Spokes on a Wheel: Programming Two Sigma’s Collision Lab

Spokes on a Wheel: Programming Two Sigma’s Collision Lab

When Two Sigma—a Soho-based investment management firm that draws upon technology and the scientific method to guide innovation—hired us to imagine a Collision Lab in the Bridge at Cornell Tech, we recognized a unique opportunity to sync the research-based, iterative approaches of our two organizations to the benefit of design.

In lock step with the overall vision for the Bridge, to “spur the commercialization of new products and technologies by bringing together the best in academia and industry,” Two Sigma conceived their new 9,200 sq. ft. space as a cultural crossroads for unexpected connections between students, venture-funded entrepreneurs, and engineers. The program was, appropriately, open-ended; who would inhabit the space—unknown. As one of the first projects to be led out of our New York office, we couldn’t imagine a better occasion to bring our distinct spirit of innovation—cultivated through many years of working with today’s most transformative organizations in Silicon Valley—east.

 

Similar to Two Sigma’s advanced use of data learning to improve investment management, we undertook a deep investigation into potential user groups, program opportunities, and service requirements. We questioned: what design considerations prompt interaction? What is the relationship between user groups—technically, socially and spatially? Which service adjacencies can we leverage for operational efficiencies? Are security concerns universal? What is the balance between individual and group work?

 

Informed by our experience designing innovative workplaces for companies like Airbnb, Facebook, Google, and Adobe—and bolstered by Two Sigma’s iterative, research-based approach, we dove into the specific concerns of Two Sigma stakeholders via interviews, observations, and working sessions. Scenario flow charts were developed to represent early analyses and to generate conversations that reconciled our strategic thinking with Two Sigma’s tactical desires. The goal was to generate an ideal mix of spaces that would be vital in achieving a Collision Lab.

Each scenario flow chart graphically aligned specific programs and services to operational functions. For instance, advanced knowledge typically exchanged or accessed through fabrication and event spaces indicated the need for hacker lab environments, while active relationships between financial and entrepreneurial support called for incubator spaces. Content was synthesized into a graphic style and language intended to engage Two Sigma stakeholders. However, the siloed approach (distinct program areas with diffuse separations) presented hierarchical schemes that struggled to integrate program alternatives or encourage the spontaneity of ideas.   

Furthering our insight into potential user groups, including engineers (Two Sigma employees), venture-funded entrepreneurs and students (incubatees), we developed unique user profiles to typify workplace characteristics and needs. The natural pairing of engineers and incubatees became a unifying direction for the Collision Lab, with the goal of bringing them into proximity for the cross-pollination of ideas. Programming likewise required that we bring their different needs into balance: engineers enjoy the patronage of a larger company but require an advanced security network. The semi-autonomous incubatees may come from Cornell Tech or from a Two Sigma Venture backed-enterprise, necessitating a flexible schedule that may include nights and weekends. Additionally, adaptable and agile workspaces were required to accommodate the growth potential of start-ups. These two user groups also expected characteristics typical of broader workplace trends, including access to both focus and collaborative work areas and robust connectivity.

Our programming research culminated with a radial diagram that illustrated potential programmatic affiliations and the complex stimulants that could spur ideas into reality. The core user groups of engineers and incubatees were presented, hierarchally, as nodes. Corresponding areas like the pantry, meeting rooms, and lounge spaces, were encircled, representing shared spaces while services exclusive to each user group “spoked off” of each node. Secondary and tertiary users groups, such as marketers and recruiters, demarcated further exchanges of people, services, and information in concentric circles and spokes; connecting ultimately to the base of Cornell Tech and Two Sigma. The diagram became crucial to decision-making and to ensure alignment with the vision of the Collision Lab.

In response, the Collision Lab is envisioned as 24-hour hub with an open floorplan bisected by a central community table. A sequential row of conference rooms trim the north wall while a complementary south pavilion flanks the central gathering platform, helping to mask auxiliary spaces and demarcate independent work areas from collaborative spaces. The conference rooms range in size and formality – from a seven-person war room to an intimate ‘crawl’ space. The team developed the concept as a departure from Two Sigma’s existing office portfolio and as a testing ground for future workspaces.

The Collision Lab, located on the top floor of the Bridge at Cornell Tech, is set to open Winter 2018. We’re excited to find out how Two Sigma inhabits this visionary new workplace and how this burgeoning technology hub becomes “the Birthplace of What’s Next.”

For more on our thinking about workplace design, please visit our recent publication: Workplace + Public Realm.