape. Given the trend to consider STPs an important node in an innovation area, site selection specifically has to provide for a careful integration of STPs in that regional knowledge ecosystem.

Market-based site design: key to success

The target group, functional concept, financial feasibility and functional programme of requirements for the development of an STP can be outlined on the basis of market research. Because STPs usually involve a long development period (up to thirty years even), this requires a specific approach: after all it is virtually impossible to sketch out the market prospects for the next twenty years, for example. The market research for an STP must therefore also explicitly contain an analysis of the region that investigates whether all the conditions imposed by such a development are satisfied.

Our experience has taught that as far as the time horizon is concerned, an in-depth, detailed market research is mainly useful for the medium term. Not many property projects are established in this period however, but a market study gives a first (but nothing more) picture of the feasibility in these early years. In this stage it is important that market research also clarifies the target groups and functional concept. The functional concept describes the STP ‘product’ in functional terms. It is the creative idea that lays the foundation for the design. This has to do with the atmosphere/ambience, ways of working, communication possibilities, spatial quality, etc. Testing should demonstrate that the concept appeals to the target group and will incite them to set up business at the STP.

In our approach market analysis does not stand alone. The exchange of ideas and cooperation between market researchers and designers in developing a vision and concept is unusual, but in our view are precisely the keys to success in achieving a successful plan. In our market studies, the designers and colleagues from other relevant disciplines are involved from the very beginning therefore.

Interdisciplinary site design

“The 21st century science park once again regards the built environment as vital, not as an end in itself but as an aid to the process of creativity, interaction and innovation,” John Allen said during one of the IASP conferences. This calls for new types of buildings, high-quality landscaping and the availability of a great range of services. A design that provides for these new requirements will be a significant success factor for the park. On the other hand, more traditional aspects of a design are still needed, such as safety and security, transport and communication infrastructure, parking facilities, and space for expansion.

It is important to point out here that in our opinion, urban planners are just one of the categories of specialists working on the site design for an STP. A 21st century site design for an STP is not resilient unless it is underpinned by a far broader, interdisciplinary team. Along with a focus on environment and sustainability, market research must be brought into the entire development process in order to share ideas – continually – and create a joint vision from a variety of perspectives or disciplines, which include urban planners, landscape architects, traffic consultants and financial experts.

Because the development of an STP is a long-term project (provided there is a good selection strategy), flexibility in the site design is key, as is stability to secure the return on investments. This means keeping as many options for future development open for as long as possible. The design needs to be organised in such a way that opportunities can be combined right up to the last moment. The core team continually tracks developments that affect the plan, tests the foundation for stability and adjusts the plan if necessary.

Attracting the brains: changing the work environment

The importance of an intelligent design that maximises the chances for innovation, ‘serendipity’ and the exchange of ideas is considered increasingly important by developers, businesses, designers and other parties involved. The line of reasoning in this is as follows: if employees enjoy their work, they work better. If they work better, this positively impacts productivity and creativity. This ultimately leads to better results for companies.

Based on this kind of thinking, a work environment can be created that can benefit the STP’s companies in the War for Talent. Not only in order to generate employees, but also to retain them for as long as possible. A work environment must be created that stimulates the process of creativity, interaction and innovation. A survey we conducted among companies located at Dutch STPs indicated that 69% of them agreed or agreed strongly with the statement that given the increasing shortage of highly educated people on the job market, it is essential that STPs offer these workers an optimal work environment. This means extensive facilities (for instance, shops, hair salons, restaurants and cafés, fitness studios) and an attractively designed STP with recreation options (walking and jogging routes, meeting places, etc.).

The interior design of each building on an STP is largely informed by the need for a pleasant and attractive work environment. The current trend is for employees to collaborate in project- and program-managed working formations where they increasingly connect through virtual meeting points rather than in person on the work floor. This trend is revolutionising our idea of a work environment. A work environment is no longer simply a physical site (i.e. an office with meeting rooms); it may include virtual elements (ICT), as well as more abstract elements (corporate culture and shared beliefs on how to do certain things). Each of these elements is equally important in the creation of an effective and productive work environment, and they are all interdependent.

The need for multi-purpose buildings

Many STPs come with laboratories and cleanrooms. These high-tech spaces have sophisticated and expensive equipment which is often shared by multiple users. Shared use of laboratories and/or cleanrooms requires clear communication lines between users so that security can be safeguarded while innovative experiments are being carried out. Whether the buildings in question belong to small start-ups or to large multinational corporations, it is of vital importance that user requirements be discussed and defined upfront. This is an important step towards ensuring that the requirements for the yet-to-be-built laboratories can be met and that clear boundaries be established with regard to what the various users are and aren’t allowed to do. One way to make appropriate decisions for all parties involved is to carefully weigh one’s choices regarding flexibility and the total costs of ownership (TCO). By doing so, one can establish a well-considered program of requirements that can be used to determine which design criteria the various end users expect to be implemented. Once these steps have been taken, the program can then be used as a guideline in monitoring the design, engineering and construction of the new buildings.

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