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The space of innovation: interaction and communication in the work environment


  • A Penn
  • J Desyllas
  • L Vaughan


As the pace of organisational change accelerates and as new technologies demand more rapid responses from organisations to changing conditions in their business environment, buildings are being called on to play an active role in helping to generate new organisational structures and in facilitating individual communication. This raises questions not only of the nature of organisational structure and of how communication technologies will affect that, but also of the possible mechanisms by which spatial structure can affect patterns of interaction in the work organisation. In this paper we will review two recent research-led design projects in which space syntax techniques were used to help define the building brief for an organisation which depends for its market lead on its ability to innovate. Building on research into the design of research laboratories, we found that patterns of space use and movement generated by spatial configuration have a direct impact on the frequency of contact between workers in office-based organisations. The frequency of contact is shown in turn to have an impact on work-related communications cited as 'useful' by questionnaire. These patterns are found to be 'system effects' in that they cannot be attributed to an individual worker's desk location but appear to result from the configuration of the whole system of spaces through which people move in their daily work, and have detectable effects on the mean 'usefulness' to others of all workers in a part of a building. The analysis suggests, however, that spatial integration alone may be insufficient to support flexible working and that spatial differentiation is necessary to provide the range of environments needed by different types of work activity.

Suggested Citation

  • A Penn & J Desyllas & L Vaughan, 1999. "The space of innovation: interaction and communication in the work environment," Environment and Planning B: Planning and Design, Pion Ltd, London, vol. 26(2), pages 193-218, March.
  • Handle: RePEc:pio:envirb:v:26:y:1999:i:2:p:193-218

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    Cited by:

    1. Kabo, Felichism W. & Cotton-Nessler, Natalie & Hwang, Yongha & Levenstein, Margaret C. & Owen-Smith, Jason, 2014. "Proximity effects on the dynamics and outcomes of scientific collaborations," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 43(9), pages 1469-1485.
    2. Toker, Umut & Gray, Denis O., 2008. "Innovation spaces: Workspace planning and innovation in U.S. university research centers," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 37(2), pages 309-329, March.

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