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The Campus that Got Away

World events put this project on hold. Years later, it’s still on my mind.

In 2019 I worked with a client executive team of a Fortune 100 company to renovate and re-image an established research campus. To gain approval and funding for the project, we developed a strategic plan that detailed, visualized, priced, and scored different scenarios for campus improvements.


One of those scenarios gained enthusiastic endorsement and led to a funded architectural project, but world events quickly caused our momentum to reverse course and grind to a halt. Now, several years later, I am revisiting the work and wondering if its strategic purpose and scope still hold.



The campus faced three major challenges: capacity, perception, and connection.



The cutting-edge work conducted on-site was drawing a growing number of high-profile visitors, but the facility lacked sufficient ways to host them. Data showed over 10,000 visitors came to the campus in 2019 alone, and that number was expected to continue to increase every year. We sought to reimagine underutilized spaces to host large groups in ways that were interactive, collaborative, and flexible.



The look and feel of the facility was inconsistent with the high-tech image the company embodies publicly in commercials and other media campaigns. We aimed to optimize the tour logistics on-site to create a seamless VIP experience while also minimizing disruptions to the ongoing research.



The company’s other research partners and collaborators around the globe could not easily access the innovations happening on-site. We planned to foster more effective remote real-time collaboration by introducing kitchen-labs—spaces that enabled the scientists to replicate parts of their research in a production studio-like setting so it could be presented in person, recorded, and edited, or live-broadcast to a remote audience.


Campus Concept

The preamble to our strategy was to make sense of the campus in its current state. Before potentially investing millions in improvements, we needed to quickly create a clear intent for a site that had grown and changed significantly over the span of nearly forty years.


The function of each building naturally led to the campus concept. Innovation began in the lab building, then was scaled up and refined in a different one. Both of those functions were supported by a third administrative building.


It was easy to see that the campus concept should be about scale—scaling up discovery to meet minds and markets, but also scale in the sense that the global issues these scientists were solving for are big, wicked problems. Two guys in a garage would not solve these challenges. It would take a networked team of brilliant minds to do it. Incremental advancements wouldn’t cut it, but giant leaps could. The concept and design driver for the campus improvements became, From Dual to Exponential.


I never said this aloud because idioms aren’t always clear to everyone, and this one could easily seem NSFW, but I also thought of the campus concept as balls to the wall. Only maximum effort would solve the challenges these innovators sought to tackle, and this campus would play an important supportive role in their journey. It was time to accelerate!


We aimed to position the campus as an engine of innovation for the global energy client. The site had enormous potential to showcase its scientific and technological leadership through a compelling visitor experience—it simply lacked a platform. Under our guidance, the aging facility would be renovated and reimaged. It would host prospective collaborators, demonstrate their impressive capabilities, and spark the kind of thinking and doing that changes the world for the better.



We scored the pros and cons of each of three comprehensive scenarios and proposed a solution that would include the construction of a new building as the Innovation Center. Following the campus concept From Dual to Exponential, we proposed that the Innovation Center (below) would function as the campus megaphone—a beacon for sharing the discoveries broadly through in-person and remote experiences.


In addition to the Innovation Center, we also recommended improvements to select existing structures. We would renovate lab building restrooms and common areas. The administration building would receive an upgraded reception, lobby, and main corridors. Most significantly, the campus library, a beautiful, yet dated and sadly underutilized space, would be repurposed as an employee-facing collaboration center (below).


Inside the Innovation Center

As the main visitor destination, the Innovation Center was planned for the front entrance of the campus—an open and welcoming structure compared to the rest of the campus architecture. Its interiors were designed to introduce the visitor to the company’s values, beliefs, and messages as they progressed through space with their host. Exhibits were carefully planned to welcome, educate, demonstrate, and incite beneficial actions. Ideally, the visitor would finish their tour of the exhibits wanting more—just as they are invited into a kitchen-lab for a live demonstration and presentation from one of the campus’s star scientists.


Getting Ideas Across

The intent of the Innovation Center was communicated to decision-makers through a simple storytelling diagram. Milestones on the visitor journey were categorized in order as: Approach, Welcome, Capabilities, People, Partnerships, and Perspectives. Then each category was bulleted with sub-categories that were specific to the company’s offerings, much like a website wireframe would function.


The storytelling diagram was then mapped onto the plan view of the visitor center to provide structure and purpose to visitor journey through the spaces. Together they created a journey map that treated the visitor center as an exhibition space dedicated to the company. The project stopped before the exhibits themselves could be developed, but preliminary concepts are present in the renderings. To see the Campus Visitor Experience project gallery, click here.


I often wonder how this campus and the brilliant minds who work there have fared over the past few years. Could there be renewed interest in this project, or is it already carrying on in the skillful hands of others? The project remains a time capsule for me, and I think about my team, our stakeholders, and collaborators with gratitude.



Project Lead, Strategy and Design

Client Liason



Fortune 100 Company





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