Science on Display

A New R&D Center for Takeda Pharmaceuticals

Every day there are people in the world waking up to hug children, work, cook, travel, play, and seize another day of life… people who might not be able to do so without the novel therapeutics and treatments for diseases that we have today.

Takeda Pharmaceutical employees work in an environment shared across office and lab functions thanks to a new Perkins+Will-designed R&D center in Cambridge, MA.

By William Harris, Principal, Perkins+Will with Jeremy Dearborn, Senior Project Manager, Perkins+Will; images Courtesty of Takeda and Perkins and Will

Biotechnology, the industry that has provided medical therapies for scores of previously terminal diseases, has transformed our expectations of life expectancy and the management of illness. While still faced with a daunting array of human suffering, biotechnology continues its focus on tackling the structure of disease, and the mechanisms whereby diseases attack the body at a cellular level. It is a complex industry where neither the targets nor the solutions are self-evident.

A biotech company may identify thousands of potential targets — target refers to a specific molecule in the body that a medicine is designed to impact — of these thousands of targets, only a dozen may advance to research and development, with only one finally making it to clinical trials and ultimately to the market as a viable therapy. This discovery process, and the requisite scientific expertise and technology, embodies the sheer intensity of developing novel medicines.

The Function of a Lab

Framed by these daunting obstacles, we have seen an evolution in the design of spaces for biotechnology research, driven by an evolution in the very definition of a lab space. Several decades ago, when the industry was relatively young, the function of a lab was focused on meeting technical challenges, providing safe benches with the right utilities and tools for predictable processes and procedures. But today, the function of a lab is described by our clients in much broader terms: support innovation and reduce the time it takes to bring life-saving drugs to market.

We recognize that the workplace for science is not just the office space but also the lab itself. Separated by spatial and environmental controls, and by safety and technical features, both lab and office must be designed both individually and together, as the occupants are one in the same and must collaborate closely.

This broader, functional requirement for science has changed the designer’s approach to the research environment, demanding that every principle of workplace theory — behavior and design — be examined through a lens far more focused on human performance than on real estate, style, or traditional benchmarks. The cost of constructing lab environments can be 3 to 10 times the cost of office environments, forcing a careful assessment of not only design features but also square footage efficiencies, programs, and solutions through the lens of economic value.

Perkins+Will has been at the forefront of designing research environments for more than 35 years, working with more than 100 biotechnology companies and institutes on over 2 million square feet in the Cambridge area alone. We have seen the evolution in programming, planning, and design applied to all scales of enterprise, from startups to global pharmaceutical companies. We have also been fortunate to work for nearly two decades with one of the industry leaders in novel therapeutics, Takeda Oncology Company.

Takeda is a patient-focused, innovation-driven global pharmaceutical company that builds on a distinguished 235-year history, aspiring to bring better health and a brighter future for people worldwide. Takeda began operations in 1781 when Chobei Takeda I started a business selling traditional Japanese and Chinese medicines in Doshomachi, Osaka — today they operate in over 70 countries with more than 30,000 employees worldwide.

During our time supporting Takeda we have witnessed first-hand the evolution of the lab as workplace and the emergence of key drivers for the design of research environments – drivers which force responses in a variety of categories. It is within the framework of these industry drivers that Takeda engaged Perkins+Will to design its new Research and Development headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts:

Convergence of people and disciplines. Increasingly complex science requires increasingly collaborative solutions. Partnerships may link scientist across the lab, the hall, the campus, the city or the world. Making collaboration easier across biology, chemistry, mathematics, big data, medical devices, and more is key. The next great idea may come from the happenstance collaboration between non-departmentally associated scientists.

Adaptability as a hedge against the unknown. The tools of the scientist have become increasingly sophisticated, digitized, automated and mechanized — analytical and process equipment is continually developed to serve the industry. Often new tools and technologies are available between the time we design a lab and the time construction is complete. The industry is in a continual state of evolution, forcing new functions to occupy lab and office space originally intended for other uses.

Prioritizing investments. Every dollar spent on architecture is a dollar not available for scientists or equipment. Long term value can be found through environmental stewardship, sustainability and resiliency – all of which are aligned with the values of today’s biotech clients.

It’s about the talent. Talent is critical, and competition is fierce for both attraction and retention. Providing delightful, functional workspaces along with great policies and amenities is not enough to attract and retain top talent. Organizations must bond with their teams through development of a shared purpose, culture, and community. For the design team, this means understanding the brand and identity of our clients, and expressing both through design.

Perkins+Will Principal Jeannine Campbell leading a Visioning Session


Our design process began with a Visioning Session, an opportunity to deeply understand the drivers for the design so that our design proposals can be more focused. For this project, Takeda identified a team consisting of scientists, corporate communications, and site leadership, representing constituents and serving as the key link to management during the design process.

Consistent with the categories noted previously, we structure and lead our Visioning Sessions to address several factors:

How do people work? Different tasks require different modes of working, from focused, heads down assignments to more collaborative interactions with others. The new space needed to recognize and support these various modes of activities, including opportunities for chance encounters and impromptu conversations.

How might the requirements for the space vary over time? During the design process or after occupancy, change is inevitable. The actual groups occupying any given space may change — so could the science, technology, and equipment.

Where will we find value? Value is found by supporting the way people need to work, and by making it easier and less costly to accommodate change over time.

What is the unique culture of the company? Takeda’s mission as a fully integrated biopharmaceutical company is to deliver extraordinary medicines to patients with cancer worldwide through science, innovation, and passion. They aspire to cure cancer – and that infuses their culture, builds a community, drives innovation and demands integrity.

One of our favorite tools for helping our clients translate these drivers into design concepts is a process called we call Visual Listening. A picture is truly worth a thousand words, so we assemble images of sample design interiors from a variety of sources and industries and let the client study and react to those images. Sometimes they express their reactions through a process of applying colored dots to the images – red for dislike, green for like, and yellow for worth a discussing.

During the Visioning Session we asked Takeda: What works well? What do you want to see in your new office? What have you seen that you think is cool?

Giving the Session participants about thirty minutes to study the images and apply their dots and sticky notes, the group spent time together reviewing and discussing why the relevant images deserved their ratings. The process is remarkably revealing about values, about the way we see space, color, and form, and about real differences in people’s approach to aesthetics. The process is also a remarkable ice-breaker, engaging people in a way that observation and listening alone cannot match. The team becomes more committed to the iterative process that defines design, as well as to the outcomes.

While disagreements are typical, the results of this Visioning exercise yield not only direction for the architects, but also a clarity about the principles by which the design will be evaluated over time. The Sessions are a shared experience that creates a common institutional goal and vision for the project.


Living Prototype

Takeda and Perkins+Will began the design process for the new R&D headquarters three years before its delivery date. This head-start gave us the opportunity to collectively define the goals and requirements — it also allowed us to prototype a potential design solution for the office component of the lab environment early in the process.

The 8,000 sqft prototype office space was built on the Takeda campus, at 64 Sydney Street in Cambridge. More than a mere showroom, the space was occupied by the Facilities department in August 2013, and included open workstations, meeting tables with integrated technology, huddle rooms, conference rooms, and a central social meeting space.

A small number of private offices and closed meeting spaces were built on an inside wall, with glass fronts, positioned such that everyone shared in the natural light and views. The walls were built with demountable partitions so that they could be easily reconfigured and sized over time. Both the private offices and the open areas were built on an accessible raised floor, intended to make relocations of power and data easier. The open work areas of the office offered a variety of desk typologies – from benching to sit-to-stand workstations and even a treadmill desk. Desk locations would be either assigned or selected for a fit between personality of the users and the tasks at hand. The open areas also integrated meeting spaces – regular height or raised tables with plug-and-play connections to digital monitors. The height of the space was accentuated by exposing the overhead utilities and floating clouds of acoustical ceilings above collaboration and desk elements. This gave the space a feeling of non-corporate innovation while at the same time offering acoustic value.

Successful in its own right, and continuing to provide valued workspace for several groups over the years, the Prototype space helped to inform the design of the R&D Headquarters at 300 Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge. Key experience and design solutions iterated into the full scope project.

Overhead Service Panels distribute utilities with flexible cords and hoses via quick disconnects on the panels, allowing for easy reconfiguration without renovations.

Lab as Workplace

It has been said that a lab is a workplace, with a dress code. Of course, we know that it is much more than that. At Perkins+Will we are so committed to meeting the needs of scientists inside the lab that we have scientists on our own staff! They help us program and plan for operational needs and to assure functionality across a wide range of technical specifications.

At the same time, we know that a lab is indeed – to a large extent – a workplace, and that the principles of good workplace design must apply to that environment as they would to any office. Working with Takeda and with our other biotech clients over the years, we have been able to design labs with many of the features familiar to a good office environment.

Adaptability. If the bench in a lab is equivalent to a desk in an office, then adaptability stems from the ability to reconfigure. Here the lab has the office beat for flexibility. We separated the utility and services infrastructure from the bench, delivering power, lab gases and other requirements through a network of plug-and- play panels in the ceiling. This allows the lab benches and any associated equipment to tie into services through twist-lock connectors. There is virtually limitless opportunity to reconfigure the location of critical lab equipment – including the complete removal of benches and replacement with other equipment, a style commonly referred to as a ballroom lab layout.

We went a step further and designed a grid of overhead utilities that allow benches and free-standing equipment to be configured not just in parallel rows, but also in various orientations. Within the ballroom style space, benches can be rotated into functional clusters, replaced with equipment, or tethered together for conventional relationships.

We also introduced swing-arm supports for monitors and keyboards, such as one finds in a traditional office, to free the bench surface for more functional activities.

Transparency. One of the key lessons of the Prototype office space was that the transparency enabled by the open environment facilitated important collaboration and communication. We applied this same principle to the labs. We created open labs, organized with a ballroom approach — this means scientists are not isolated from one another and colleagues can easily see who else is around and available for questions, support, or collaboration. This increased visibility is also a safety benefit in a lab environment. We also identified early the need for transparency between the labs and offices, giving scientists more visual connections between their benches and desks — this was implemented with rigor and with disregard for the occasional interruption of views by equipment.

No orphaning. The lab environment is often organized around research teams or functional activities of a particular size. The sizes of the groups, however, vary over time. The open lab environment – unlike the traditional model – is not divided into groups of a particular size, allowing for changes in group sizes over time with less chance that group members will not fit.

Science on Display. We don’t always think about the passive benefit of our modern workplace letting us see what’s going on. Setting aside for a moment issues of confidentiality, most offices celebrate idea exchanges through open marker-boards, posters, pin-up walls, digital monitors, and other communication tools to build community and foster innovation. The equivalent labs is to display research and technologies for visitors – to show off special equipment or activities which can be quite compelling, especially for the non-scientist. At Takeda we implemented a Science on Display area — showcasing robotics behind glass walls similar to a museum, allowing visitors a clear view of the innovation happening within the lab environment.

Quick visual studies on blending lab (L) and office (O) space allowed the team to engage stakeholders early in the process to set a key design direction.

Collaboration & Convergence

Given that one of our biggest functional design criteria was to facilitate innovation, and that collaboration is key to innovation, the question is often asked for lab environments: Where does collaboration happen? Is it in the lab, in the office, or someplace in between? We believe this question must be addressed in three parts: Task, Group, and Community collaboration.

Culture, organization, management, and science each impact where collaboration happens. For Takeda, we asked the question to three constituencies: User Groups, Facilities Management, and Science Leadership. The consistent response was that Task collaboration and communication should happen primarily within the lab spaces; Group collaboration should happen across entire a floor; and Community collaboration should happen for all of the building occupants.

We then inquired about the convergence of disciplines and learned that Takeda leadership had already taken the forward- thinking step of merging non-science teams, such as General & Administrative, Operations, IT, Legal, and Human Resources onto the same floors with scientists. Their philosophy was that this adjacency would not only promote the type of interaction that can be fundamental to discovery, but also that it would keep non-scientists proximate to the science – reinforcing the core mission and culture of the company.

Even with the programmatic direction provided by the Client, the Perkins+Will team studied the physical implications of these planning decisions. This was a critical step in the process because any design intent has a host of unanticipated consequences when applied to specific spatial realities. The plan layouts provided the opportunity to test the various relationships between lab, office, and collaboration spaces. The resulting studies, shown here were brought to the highest levels of R&D leadership and the Lab Centric Ring Concept was selected. Takeda felt that it best responded to their goals.

The Ring Concept centralized the lab areas in the middle of the floor plate, providing the easiest connectivity between different lab groups and functions. It also centralized the utilities and distribution of mechanical systems to the inner core of the building to keep ceilings along the windows and within the lab at their maximum height. Heavier and vibration sensitive equipment was also centralized adjacent to the core where the structure was most rigid.

Although client leadership was clear that collaboration inside the labs is critical, they also stressed that office tasks demand collaboration as well. Consistent with feedback from the Prototype workspace, as well as metrics developed across multiple markets, Perkins+Will designed the office areas around the labs as a series of interlocking work areas: desking, meeting, lounge, and alternative workspaces. A variety of choices are offered and at least two optional workplaces are visible from, and available to, every desk. These choices offer individual, one-on-one, and small team opportunities for unscheduled meetings and connections.

A centralized lab configuration forces a perimeter office configuration. With some clients we might recommend a distribution of coffee areas around such an elongated office floor area, providing multiple pockets of informal meeting space. For Takeda, addressing group collaboration meant centralizing a single coffee/lunch area for each floor, and making it gracious enough to support many people and a variety of activities. This was positioned immediately adjacent to the main elevator entry on each floor in a hospitality zone that also featured conference rooms and collaborative elements.

Critical to the culture of Takeda, it was important to provide a special space for the entire building to enjoy — social center. For this building we had the opportunity to use a roof space adjacent to the top floor as an occupiable roof terrace featuring planting beds, built-in benches, and movable furniture. Overlooking MIT and the entire innovation ecosystem known as the Kendall Square Biotech Hub, this roof terrace was an ideal focus for the building. Locating the building cafeteria just next to the terrace, along with a group of large, interconnected meeting rooms, capped off the building destination for strong community collaboration.

Creating Value

The design drivers for this project aligned well with financial drivers. Separating the infrastructure from the benches and equipment in the labs has allowed, already in two years of occupancy, several changes to be made to accommodate new programs, equipment, and technologies that were not anticipated – with virtually no capital expense for redesign or construction alteration. The lab centric planning concept has centralized utility distribution in a more economical manner and early investments in sustainable design have resulted in a 40% reduction of energy costs per square foot compared with Takeda’s older portfolio of lab and office projects. Wellness, as a practical and cultural value, has been integral to the design at every level, from the specification of healthy building materials to the thoroughness with which daylight is incorporated into the design and planning.

In close collaboration with Takeda’s team we were able to successfully express the unique culture of the company in the final design. According to legend, a person who folds 1,000 origami cranes will be granted one wish, such as recovery from an illness or a long life. When 1,000 cranes are folded as a group they are know as a senbazuru. Takeda has embraced this legend, honoring the Japanese tradition of senbazuru as an expression of its aspiration to cure cancer. In 2009 the company unveiled the 1,000 Cranes of Hope initiative and exhibit – where each piece of origami paper was inscribed with a wish by patients, doctors, scientists, and others part of the Takeda family, prior to being folded and suspended in the lobby of Takeda’s main building.

These folded birds and the heartfelt messages they contain represent the hope we all share – and a responsibility we all feel – to create a work environment that supports the innovation required to solve some of the world’s biggest health problems. Whether an employee or consultant, working with Takeda means one is always aware of the mission and responsibility, which leads us as designers to express the mission symbolically and literally in the architectural design. The 1,000 Cranes can be found in the abstract diagonal lines which articulate the back walls of the coffee areas, or in the folded glass plane of the Science on Display area, and in the exhibit of folded paper cranes hanging in the cafeteria.

Therapeutic R&D programs elevate the demand for good workplace design. We continually study, challenge and evolve the workplace environment – its tools, arrangement, spaces, and adjacencies – because it ultimately can help make a difference to patients around the world.

From Design Museum Magazine Issue 007