Future of Design November 4, 2023

Bridging academics and industry, researchers in UC San Diego’s ‘collaboratories’ tackle the biggest challenges of our time

Photo credit: UC San Diego / Erik Jepsen

The new Franklin Antonio Hall at the University of California San Diego is a platform for discovery and knowledge-sharing. It’s designed to support an interconnected network of researchers, says Albert P. Pisano, dean of UC San Diego’s Jacobs School of Engineering. The research that happens here harnesses all the technologies across the engineering school, united by digital technologies, and focuses on assisting people in their search for health and happiness, he says. 

Undergraduates, graduate students, professors, and staff work in collaboration with industry professionals from Qualcomm, Teradata, and others in 14 affinity spaces called “collaboratories.” Researchers are designing smaller and more powerful electric car batteries, improving digital security, modeling efficient supply chains, and more.  

And although each lab houses cutting-edge technology, none of the researchers work in a vacuum. “We’re tying them together so that these groups don’t become silos,” Pisano says. “They become sources of interaction instead.” 

It's a system of systems. This building is a powerful machine.
Albert P. Pisano, Dean of the Jacobs School of Engineering at UC San Diego
The beauty of the design is that it shapes the flow of traffic very gently, so there’s a natural intersection at the atrium, which forms the core of the building, and everyone moves through that core. It's vertically united, too, by the beautiful spiral staircase and the bridges at the ends of the building.
Al Pisano, Dean of the Jacobs School of Engineering at UC San Diego

By “pinching” a more traditional, rectangular form at its center and connecting the space vertically, designers created an atrium that encourages spontaneous, cross-disciplinary interaction outside the labs. This enables the building to house highly specialized technology while simultaneously bringing people together to amplify their efforts. It’s a system of systems,” Pisano says. “This building is a powerful machine. 

Since its opening in 2022, the building has been exceptionally popular with students, researchers, and the broader university community. “It just keeps giving,” Pisano says. “The building keeps pumping positive energy into everyone every day, and it drives intellectual activity in the best of all ways. I feel it every time I linger there, and it's spectacular.”

Interaction is key. For instance, researchers in the surgical collaboratory could benefit from advances discovered in the robotics collaboratory. Keeping that goal in mind during the design process, Pisano urged the faculty to embrace transparency and consider ways to make their knowledge more accessible to fellow researchers. “The purpose of each group is not to look inward; the purpose is to be able to interact with the other units, he says.

The atrium and common spaces act like magnets, drawing researchers out of the labs with natural light and comfortable seating. We decided to use upscale outdoor furniture to bring the outside in and give a sense of casualness and comfort,” Pisano says. “People linger there, eat lunch there, study there. They take a pause, and that pause allows interaction to occur.