We’re surrounded by some of the greatest minds in the data science community. No, we’re not in the Mix office – we’re actually in the heart of the British Library, the home of The Alan Turing Institute.
Founded in 2015, The Alan Turing Institute is the national body for data science, named after the scientist who cracked the German Enigma code. The Institute’s aim is to make the UK a world leader in the area of data research, and the creation of a new space to house its research community was an integral step towards this goal.
The Institute’s founding partners are the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and the Universities; Cambridge, Edinburgh, Oxford, UCL and Warwick.
Morgan Lovell was tasked with designing an office that reflected the Institute’s heritage while ensuring it had a space to achieve excellence.
We head up to the library’s first floor and, looking at the busy scene surrounding us, search for the Institute. We don’t have to search for very long. With its brightly lit framing, we’re instantly drawn to the contemporary entrance that distinguishes the Institute from the library. As you enter the Institute, you instantly and intentionally know you’re in a distinctly different space.
It also helps that Morgan Lovell Senior Designer Anna Dejlova and the Institute’s Communication Manager Shana Tufail are waiting for us, along with two PhD students, Merve Alanyali and Chanuki Seresinhe.
As we walk into the Institute, we see that the contemporary look and feel of the entrance continues. We shouldn’t be surprised. Having covered numerous impressive, forward-thinking education and public sector projects over the past 12 months, we should expect nothing less than a bright, contemporary and open environment here.
‘They were looking for a space that not only reflected their personality, but provided researchers with facilities to carry out their work and collaborate with peers,’ Anna tells us. ‘The space will bring together some of the brightest minds in advanced mathematics and computing science, so it had to be inspirational, collaborative and functional.’
The dynamic yet peaceful design incorporates a variety of working environments into a single space; from closed concentration and open work pods, to a large collaboration area with a communal tea point. Each of these is defined by a particular motif to lend a distinctive feeling to the space.
A large suspended ateljé Lyktan Hood pendant identifies the main communal collaboration area, which is a theme that has been used throughout the design to identify the shared spaces. These are defined by red flooring, that emulates the pendant, and fabric seating to help absorb the acoustics.
The quiet working areas are outlined by glass panelling, which also provides acoustic protection from the louder collaboration areas. This clever trick effectively divides the space into different work zones, which boast a mix of desks and seating arrangements; providing plenty of spaces for researchers to contemplate their next piece of work. Also, when inspiration strikes, panels can be written on to jot down light bulb moments!
As we begin to walk through the space we can immediately see that there have been plenty of light bulb moments – judging by the (to us at least) unintelligible equations that adorn many of the panels.
‘The business team here are pretty fixed,’ Merve tells us, ‘But there is quite a bit of movement when it comes to the research teams –due to the fact that researchers are here for maybe a year from one of the partnering universities. We also have visiting researchers who might stay here for a couple of months, so the space does need to be quite fluid and we also need to be able to expand without disrupting the permanent researchers.
‘The business team are here every day, while researchers might be here just once a week, so we need to accommodate them. We are still growing – and have already added more desks to this space.’
The Institute already expects to expand its headquarters into a new build space as part of a major development behind the Library.
Back to the current home, we head past a series of smart high-back sofas. ‘We looked υ at different ways of working and focused on how students work and how their expectations of learning environments are more agile,’ Anna explains. ‘Incorporating different types of seating and working areas was key, in order to give everyone, from staff to students, as well as visitors, the choice of environments. Whether at a table sitting, or standing, on the floor, the windowsill, in the lounge seating or on a bean bag, individuals have a choice in their environment to suit their working needs.
‘Managing sound was an important part of the brief, as we had to bring together researchers with different working styles into a single space,’ Anna continues. ‘We created areas that embrace these differences, and through a clever use of technology and acoustics, we’ve been able to deliver a workplace that provides a logical way for staff to work creatively and productively.
‘We added acoustic dividers, which break up the open nature of the space and allow people to work in a variety of ways.’
The new branding of the Institute, introduced last summer, is an important part of the transformation, not just the space itself, but the Institute as a whole. The new brand is proud, confident and modern – and this is reflected throughout the workspace. In terms of attracting new researchers, this is absolutely key to the continued success and growth of the Institute.
Walking back through the Institute, we note that everyone has a locker rather than pedestals, while the vibrant main hub features an impressive tea point, breakout seating and tables. Furthermore (and vitally) the coffee here is excellent – and can be ‘ordered’ via mobile phone. We’re told that not only was this a great icebreaker, it was also what the researchers took to Twitter about!
With our furniture spotting hats on, we can see Herman Miller systems and task seating, together with cool BuzziSpace acoustic breakout seating.
‘Everything started as a radial, coming from the circles here,’ Anna reveals. ‘The red delineates where there is a more casual breakout space. Beyond the hub we’ve put in a series of private, focused one-person booths and beyond that we’ve got a variety of work and meeting settings, from formal glazed meeting rooms through to long collaborative benches and standing desks. Interestingly, although we’ve put in writable surfaces throughout, the mathematicians still prefer to use blackboards and chalk!’
‘If people are going to have a long conversation, they are encouraged to go to the kitchen area or book one of the meeting rooms,’ Chanuki explains. ‘The researchers do need to focus on their work so the open υ space here tends to be quiet. It works really well – people do respect one another and the fact that they are here to work. Similarly, they like the fact that they have these collaboration spaces where they can interact with fellow researchers and the business team.’
‘There is little hierarchy and a wide range of ages working here,’ adds Merve. ‘Data science is quite interdisciplinary and everyone needs to be open-minded and ready to work with people from different disciplines. I think this is one of the reasons why everyone here is open to innovation and new ways of working.’
Before we take our leave, we head upstairs to a second space recently converted by the Institute. Featuring four private booths and bright open workspace, this is much needed extra space for the growing Institute and will be home to a new research library. Again, Miller and BuzziSpace are present, together with rows of pristine Apple monitors.
The Alan Turing Institute is definitely on an amazing journey. Right now though, it could not be in a better place.