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Taking innovation learnings from Fusionopolis to Gracefield

30 January 2017, by Duncan Mitchell

While in Singapore in July, I visited an innovation precinct called ‘one-north’ – specifically one of its developments called ‘Fusionopolis’ that’s relevant to work that TwentyTwo has done with Callaghan Innovation on its Gracefield Innovation Quarter in Lower Hutt.

Gracefield is a 10-hectare site with 34,000m2 of labs, office space, workshops and pilot labs which give resident businesses access to specialist facilities, expertise, advice and services to help them fast-track their business development.

TwentyTwo has been helping Callaghan re-plan the site to:

  • Relocate their own activities into a more consolidated zone to support staff interaction and collaboration
  • Free up space for other innovative businesses to occupy the site and work alongside Callaghan
  • Create an ‘innovation hub’ with range of share support facilities and amenities

The aim of the visit to Fusionopolis was to glean aspects of their master planning that might also be relevant for Gracefield.

How Fusionopolis is structured

Fusionopolis is an R&D precinct in Singapore’s 200-hectare ‘one-north’ business park, located close to the INSEAD Asia Campus, the National University of Singapore, Singapore Polytechnic, the National University Hospital and the Ministry of Education. One of the main tenants of Fusionopolis is the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR), as well as a number of private corporations.

Fusionopolis has five major, multi-storey buildings totalling 270,000m2 of space and was developed by JTC Corporation as an R&D and high-technology cluster. Phase 1 of the development opened in 2008 as an integrated live-work and play environment made up of serviced apartments, retail outlets, fitness clubs, an experimental theatre and media studios, plus early childhood centres and arts and other specialist schools. The three buildings in Phase 1 are Conexis (north and south) and Symbiosis.

Phase 2 was completed in 2010 as a test bed for new technologies, including wet and dry labs, clean rooms and other advanced testing facilities. Phases 1 and 2 have pedestrian links over the road and through the basement.

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My impressions

While the buildings were architecturally amazing and of a scale beyond anything I’ve seen, the complex felt sterile and empty – the most vibrant place being the smokers’ area! While practically a mini city in its own right, it appears that the lack of diversity of occupants means that people generally remain inside during work time and away from the common areas. While the workspaces are stacked vertically due to the size of the development, there has been an obvious attempt to drive activity onto one or two levels near the ground by limiting the horizontal connections further up the buildings.

I then visited one of the most recent buildings called ‘Sand Crawler’, designed in a ‘C’ shape with a large vegetation courtyard at the centre – visually a nice area but didn’t seem to be designed for people to congregate and interact. It may be that Singapore’s very hot and humid climate drives people into the air-conditioned areas of the buildings rather than relaxing outdoor areas like this one.

The Phase 1 buildings are connected at Level 1, Ground and at two basement levels giving space for food halls/cafés that seemed well used at lunch times, but not as meeting places at other times.

I had lunch at a large street stall five minutes’ away – more Asian and low tech – but still vibrant and diverse. People from Fusionopolis and other parts of one-north seemed to be eating here – an area where people could congregate and interact that Fusionopolis didn’t seem to offer. I imagine though that it would be quite difficult to incorporate an area like this into the modern, crafted, design aesthetic of one-north and the clean lines of the Fusionopolis buildings.

Learnings for Gracefield Innovation Precinct Master Planning

While the scale of Fusionopolis is far greater than that being contemplated for Gracefield (300,000m2 at Fusionopolis compared to 34,000m2), we can still take a number of learnings from this development:

  • It’s critical to carefully plan the pedestrian circulation and interaction areas in Innovation Precincts
  • We will need to consolidate and funnel people into dense and vibrant circulation routes close to social interaction areas
  • We need several ‘magnets’ to draw people into these interaction areas 
  • The MRT rail station at one-north that transports people into an area of the site would be equally as successful at Gracefield (albeit at a smaller scale)
  • A bus drop-off point at the centre of the site (rather than the gate) is worth considering
  • As many people cycle to Gracefield, we should consider where we locate the ‘end of journey’ facilities such as the bike storage area, showers, lockers etc. as they need to be central to the site, rather than close to work areas
  • Centrally locating car parking and creating pedestrian-only areas (by limiting vehicle movements to the site perimeter) may be another way of increasing the density of circulation routes and therefore people interaction
  • Food and drink outlets work as other ‘magnets’ to draw people together. Centrally locating these facilities will help enhance interaction by drawing people together
  • As scientists can be more introverted and may not necessarily be drawn to social interaction zones, we may need to also consider quiet, contemplative, reading areas close to the interaction areas. They will need to have some special features to act as the intended magnet and draw these introverts away from their personal work spaces
  • While Singapore’s climate drives people to stay indoors, those living and working in Hutt Valley crave access to the outdoors, especially during the warmer months. Sheltered, sunny outdoor areas could be one of our magnets, especially if they are located close to food outlets
  • We should also consider ways to increase the diversity of people on site – for example, by creating a destination for the general public such as science exhibits, achievement galleries, regular lectures and museums 
  • The food outlets could be a draw to the site for workers in the adjacent area

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Conclusion

While the one-north precinct and Fusionopolis in particular was much larger than anything contemplated in New Zealand, the planning principles remain the same.

The innovation process involves both individual quiet work and the sharing of ideas between people. Innovation precincts need to be designed with places where both of these activities can occur.

Having functional, private workspaces where people can carry out their individual work in an efficient way is only the first step.

The innovation process is supported by ideas sharing, often between people from  different disciplines and with diverse expertise. The chances of these cross-functional intertactions occurring is increased by increasing the density of people in some areas.

People will gravitate naturally to places where they feel comfortable. These areas need not just to be functional, but also vibrant and of a human scale (and, of course, feel confortable with the right temperature and wind protection). Carefully located transport hubs and high-quality coffee and food outlets are other ‘magnets’ that draw people together. Linking these together with well-thought-out pedestrian routes is also critical to encouraging successful innovation.

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About the author

Lives on Asian food. Listens to music that sounds like a washing machine. Once played the clarinet! Dreams of lazy days sailing. Rides a mean mountain bike. Predicts the weather. Avoids crowds and dancing.

Duncan leads our Wellington team and has been the driving force behind our workplace strategy practice since 2003. He continues to challenge how the workplace (physical environment, technology, people and process) can best support organisational performance.

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