Spaces for Innovation: 12 Suggestions

Google “space for innovation” and several hundred results will show up. The difference between this piece and others is that I compiled it on my flight back to Milwaukee and after visiting some of the most inspiring innovation spaces in Silicon Valley. Without further ado, I would like to present to you, 12 architectural suggestions to make a space for innovation:

  1. Increase Density, Involve Catalysts

Increasing density while involving a catalyst brings about more successful collisions. In Chemical Kinetics, this is known as the Collision Theory. In the physical space, magnets (physical or programmatic features that attract people to a place, e.g. food) and anchors (physical or programmatic features that keep people in a place, e.g. comfy chairs) can increase density while triangulators (physical or programmatic features that prompt people to talk to each other, e.g. art) can act as catalysts.


  1. Allow Controlled Environmental Improvisation

People need to be able to adjust the environment to control the functional, visual, and auditory properties of space. Yet, flexible spaces seem to be most productive when coupled with subtle instructions inspired by best practices. Such spaces allow people to create different configurations within an effective framework. The best practices framework can be conveyed through the weight of the furniture, degree of transparency in dividers and partitions, ceiling height, shape of the room, the mood of the space, resources provided in space, the direction of rails/racks for moveable whiteboards/partitions, the direction of spatial expansions and contractions, etc.


  1. Sync the Space with the Medium

The terms ‘lean back’ and ‘lean forward’ are referred to two styles of engagement with the media. Lean back engagement is mostly associated with ‘high absorption’ and happens when we are watching TV, reading a book, using tablets, flipping through a magazine, etc. Lean forward engagement is mostly associated with ‘high activity’ and happens when we are using the web, writing on white boards, working with a desktop, etc. It is important to sync the space with the media that encourage lean back, lean forward, or the fusion between the two (double/triple viewing).


  1. Use the Space to Syncopate a Rhythm for the Community

Good space design corresponds to the choreography of complementary community events such as: whole community gatherings and small-group breakout sessions, exposure to a wide range of ideas and focus on specific problems, idea-sharing forums and tool-building projects, conceptual theorizing and hands-on prototyping, etc.


  1. Strategic Juxtaposition

It is always important to provide a wide range of spatial and experiential opportunities corresponding to different states of innovative process: prototyping, reflecting, brainstorming, iteration, ideation, etc. Yet, what is even more important is the tapestry of these spatial and experiential opportunities. Strategic juxtaposition refers to creating an effective tapestry: programmatically neutral space adjacent to heavily programmed space, experientially restorative nook located in high intensity work area, alternative areas of light and dark to increase emphasis on certain locations, etc.


  1. Create a Collective Understanding of the Aesthetics of the Work

Most art and design schools tend to publicly display models, drawings, projects, and other artifacts that are produced in the community.  Doing so, members of the community participate in creating a collective understanding of their culture by reproducing the clues that they receive from their surroundings on a daily basis: subtle details that make a great painting, a language to talk about surreal movies, graphic techniques to make political posters, etc. A good space is expressive of the community’s culture and a living gallery of its practices.


  1. Provide Opportunities to Break Away from the Collective Understanding Explained in No. 6

In response to Google’s query about best environments for innovation, the Co-founder of Terraform One Mitchell Joachim writes: “Design is seeing new qualities in everyday objects. We surround ourselves with these seemingly random items to be inspired just so. Our working studio is similar to the toymaker’s shop in Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner – a physical narrative of possibilities ready to be animated.”


  1. Provide Jottable Surfaces that Move

People never know when and where ideas might strike. Some ideas are volatile and need to be rendered in diagrams or transcribed before they are forgotten. This requires for jottable surfaces to be everywhere. Moreover, making these surfaces as mobile as possible facilitates the cross-pollination of ideas, sharing, and brainstorming.


  1. Desk +

Desks and tables should be thought of resourceful objects that actively contribute to the ecology of innovation. Whiteboards, storage spaces, power and cable outlets, lighting, wheels, etc. are features that can be incorporated to desks and tables with different types and sizes in order for them to become smarter objects.


  1. Adjust the Mood of the Space

To be innovative, people should be encouraged to dream big, don’t hold back ideas, tinker and play, test their ideas, and don’t fear the failure. Accordingly, the mood of the space should be playful, leveler, rustic, casual, experimental, and show bias towards action.


  1. Create Peripheral Conditions

Most communities are consisted of both core and peripheral members. Peripheral members maintain a connection but are not as engaged and committed as core members. They are valuable potential core members who have a unique and useful insight about the community. Yet, space is often designed to address the needs and behaviors of core members. Peripheral participation requires a degree of permeability in space to provide legitimate access to resources, low-intensity engagement, or even non-participant observation of the work process.


  1. Use Data-driven Evaluation Strategies to Inform the Use of Space


-Amin Mojtahedi, University Innovation Fellow ’15

Amin Mojtahedi, of Univeristy of Wisconsin Milwaukee

Amin Mojtahedi, of Univeristy of Wisconsin Milwaukee


This article was written by Amin Mojtahedi, a University Innovation Fellow at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee. Amin is a Ph.D. candidate in the School of Architecture and a Researcher-Designer at Workshop Architects. See his full bio here.

123 U.S. Students Named University Innovation Fellows by NSF-Funded Epicenter

For Immediate Release
February 24, 2015

Media contact:
Laurie Moore
Communications Manager, Epicenter
(650) 561-6113

123 U.S. Students Named University Innovation Fellows by NSF-Funded Epicenter

(February 24, 2015) — 123 students from 51 U.S. higher education institutions have been named University Innovation Fellows by the National Center for Engineering Pathways to Innovation (Epicenter).

The University Innovation Fellows program empowers students to become agents of change at their schools. The Fellows are a national community of students in engineering and related fields who work to ensure that their peers gain the knowledge, skills and attitudes required to compete in the economy of the future. To accomplish this, the Fellows advocate for lasting institutional change and create opportunities for students to engage with entrepreneurship, innovation, creativity, design thinking and venture creation at their schools.

This new cohort of Fellows brings the total number to 291 Fellows from 114 schools. The program is run by Epicenter, which is funded by the National Science Foundation and directed by Stanford University and VentureWell (formerly NCIIA).

“In today’s competitive economy, it is critical for all students to learn an entrepreneurial mindset, which helps them learn to be resilient, creative and empathetic,” said Humera Fasihuddin, co-leader of the University Innovation Fellows program. “Students need to leave school better prepared to tackle our world’s big problems and create new and fulfilling jobs for themselves and others.”

“Our program provides a platform for Fellows to learn to be strategic thinkers, examine the landscape of learning opportunities at their schools, and formulate action plans to implement their ideas,” said Leticia Britos Cavagnaro, co-leader of the Fellows program and Deputy Director of Epicenter. “Fellows develop a community and share strategies about what’s working at their schools. Ultimately, these students, with their drive and motivation, are leading accelerated change in higher education.”

Individual Fellows as well as teams of Fellows are sponsored by faculty and administrators at their schools and selected through an application process twice annually. Following acceptance into the program, schools fund the students to go through six weeks of online training and travel to the University Innovation Fellows Annual Meetup in Silicon Valley. Throughout the year, they take part in events and conferences across the country and have opportunities to learn from one another, Epicenter mentors, and leaders in academia and industry.

Fellows have created design and maker spaces, founded entrepreneurship clubs and organizations, worked with faculty to design new courses, and hosted events and workshops. In the last academic year alone, Fellows created 553 activities, 22 new spaces and 65 innovation and entrepreneurship resources at their schools.

“Over the course of the program, we’ve seen Fellows have a powerful impact on student engagement and campus culture at a national scale,” Fasihuddin said. “Word of their success has attracted more than 50 institutions for this new cohort. We’re thrilled to see the impact of the new Fellows in the year ahead.”

The new Fellows gathered in Silicon Valley on February 20-22, 2015, for their annual meeting, where they took part in immersive experiences at Google and Stanford University. At the event, Fellows participated in experiential workshops and exercises focused on topics including movement building, student innovation spaces, design of learning experiences, and new models of change in higher education. They engaged with leaders in academia and industry from Google, Google for Entrepreneurs, Stanford University, and Citrix, among others. Additional information and photos from the event are available upon request.

Learn more about the University Innovation Fellows at

About Epicenter:
The National Center for Engineering Pathways to Innovation (Epicenter) is funded by the National Science Foundation and directed by Stanford University and VentureWell (formerly NCIIA). Epicenter’s mission is to empower U.S. undergraduate engineering students to bring their ideas to life for the benefit of our economy and society. To do this, Epicenter helps students combine their technical skills, their ability to develop innovative technologies that solve important problems, and an entrepreneurial mindset and skillset. Epicenter’s three core initiatives are the University Innovation Fellows program for undergraduate engineering students and their peers; the Pathways to Innovation Program for institutional teams of faculty and university leaders; and a research program that informs activities and contributes to national knowledge on entrepreneurship and engineering education. Learn more and get involved at

About Stanford University:
At Stanford University, the Epicenter collaboration is managed by the Stanford Technology Ventures Program (STVP), the entrepreneurship center in Stanford’s School of Engineering. STVP delivers courses and extracurricular programs to Stanford students, creates scholarly research on high-impact technology ventures, and produces a large and growing collection of online content and experiences for people around the world. Visit us online at

About VentureWell:
VentureWell was founded in 1995 as the National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance (NCIIA) and rebranded in 2014 to underscore its impact as an education network that cultivates revolutionary ideas and promising inventions. A not-for-profit organization reaching more than 200 universities, VentureWell is the leader in funding, training, coaching and early investment that brings student innovations to market. Inventions created by VentureWell grantees are reaching millions of people in more than 50 countries and helping to solve some of our greatest 21st century challenges. Visit to learn how we inspire students, faculty and investors to transform game-changing ideas into solutions for people and the planet.


A Trip to Georgia Tech

Amin Mojtahedi,  UW Milwaukee

Amin Mojtahedi, UW Milwaukee


This article was written by Amin Mojtahedi, a University Innovation Fellow Candidate at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee. Amin is a Ph.D. candidate in the School of Architecture and was visiting the Georgia Tech campus for one week at the end of January. See his full bio here



As part of an architectural study for Georgia Tech (GT), I had the chance to spend the entire last week on the GT campus exploring places related to the landscape of innovation and entrepreneurship

Georgia Tech Invention Studio

Georgia Tech Invention Studio

(I&E). One of my most memorable visits was to the Invention Studio at the Manufacturing Related Disciplines Complex where Alexis, a PhD candidate in Electrical Engineering, gave me a comprehensive tour of the facility. The Invention Studio was a student-run maker space where the opportunity for students to design, prototype and share was provided through workshops, experienced student “masters” in about 13 areas, and access to a wide range of materials and impressive cutting edge machinery including computer controlled machines (e.g., 3D printers, 3D scanners, laser engraving and cutting machines, waterjet, etc.), powered manual machines (e.g., bandsaw, injection molding, drill press, etc.) electronics equipment, and hand tools. In the fifth year of its operation, the Invention Studio has about 170 members and is opening branches in other schools on campus. Despite the rapid growth, members still bond over video games and move nights in the comfy lounge equipped with a large screen right across the Studio.



Innovation & Design Collaborative, Georgia Tech

Perhaps the most exciting part of the trip was meeting the GT three UIFs: Megna, a 5th year Biomedical Engineer; Alex, a 3rd year Mechanical Engineer; and Rachel, a 5th year Biomedical Engineer. We all first met at the Starbucks in the architecturally impressive Clough Learning Commons. Later, Megna and Alex kindly gave me a complete tour of the Innovation & Design Collaborative in the GT library. IDC, or Design Block as Megna liked to call it, was an intelligently designed 4,000 sqf space with a variety of furniture from playful foam cubes to customized tall studio-like desks for group work. A Unistrut ceiling and racks provide drop-down access to electrical utility for users to be able to plug in while being in their desired spot and white boards were everywhere. With Wayne Li’s help, the space and program were designed after Stanford’s I concluded the tour by participating in Wayne’s class on Contextual Awareness – as one of the five tenets the 21st century creative thinker can use to disrupt markets and drive innovation. IDC’s space is open to GT students 24/7 and is currently holding workshops while providing resources for learning Design Behavior.