Walk, talk, work: the importance of pedestrians and public space for collaboration in hospital knowledge precincts

15 Dec 2014


“All truly great thoughts are conceived while walking.” So said Friedrich Nietzsche, who wasn’t short on great thoughts.

While hospital knowledge precincts may not necessarily be the haunt of great philosophers, this research explores the importance of walkability in promoting ideas, innovation and collaboration.

It contends that providing high quality public spaces encourages people to walk around, through and beyond a precinct, enabling connections to be made between institutions and individuals, which will in turn lead to collaboration and innovation.

A hospital knowledge precinct can be defined as a distinct area of a city that has a concentration of clinical care facilities colocated with a university and bio-medical research facilities.

With significant growth in this type of cluster, and a reliance in metropolitan planning on these sites as employment and innovation centres, how have leading hospital knowledge precincts designed their physical connectivity to enable collaboration?

Through literature and website reviews, site visits, interviews, and mapping of building types and land uses, this study explores the public spaces and pedestrian networks of eight established or emerging hospital knowledge precincts in the US, UK, Canada, Sweden, France and Australia.

Three Elements of Connectivity

Each of the precincts has its strengths, but one amongst them stands out, with vibrant public realm, a vision that clearly articulates what it wants to achieve in collaboration and innovation, and a regeneration program that reflects those aims.

While not without its challenges, the Manchester Corridor in the United Kingdom achieves a balance of the elements identified in the research as crucial to connectivity and collaboration:

  • Proximity – a balance of proximity to related institutions (co-location) AND to other diverse activities (mixed use) gives people reasons to walk.
  • Interaction – a range of opportunities for interaction, formal and informal, in a network of intersecting paths and gathering spaces allows incidental conversations and connections to occur.
  • Quality – a network of places and links that look good, are safe, and comfortable encourages people to walk.


The case studies uncover a number of trends that are significantly changing the form and function of hospital knowledge precincts:

1. Translational research buildings and clinical settings are internalising interaction. This is attractive from a workplace perspective, but not necessarily conducive to a collaborative precinct.

2. Buildings are getting bigger and taller, increasing the number of people on site significantly. This has positive implications for interaction, but the management of congestion and quality of public space become critical.

3. Centralised public spaces and circulation ‘spines’ (internal and external) are becoming a common design response to congestion. These provide opportunities for gathering, retail and other uses, but coupled with larger building footprints can lead to a loss of fine grain movement networks, making connectivity more difficult. They also provide opportunities for the de-institutionalisation of the hospitals with art and community activity.

4. The US precincts visited have their own member-based precinct planning bodies to oversee energy and transport initiatives, precinct and building development, and complex stakeholder issues and relationships. This is not replicated in other regions, but holds valuable lessons and potential for the design and management of public space in these types of precincts

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